15 Nov 2018 Health Club Management Handbook
 

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Health Club Management Handbook - Growth opportunities

Research round-up

Growth opportunities


Mintel’s 2013 research highlights opportunities to further extend the fitness sector’s reach, embracing new markets and new niches

Michael Oliver, Mintel
As many as half of respondents are spending the same on using clubs now as a year ago photo: shutterstock.com / Andresr
Women are more likely to join a club or leisure centre if they have someone to work out with photo: shutterstock.com / Ersler Dmitry
There’s a gender disparity in the UK, with more men than women working out at gyms photo: shutterstock.com / holbox
Clubs could offer ‘pool only’ or 'gym only' packages, where people pay just for what they use photo: shutterstock.com / Kzenon

Mintel’s latest research into the leisure industry – Leisure Review 2013, published in October 2013 – paints a positive picture for health and fitness, highlighting consumers’ reluctance to cut back their leisure centre usage, private health and fitness club membership and participation in sports.

As for many sectors, the main issue for the leisure industry has been the squeeze on consumer incomes being exerted by the combination of high inflation and low earnings growth, which means people are becoming worse off in real terms month by month.

However, the report highlights a resilient industry. Despite tough economic conditions, as many as half (48 per cent) of respondents are spending the same on using private sector health clubs now as they were 12 months ago, while 16 per cent are spending more. In the public sector, 50 per cent are spending about the same, and 10 per cent are spending more.

Overall, roughly three in 10 Brits (30 per cent) have used a private health and fitness club in the past 12 months, with just under one in 10 (8 per cent) using one on a weekly basis, and one in 20 (5 per cent) on a monthly basis.

Wooing women
However, our data suggests there remains a notable disparity in health club usage between women and men in the UK, with more men using gyms – a point highlighted in the June 2013 Health and Fitness Clubs UK report. This is something that’s not evident in the US, where there’s broad parity of usage. One of the reasons for this is likely to be that health club membership is considerably cheaper on average in the US than the UK, and women tend to be more cautious than men when it comes to making financial commitments. However, the rapid expansion of the budget health club sector in the UK should go a long way towards tackling this.

Other opportunities also exist to increase female membership. The main factors that potential female users say would motivate them to start using a health club are – aside from general health/wellness – losing weight, looking better and feeling better about themselves. Unsurprisingly then, when asked what would encourage them to join or rejoin a health club, women were much more likely than men to be influenced by appearance-driven factors – an unflattering remark about their appearance or fitness, for example, or an unflattering holiday photo. This suggests that marketing activity which focuses on the physical and emotional benefits of losing weight, looking and feeling good remains a strong platform for clubs to promote themselves to potential female users.

Women are most likely to be influenced by a free trial or pay as you go option, echoing the findings noted above regarding women’s higher level of caution in financial matters. Research findings suggest that potential female users have a particular concern about committing to a contract with a club, only to find that they don’t like it or don’t use it as much as they thought they would.

Additionally, women are notably more likely than men to agree that they have, or would have, a hard time getting motivated to go to a club – but also that they would be more interested in using a health club if they had someone to work out with. This suggests some potential for developing memberships for people who work out together, such as a Best Friends deal or similar where, as long as they both visit together or each work out a certain number of times a month, they are entitled to a discounted rate. Visiting and working out together would also help with motivation and improve retention rates.

‘Budget plus’
With a continued squeeze on incomes, affordability remains a significant barrier to more people joining health clubs at the moment. The current crop of budget clubs are addressing this issue pretty well and it’s hard to see how else the services they provide could be delivered for less money.

One other option, however, would be to ‘disaggregate’ each aspect and specialise, as is the case with the emerging crop of microgym operators, or for more clubs to offer ‘disaggregated’ memberships, so that if people just want to swim or just do classes, they pay only for that service and nothing else.

Another area where there could be potential is for a category of ‘budget plus’ club, where a slightly different positioning is adopted to broaden the appeal. There could, for example, be an opportunity for a budget club format to be developed with the aim of appealing primarily to the family market: memberships could be sold on a per family or per household basis, entitling all members of a family to use the facilities, and offering activities and classes the whole family could do together. This could have the effect of establishing good (exercise) habits early on in the life of children, while at the same time ensuring that older family members look after their bodies as they get older.

Exercise is medicine
Overall, the industry has benefited from the growing ‘exercise is medicine’ trend, with people being prescribed physical activity as an alternative to drugs to combat diseases, illnesses and ailments. Many gym and leisure facility operators have launched dedicated programmes, along with specific memberships for those recovering from illness.

In March 2012, cancer patients at hospitals run by North Bristol NHS Trust were offered exercise classes to reduce the risk of the disease spreading or returning. The classes were devised by hospital physiotherapists for patients who had completed their medical course of treatment for cancer. Meanwhile, Aquaterra Leisure’s cancer survivorship programme is free to patients registered with an Islington GP. On completion of the 12-week programme, participants are entitled to a significantly discounted membership at Aquaterra’s leisure centres to enable them to keep physically active. There is significant opportunity for further growth in this medical arena.

Potential members
Finally, the report looks at potential users. Future users of private health and fitness clubs can be divided into two main groups: those who have been users previously, but who have let their membership lapse; and those who have never been users but would like to be. Lapsed users are a large group consisting mainly of under-45s, whereas those who have never been users are concentrated among the 16- to 24-year-old age range.

For lapsed users, the main reason why they stopped using a health club was that they felt they couldn’t afford it. Logically, they are most likely to respond to a membership deal that’s too good to turn down; this is probably most likely to come from one of the budget club operators. Cost is also likely to be the main barrier for those who have never been users, who are most likely to be from the C2 socio-economic group and to describe their current financial situation as ‘struggling’.

Related to cost, flexible payment options are also likely to be a key determining factor for prospects, with strong interest among potential users in free trials or pay as you go options.

Removing as many potential objections as possible – which some operators, in particular in the budget sector, have done by offering things such as day passes, no-contract monthly memberships and an option to freeze membership – is the best way for operators to encourage potential users through the doors.


For further information
Mintel’s latest Health and Fitness Clubs UK report was published in June 2013, with the Leisure Review 2013 published in October 2013.
Web www.mintel.com
Twitter www.twitter.com/mintelnews
LinkedIn www.linkedin.com/groups?mostPopular=&gid=1888954


Originally published in Health Club Handbook 2014 issue 1

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