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Sunday, 21 January, 2001, 13:10 GMT
Gyms defend healthy profits
Gym user
Keep fit pledges represent an opportunity for gyms to boost their financial health
Many people made New Year's resolutions to get fit, and gyms are keen to profit from such pledges, reports the BBC's Karen Hoggan.

At 55, Jane Buswell knew she was unfit.

She had put on weight but, since her diet hadn't changed, she decided lack of exercise was to blame.

So last week she became one of the many people who join a gym in January.

"I've never been to a gym but I have been to keep fit classes," she says. "I thought this is it - I'm 55 I've got to get fit."

Jane is determined to stick with her new exercise regime at her local Esporta health club in Northampton.

But many people start off with good intentions and give up after a few weeks or months.

'So boring'

At a pub in the town centre a quick chat with a few lunchtime drinkers reveals some of the reasons why.

At this time of year, members want to lose a stone rapidly, say within a month. That's not realistic

Dawn Wintle, fitness manager, Esporta

"It was just so boring - I used to hate having to go on the machines," said one woman.

Another said "I gave up because it cost too much."

One man told me: "It was finding the time - fitting it into a busy life."

Dawn Wintle, the fitness manager at Esporta in Northampton believes unrealistic expectations also put people off.

"At this time of year, they want to lose a stone rapidly, say within a month," she says.

"That's not realistic, it's not healthy and therefore at the end of January when they haven't lost their stone they could become demotivated, could lose interest and drop out."

Big business

And giving up is not just bad for an individual's health.

These days fitness clubs are big business.

Nearly 400 opened last year alone - many of them owned by a handful of companies quoted on the stock market.

And they need to know how to keep their members coming back for more if they're going to keep profits growing.

Already so-called 'secondary spend' is crucial to clubs. The 'secondary' tag covers the items and activities health club members spend money on when they're visiting the clubs.

Health and beauty treatments, restaurants and bars, even wine clubs fall into this category.

For Esporta, which has 30 clubs in the UK, these things account for nearly a quarter of their income.

At another chain, LA Fitness the figure 10% and at Dragons Health Clubs it is 14%.

Member loyalty

But apart from encouraging people to spend more money when they are in the clubs, these extra services are supposed to create such a pleasant atmosphere that members are not tempted to give up.

As the marketplace gets more competitive it's going to become more difficult to recruit members

Douglas Waddell, Esporta

Clubs want users to renew their memberships at the end of the year, because it is cheaper to keep an existing member than attract a new one, says Douglas Waddell, Esporta's operations director:

"As the marketplace gets more competitive it's going to become more difficult to recruit members.

"By focusing our time and efforts on recruiting new members, but also focusing a lot of time and effort on retaining them, we ultimately spend less on advertising and marketing."

In the industry, the process is called 'retention'. And keeping people coming back is a hot topic in the fitness sector at the moment.

Key survey

The Fitness Industry Association, which represents both privately run and council owned fitness centres, has commissioned the biggest research project ever into why people quit.

The survey will start next month and run though until September.

Preliminary findings with a small sample show that if someone who joins a gym comes at least once a week for the first month, then they're between 30 and 40 per cent less likely to leave at the end of the year.

The fitness industry is eagerly awaiting the publication of the findings in September.

Clubs hope the results will give them more information which will stop their members - and profits - walking out of the door.

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