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Thursday, 25 January, 2001, 16:04 GMT
Motorists drive keep fit boom
Gym user
Membership has doubled in the past year
Growing health awareness is prompting Britons to visit the gym in ever greater numbers - as long as they do not have to walk there.

Fitness First, Europe's leading gym operator, has revealed a doubling in its number of members in a year.

And although the firm already operates 79 clubs in the UK, serving 180,000 users, Fitness First believes there is potential for running 250.

But the key to opening a successful gym is to locate it on a site with "large car parking facilities", the company revealed on Thursday in its latest results briefing.

Pools 'unpopular'

The firm's gyms also tend to lack swimming pools, tennis courts or large canteens.

"They add significantly to membership costs but are often little utilised," said company chairman Christopher Pearce.

A lounge area, beauty salon and video library come as standard on a Fitness First gym, which costs between 600,000 to 2.2m to fit out.

This recipe has helped the firm achieve a stock market valuation of 466m within nine years of its foundation.

The company's pre-tax profits more than doubled in a year to reach 12.8m for the 12 months to the end of October.

Global expansion

A growth in membership to a current 300,000, compared with 149,000 in January 2000, was supported by the purchase of gyms in the Far East, Australia, and Spain.

Mike Balfour, chief executive, said: "Fitness First is now operating in more countries than any other operator in the world and is well on its way to become a leading global operator of fitness clubs."

The firm's first Dutch gym opened in January, with building work continuing at sites in France and Italy.

First First opened 25 UK clubs last year, with six more under construction

Mr Pearce said: "The UK fitness market has been and will continue to be successful.

"This reflects an increasing awareness of the benefits of regular exercise and leading a healthier lifestyle."

Shares in Fitness First stood 22.5p higher at 1042.5p in afternoon trading in London.

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