Boost for gym owners as get-fit resolutions set in

JackieskellyAs January sees a surge in gym membership sign-ups in the wake of Christmas excesses, the low-cost market is seeing the biggest benefits of the boom, writes Aoife Valentine.

New Year Resolutions have always been big business in gyms. The desire to work off the excesses of the Christmas season means gyms see a significant spike in member sign-ups in January.

However it appears the notion these are fad members, who will only stick around for a month or so, is a thing of the past. According to the Philip Lee Sport Report last November, just under a quarter of our adult population – 850,000 people – are members of a gym.

Of those who aren’t members, 900,000 of them used to be, and only 16pc of them quit because they weren’t using their gym.

For the 64pc majority of those who didn’t go back, it was just a case that they could no longer afford their memberships. If it is price and not laziness that is the problem, this perhaps explains the rise of low-cost gyms in Ireland.

According to Judy Eivers, a director at Ben Dunne Gyms, consumers are much more conscious of where their money goes today, and want value where they do invest.

“We have very solid usage figures all year round. Nobody wants to spend money on a membership and then only use it once or twice in January. Maybe a few years ago, but not now… Punters want the best bang for their buck. I don’t think that we’re just value-driven, we’ve a great offering. People are too savvy now,” she says.

People may be more cash conscious, but Jackie Skelly, media and marketing director at Flyefit, says the surge in sign-ups in January does offer a boost.

“Gyms do rely on a bounce in January for membership sales. This is built into the business model, as is losing a great many of them. The preferred option is that they stay and to be fair many gyms will try very hard to hold onto them. You can buy a gym membership but unfortunately you can’t buy willpower,” she says.

Flyefit are the first 24-hour gyms in Ireland and one of the first clubs to offer a monthly membership rate, marking a departure from the traditional 12-month contract.

“Our model does not penalise you if you want to take a break from your membership. You can pause your membership online… and cancel whenever you want. This works for anyone who has to travel with their jobs, holidays, exams, illness,” says Skelly.

This is something Ben Dunne Gyms have started to take on board. Last year they introduced four-month and eight-month memberships, in addition to their 12-month contract, but Eivers doesn’t believe the annual contract model is broken.

“There’s a lot of people who wouldn’t be gym people, who don’t want to commit themselves to a year, so they take a shorter term option. If they don’t like it, they don’t have to renew and if they do, they know that it’s a much better investment to go for the year because overall it’s cheaper,” she says.

Annual contracts are common in higher-end gyms, and it’s a model that continues to work for Energie Fitness, says Graham Hogan, business manager at Energie Clarendon Street.

“It has its place. You have a core of people who actually want to pay for a service and they’re the people we cater to. They’re the people that join our clubs and stay the longest; they’re the ones that really want the service.”

For Energie, corporate memberships – offering discounted membership to employees of large firms – are important. “There’s no hidden prices, there’s just two prices in the club… The corporate market is really what drives my club, as we’re not surrounded by residences,” says Hogan.

However, this is not a feature in the low-cost market. At Flyefit, Skelly says there is a ‘no deals’ policy. “We never discount at any time of the year. We are already a budget model and the rates are fixed as per the website. Everyone pays the same.”

Eivers is in a similar position. “We keep such good value, that I don’t have a corporate rate. I tend to offer the best, great prices to everybody. We have gyms in business parks, so everybody would be a corporate but we try to give everybody the same rate.”

The average price of an annual gym membership is €330 according to the Philip Lee report, suggesting low-cost gyms are dominating. We are, however, a decade behind the UK market, and in no danger of reaching a saturation point.

“In the UK, you have a huge amount of low-cost gyms. Do I see saturation in Ireland? Not yet. More people are training so there’s more and more need for gyms. The more gyms that come in, the better. It’s better for competition, it’s better to keep things fresh. I’m very confident in what we do and what we offer.

“I say bring them on,” says Eivers, “because in the end it’s better for everybody.”

Originally published in the Sunday Independent on January 25th.

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