Asia’s rapid modernisation has produced an alarming spike in the rate of obesity among its countries’ populations. According to the UK-based International Obesity Task Force, obesity in Asian nations is now mirroring that of Western countries. Each year, the rate of obesity in Asia is increasing by about 1%, roughly the same rates as in the UK, the US and Australia.
With the obesity rates going up, fitness and weight loss has been growing in popularity, if not an obsession for Asians. MasterCard recently polled over 6,000 consumers in 14 countries in Asia to find out about their spending and discovered that fitness scored the highest at 78%.
In this special feature, HealthCareAsia has spoken with representatives of the region’s leading and budding fitness club operators to give us an overview of this growing industry.
Technology vitalises business
Consumer purchasing decisions are being shaped by technology – they are getting more options as digital alternatives, such as iPhone and android applications as well as industry convergence affect the way they think about health, fitness, and nutrition. Despite these, all three companies believe that technological products are not a deterrent to business growth. Colin Grant, co-founder and CEO of Pure Group, thinks this does not negatively impacts the business.
“Instead this shows that people are increasingly aware of the benefits and importance of fitness and working out.”
Likewise, Fitness First’s regional fitness manager, Dave Nuku perceives technological advancement as an ally in the promotion and growth of the fitness industry.
“There are some great applications in the market that are mostly free and are designed to complement one’s workout routine in the gym and helps track not only the workout sessions but also calorie control through food intake which we actually recommend some of the more proven apps to our members as well.”
Depending on one’s fitness level and goals, a Fitness First member can choose to attend a group exercise class or try out a freestyle class which is all about functional workout or workout with free weights.
“It makes information or awareness on exercise much more easily available. It educates people of the importance of exercise and nutrition. These technologies create immense positive influence to the fitness industry,” adds Hilmy Rahman, CEO of Lean Bodies.
Nevertheless, technology can still influence purchasing decisions. Grant points out that it is ultimately the individual’s choice.
“Some people will find that they prefer training independently with phone applications and gadgets. Then there are others who are either looking to kick start a fitness regime, those who would like to improve their sports performance, or are looking for a personal trainer to provide a structured training program. That’s where we come in,” he adds.
Rahman says that the consumer can choose not to join any fitness club and still can achieve his/her fitness goals. “Still, I don’t think it’s changing consumers perception of fitness clubs as a good place to be to do a workout.”
Catering to a wider market
As more and more people imbibe a healthier lifestyle, most fitness club operators are extending their services to a wider market range. According to Nuku, Fitness First caters to all age groups but its largest group members are those between the ages of 25 and 45 years old.
“We have a range of offerings for an individual, depending on his fitness level and goals, to choose from,” Nuku adds. Fitness First however stressed that this year’s programmes are consumer-focused. “Members have different needs and fitness goals and by being consumer-focused, it allows us to develop and evolve programmes and services to cater to our members’ needs.”
Rahman and Grant, meanwhile, say that their respective gym clubs are generally targeted at people who want a healthier lifestyle. “Our target audience are people who are looking to achieve a happy and balanced life,” says Grant. “We’re focused on providing them the best experience at all levels – from the people, programme, and facility to design – and every detail of the service touch points.
“We want everyone, regardless of income or education level, to come out and exercise,” quips Rahman. “Hence, we make it affordable and easy for our clients to use our gym facilities.”
Rahman adds that they take a consumer-centric approach because it allows them to understand the wants and needs of their customers. “We understand customers are busy with so much of their daily activities that they have very little time to invest in their health. So we offer short 30-minute duration sessions, work their entire body out and achieve their fitness goals.”
Addressing childhood obesity
In the US and Canada, parents who are having trouble getting their children to exercise are enrolling their children to health clubs. Some have even purchased child-sized equipment for a workout more gruelling than ballet or baseball.
This trend is not widespread in Asia, yet some gym operators such as Lean Bodies is considering this by allowing members as young as 12 years old to join their club. The fitness club believes that children should be active provided that they are supervised by an adult.
Rahman confirms that there is an alarming trend of obese children in the region. “A recent survey showed one of four under 12 is either overweight or obese. We certainly will play our part in helping to arrest and hopefully reverse this trend. In fact we do have future plans to conduct exercise clinics in schools and teach kids not just to exert but also to eat healthily.”
Nuku, meanwhile, stresses family quality time in fostering a healthy lifestyle. Fitness First offers a parent/child class format which is made available seasonably that promotes health and fitness through fun.
“We do think that creating awareness and education amongst the children about health and fitness is very important. This is where we can contribute by educating parents about the importance of exercise. Parents who are conscious and aware of the benefits of a healthy lifestyle can only pay it forward by ensuring that the next generation is healthy and fit.”
When it comes to children and obesity, Grant says that Pure Fitness is still studying the potential market for this age group. “We are currently focused on growing the brand in Singapore, but we will not rule these areas out.”
Weight loss tops health goals
According to all three fitness companies, many people are focused on weight loss. It is also the most common reason that an individual will start to diet and enrol in a fitness programme. “Most of our members want to lose some weight and improve their health,” says Nuku.
“Nine of ten customers want to lose weight. But we teach them that what they really want to lose is body fat, not necessarily body weight.” Rahman says that their programmes emphasise on correcting the body composition levels i.e. percentage of lean body mass vs. fat. “We would tell them they shouldn’t worry about being heavy as long as body fat percentage is low.
At Pure Fitness, a bigger, functional training area, with artificial turf provides the ideal training surface for a wide range of activities. A wide range of equipment is available for liberal use, such as kettlebells, bulgarian bags, bosu balls, ViPR, TRX and many more.
The reason as to why an individual want to lose weight may differ from person to person. Grant said that it all boils down to happiness. “In the process of losing weight, getting fitter, committing to a healthier lifestyle, being better prepared for other sports, or meeting friends, we hope that they enjoy their time at gym.”
“There are some who want to increase their strength and build muscles and a small percentage wants to improve their sports performance,” adds Nuku.
Creating world-class health gurus
To help their customers realise their health goals in the safest and healthiest manner, interviewed gym operators confirm that they are keen on hiring the right people and continually sending them to boot camps to learn the latest in fitness education.
Fitness First is on the lookout of new programmes and new proven methods of training. “We recruit the right people who have the same passion and values as the company and provide them with the training necessary to the best they can be,” says Nuku.
“We also create an environment that promotes continual learning and development amongst our fitness professionals. Resources and workshops are available to help develop skills or our fitness professionals,” says Grant.
In addition to being highly qualified, Pure Fitness wants their trainers to believe and posses the company’s philosophy that emphasises passion, attitude, team work, and honesty. According to Grant this creates a positive environment for both the staff and members, providing a clear path of success for everyone. “This helps our members become positive, youthful and more in tuned with themselves.”
“It’s important to have a team of professionals that could advice and teach clients on how to achieve their fitness goals safely and sustain their achievements for a long period of time,” says Rahman. Lean Bodies invests in providing staff proper theory and practical fitness training and knowledge of nutrition. They also require them to have an accredited fitness certification.
Complementary programs on the roll
Aside from their main service offerings, all gym club operators confirmed that they have more programmes up their sleeves.
Providing a holistic perspective to healthy living is what Pure Fitness is aiming for. “Aside from providing members with the best equipment and expertise in fitness, we also recognise the importance of nutrition.” Grant says that fitness club has introduced a juice bar, which provides juices, smoothies, and healthy bites for people on the go.
“The F&B services we provide at Pure Fitness leverages on our experience with Pure Dining, another business line under Pure Group.”
On a different note, Fitness First has just concluded its 4th International Fitness Week, a global-scale initiative to make the world a fitter place.
Says Nuku, “for one week, our clubs worldwide opened their doors to the public for free. Our clubs had daily themes to cater to every individual’s needs such as dancing to yoga to functional workouts.”
Although the youngest in the group, Lean Bodies is already active in community programmes. “We have tied up with a hospital in their community programmes where we provide free body composition analysis to the community and advice them on exercise and nutrition.”
Rahman shares that they are planning to organise health talks and exercise clinics to the general community as part of their effort to create health and fitness awareness.