Every January, gyms see a surge in memberships. Yet attendance typically returns to normal within a few weeks as fitness resolutions get broken. This is great news for the booming fitness industry….as we’ll see. However, the latest figures suggest the number of people getting active is on the rise. Perhaps this year, more of us will achieve that fitter, healthier self.
After the indulgences of the festive season, many of us make resolutions to become fitter and healthier in the new year. Indeed, each January, there is a spike in Google searches for gyms and the gyms themselves see footfall rise by up to 40%. Meanwhile Facebook data indicates a 50% boost in check-ins for locations that include the words ‘gym’ or ‘fitness’.
Given this annual trend, gyms should be bursting at the seams. Come January, year round gym-goers brace themselves for ‘gympocalypse’ – the season when all the new ‘resolution-ers’ pile in. Then, mid-month, they breathe a sigh of relief, as attendance plateaus to its usual level
Today, one in every seven people in the UK is a member of a gym, with memberships exceeding nine million for the first time ever – contributing to a £4.4bn industry. Yet it’s no accident that the annual influx in members doesn’t translate to real attendance; it’s what keeps gyms going.
Gyms are expensive places to run. They are typically placed in convenient locations and have a large footprint due to the need to accommodate equipment, changing rooms, facilities and classrooms. In real estate terms, this pushes the rent up. Furthermore, there’s the cost of the equipment and staff. Many leading branches have capacity for just 300 people at any given time. Given the overheads, that would be a huge cost per head.
Fortunately, gyms can rely on absent members to keep costs down. Leading American chain Planet Fitness has up to 6,500 members per gym. So, just 5% of its members can use the gym at once. The absent 95% are effectively subsidising the membership of the regular gym-goers. Branding Consultant Peter Shankman comments on how gyms count on their absent members:
“They want them to sign up, but they know that after the 15th of January, they won’t see 95% of them again.”
Indeed, it has been suggested that gyms themselves have evolved to target this exact market.
Gyms haven’t always looked like they do today. In the past, they were functional spaces. In his autobiography, Arnold Schwarzenegger compares the Gold’s Gyms of the 1970s to ‘dungeons’ – basic spaces with concrete floors and an assortment of weights and equipment. Fast forward 40 years and today’s high-street gyms are much more appealing to the modern consumer: the shop-front machines are treadmills, some offer monthly pizza nights and many have in-house smoothie stands.
Furthermore, casual gym-goers are easy prey to annual payment plans. In contrast to most commodities, when selecting gym memberships many people actually prefer to pay upfront. This is driven by the belief that the financial commitment will make them more likely to get their money’s worth by attending. Despite this noble aim, many still struggle to stick with it.
Sport England provides funding and services to help people get involved in sport. In its latest strategy, ‘Towards an Active Nation’, it highlights this common scenario. It identifies the person “with good intentions who struggles to turn their motivations into action”. It goes on to describe how they “might buy trainers or sign up for an event but never turn up” due to “everyday influences like the weather, an unpredictable work pattern or a single missed session”. In its mission to promote fitness through sport, this portion of the population is crucial.
Typically, sport initiatives target those already engaged in physical activity. However, the health benefits associated with a previously sedentary person engaging in up to 100 minutes of activity a week are vastly greater compared with an active person upping their involvement from, for instance, 200 minutes to 300 minutes per week. So, ‘resolution-ers’ have a lot to gain by sticking to their aspirations. The good news is that the number of active people is on the rise.
The latest figures from Sport England’s Active People Survey indicate that 15.97m people over the age of 16 are playing sport weekly; a rise of 229,000 in 12 months. Meanwhile, following Sport England’s ‘This Girl Can’ campaign, 250,000 more women are partaking in regular physical activity. So, more people are taking up sports and sticking with them. Amongst these, visits to the gym and exercise classes are hugely popular. So, your new gym membership could be the start of a brand new you, after all.