Ask the question “have you been to the gym this week?” and more often than not the answer these days will be ‘yes’. Within my circle of London based friends, the answer is more likely to be, “of course; I did a HIIT session on Monday, ran 5k Tuesday, rest day Wednesday, did a WOD at the local CrossFit Thursday and have a PT session this eve - how about you?” This may make some of you feel exhausted, a bit guilty or even sigh and roll your eyes, but I’m afraid to say I’m the person that will answer “that’s awesome, me too!”
It seems in the past few years fitness has developed into something of a social identity - at least among the plugged-in, upper middle class, roughly millennial-age urbanists. On reflection, I can vouch for that; if I’m not working or with my family, I’m almost certainly in the gym, where I have made a good few friends and have now become part of an established community in my local area. It is a genuine way of life and I am certainly not alone.
According to research conducted by Leisure DB, we are officially a nation of gym-goers. The UK Fitness Report has found that UK gym memberships has grown by more than 5% year on year, meaning 1 in 7 of us now use a gym (or at least pay to be a member of one).
It seems the current generation of 20- to 30-somethings are knowledgeable and care about health and what they are eating and drinking, right from where produce is sourced to understanding its nutritional value better. This has recently been evidenced by various surveys, showing that this generation is generally drinking less alcohol than our predecessors, with even a growing proportion thinking of completely abstaining from alcohol altogether. Times are changing and there is a generational shift from the baby boomers in terms of how spare time is used and valued.
The fitness market has of course latched onto this rise in the time being spent in the gym and, over the past decade, there has been a significant boom in not only the number of gyms but also the types of gym – a trend evidenced by Colliers International in their 2017 review of the Central London Gym market. Constant changes in market trends and how the property market quickly adapts to meet new demands can be observed.
So now not dissimilar to how the retail sector has had to adapt (large format stores giving way to convenience and the likes of Aldi and Lidl providing more variety for those shopping to a budget), the fitness market is now following suit – convenience AND knowledge are king to the consumer. No longer is the market dominated by the big, standard format gym providers like Virgin Active and Cannons, with their standard gym formats and pricey fixed yearly contracts. We are now seeing the rise of budget gyms such as Pure Gym and easyGym (yes even easyJet has recognised there’s good business to be had here) offering cheap monthly/pay-as-you-go memberships, as well as the rise of specialist studios and spaces - YourZone, Barrys Bootcamp, Crossfit gyms and Soul Cycle to name but a few.
The word ‘budget’ might conjure up images of paying for the bare minimum along the lines of budget airlines easyJet and Ryanair, where every little extra such as signing up to a class, using the pool or asking for a towel will cost extra, so by the time it’s all added up, the more expensive option might just as well have been paid for?
from £19.99 per month
Fitness for Less
£15.99 per month
£8.99 per month
Well apparently not; ‘budget’ gyms have all the latest equipment in conveniently located spaces, full suites of classes and more often than not, they are open 24/7. They may have slightly less staff hanging around than the usual gym, no in-built coffee shop or chill-out areas, no free toiletries and the necessity of taking your own towel and padlock but the cost of going to the gym is not an excuse anymore! Budget gyms account for the biggest area of growth in the UK fitness industry. There are now more 500 of them, accounting for more than an estimated 35% of all gym memberships.
As well as budget, there has also been the rise in the more specialist and boutique studios/gyms, some zoning in on the latest technologies and fads taking hold in the fitness business. A prime example is the rise of High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT), with the subsequent rise of franchises such as Barry’s Bootcamp; clients pay a fair-sized sum for the privilege of being shouted at by trainers, over loud music and in the dark. They burn a silly amount of calories in a packed room for 50 minutes.
There is something for everyone out there now (although you may have to dig a little deeper into your pockets!).
This is not to say the days of the ‘old school’ gym providers such as Virgin Active and David Lloyd are over; there is still a dedicated group of gym-goers in the market who are willing to pay more and even travel a little further for all the extras. Given the competition presented by the budget gyms, Virgin Active have recently announced the sale of a number of UK/London clubs so it can focus on the upgrade of its luxury ‘Collection’ clubs.
So what does this mean for the development industry?
Accommodation-wise and right now, any space - whether it is a 50sqm ground floor shell, old industrial shed, basement or even rooftop space – could be a gym, and potentially a new community hub. It used to be the case that developers would often look at left-over, unusable and/ or least valuable space in a scheme and count out gym use, either due to size (too small) or lack of need (there was already a gym nearby). Well not anymore; the market is much more flexible and tangible now. Generation gym – being all-knowledgeable, highly demanding, and wanting to try all new fads whilst still seeking the all-important convenience factor – love choice and variety, with some choosing to be members of more than one gym (as they offer completely different things). In fact, generation gym, particularly in London, would form a large part of the group labelled as generation rent – the same group that is driving the Build to Rent market and more often than not, that expect gyms to be a part of the purpose-built facilities they are buying into – again, convenience is key!
The new gyms don’t need large floor areas so when developers are formulating their next project and considering options for uses or what to do with that basement or compromised units why not see if a gym or studio could make best use of that space. A gym/studio could even make a good temporary meanwhile use. With local authorities giving increased consideration to health impacts and benefits a gym could make just as much sense as any other commercial option. Incorporating a gym could also assist in making a genuine case to local authority planners that the facility will become a valued community asset.