15 Apr 2024 World leisure: news, training & property
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Health Club Management
2021 issue 8

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Leisure Management - Bounceback challenges

Editor's letter

Bounceback challenges

The appetite for health clubs is strong among consumers and investors – to take advantage of this, operators must figure out how to meet key challenges in operationally sustainable ways

Liz Terry, Leisure Media
The Gym Group and Fiit have created in-gym branded pods photo: The Gym Group

It’s great to see the market roaring back in the UK and on page 44 we talk to big box operators about challenges, trading and changing consumer behaviour.

Some, such as David Lloyd Leisure (page 32), are already back to pre-pandemic membership levels only a few months after reopening, with others close to hitting this important target.

However, in a market where investor expectations are high in the private sector and financial pressures great in the public, there are also adaptations that need to be made if the sector is to fully recover.

A major priority is adapting club locations – this is clearly an issue, with city-centre sites and also some rural sites doing less well and we’re seeing operators such as 1Rebel pivoting and opening studios in residential areas (page 26) to rebalance their businesses.

The change to homeworking is seeing operators overhauling their property portfolios to align them with the new reality. This is reshaping the sector and – where sites are disposed of – boosting the independents and giving entrepreneurs and franchises a way into the market.

There’s also an issue with sleepers – members who pay but don’t use the gym. For some operators, pandemic cancellations have stripped away the accumulation of decades of sleeper Direct Debits, so even if attendances recover, the bottom line will be challenged until membership can be regrown to accommodate this.

This challenge is driving the sector to refresh and reinvent itself, making new alliances and partnerships to accelerate market penetration and growth, as we’ve seen this month with the news of Hussle’s partnership with McDonald’s (page 30).

Increased operational costs are also burdening operators – Russell Barnes, CEO at David Lloyd Leisure says COVID-secure operating protocols are costing an additional £800k a month (see our interview on page 32), making this another challenge to work through and streamline as quickly as possible: we need to find cheaper and more environmental ways to continue to deliver these elevated levels of hygiene.

Customers who are fearful of returning are being missed and operators are seeking ways to reassure them or create new services to draw them back into clubs.

On page 64 we look at The Gym Group’s collaboration with Fiit which is linking at-home workouts with new in-club solus workout pods and group studios, blurring the boundaries and helping bring members back.

Regaining pre-pandemic membership levels is the first step on the journey to recovery. The next challenge is to continue to harness creative thinking, forge new partnerships and find solutions to these and other challenges to return to profitability.

Liz Terry, HCM editor

Originally published in Health Club Management 2021 issue 8

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