Mark Anthony, also known as the ‘body genius’, is not only one of the UK’s most notorious celebrity personal trainers but also the owner of Rush Fitness, a new chain of “premium budget” gyms around London.
We met with Mark to get his insight on group fitness; a US trend that Mark believes is about to take the UK market by storm.
Why is there such a growing buzz around group fitness?
The group fitness market has absolutely exploded in the US over the last 5 years. The reason is simple. Not only is demand high as people look for something a bit different from the usual gym experience but it’s also highly cost effective. Setting up a group fitness facility might cost between 10-20% of what it would cost to set up a conventional gym, so on paper there is a very strong business case indeed.
How are they making it work in the US?
The trend has been driven by a company called Soul Cycle. They were founded by 4 women in 2006 and their cycle classes now seat around 50,000 riders a week! From day 1 they took a very female approach to the classes, placing an emphasis on the visual and sensory experience. Most notably they always keep the lights off apart from small candles around the instructor. It not only creates a really intense atmosphere, but also makes those with insecurities about their physical appearance feel more comfortable (not to mention helping to disguise the very low cost facilities!).
The other important feature is the small number of classes which works well in the US as people know exactly what to expect – a seriously intense workout!
With up to 70 seats at $32 each and classes back to back throughout the day, seven days a week, the Soul Cycle movement is proving to be a very lucrative one.
Is the UK market ready for group fitness?
The UK market is typically 6 or 7 years behind the US market, so when you consider that Soul Cycle started back in 2006, it seems highly likely that this trend will take the UK by storm over the next year or two. And there’s no question that UK gym goers are craving something new. You can see with the explosion of outdoor classes that people will do anything to avoid another boring trip to the gym.
The big challenge, however, is a cultural one. This model works in the US because not only are they more used to that kind of hyped up atmosphere, but they are also very serious about their fitness and are therefore willing to attend these seriously tough classes three or four times a week. And, just as importantly, willing to pay big money for them!
So what does the UK market need to do differently?
There are definitely lessons to be taken from the US market, but we need to adapt it for the British culture. For a start, the pricing is going to have to be very different. Either a much lower pay as you go price, or some kind of monthly subscription. People simply will not pay £20-25 a class.
The other issue is variety. The typical member in the UK is not as serious about their fitness as a member in the US, so there needs to be more variation – yes it should include the high intensity cycling classes, but also things like pilates, yoga and bums and tums – there needs to be enough selection so that members don’t get bored.
What about conventional gyms, how will they combat this move towards group fitness facilities?
It’s perfectly possible for gyms to incorporate the principles of group fitness into their own offering, and in fact they’ll need to if they are to avoid losing big chunks of their membership. We’re already seeing some of the big brands, like Virgin Active, do a great job in developing their spinning classes to be much more high energy and visually engaging, but it’s something that the vast majority of the market still needs to start thinking about. And fast!