Budget gyms: stop making the mistake of thinking “budget” can mean “cheap”

Graham Bertrand is the owner of Physique Sports, the UK’s largest provider of remanufactured gym equipment, and advisor to many of the fastest growing budget gyms in the UK.

We met with Graham to learn what separates the best budget gyms from the rest of the market, and what the owners of the budget gyms need to think about to ensure that they don’t end up competing on price alone.


Why are gyms now opting for refurbished equipment over new equipment?

The first thing to say is that we don’t call it “refurbished”, we call it “remanufactured”. The products are stripped down to their bare frames and rebuilt replacing all wearable and aesthetic parts.  The customer is then given a full parts and labour warranty and the reassurance of a 48 hour back-up service. This is far more than simple refurbishment.

The reason why remanufactured kit is becoming more popular is the affordability. The savings can be as much as 70% over the price of brand new equipment and the end user won’t notice any difference.

But it doesn’t stop there. What really excites clients is the opportunity to totally brand their equipment in their gym’s colour scheme which helps them to really differentiate themselves through their own visual identity, and with only a small impact on cost (typically just 5% or so).


Why do you think gyms are so keen to have their own branded kit?

A treadmill is a treadmill. If you performed an exit survey on 100 people leaving a gym, it’s unlikely that any of them would say it was because of the manufacturer of the kit. They probably wouldn’t even know who the manufacturer was! However, if you brand the kit in the colour scheme of the gym itself, you’re starting to create a unique visual experience.

When I go to see prospective clients I advise them on member journey through their club and these details really matter! If there are stains on the floor or rust on the machines or chips on the skirting board then it sends a message of lack of investment. Gym owners need to take pride in the appearance, cleanliness and upkeep of their gyms, and bespoke and branded equipment all add to the visual impact.


Where do you think budget gyms need to improve?

The budget gym market is still in its early stages. Those that are really succeeding are those that understand that budget does not mean cheap or low service. This is about affordable fitness, but the experience within the gym still matters. Many gym owners fail to recognise that which can explain their poor membership retention.

You need to think about the initial impression to potential members. When they walk into a gym they would expect to see the normal range of equipment – treadmills, bikes, etc… – but what does the gym actually stand for? What’s the unique experience being offered that means you should sign up to this gym and not the one down the road that that might be £2 a month cheaper?

The larger the chain the more the emphasis seems to be placed on profit with a view to a sale or flotation, often forgetting their real motivations behind founding the gym in the first place. This may help them achieve their short term financial goals but in five years from now they’ll have little to compete on besides a low price tag.


What would your main piece of advice be to owners of budget gyms?

I would say to be aware that our industry is not just price driven. Health clubs provide a service which the majority of users do not overly enjoy, so making that experience as pleasant and visually engaging as possible is hugely important.

Your first step is to understand the needs and wishes of your members and then design an experience around that. Sure, remove the unnecessary frills, but understand that embarking on price wars will only fuel a poor member offering as the investment into staff and kit becomes compromised.


Posted in Gyms & Clubs, Interviews, The Fitness Network.