Fitness, driver of consumer market

Updated: 2016-09-26 08:07

By Wu Yiyao(China Daily)

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Fitness, driver of consumer market

A fitness program consumer checks readings on an app while exercising at a club in Beijing. [Photo/Xinhua]

Gyms, health clubs, group workouts and keep-fit video apps transform lifestyles

Saturday mornings appear to be ideal for fitness-crazy Shanghai groups to have fun in the form of dance-like workouts outdoors.

Some 500 lined up last Saturday to join a one-hour event. The venue was disco-like. Les Mills, one of the world's largest developers of group workouts, kicked off its global tour for 2016 beside the shimmering Huangpu.

On the dais, five coaches gave instructions to the fitness fanatics, who pushed up weight-laden barbells in sync with the beats of rock-and-roll music.

"It feels more like a party than an early morning workout," said Zhang Qiong, 26, who woke up at 6 am to attend the morning's first class.

Phillip Mills, CEO of Les Mills, said it is not surprising Chinese people are passionate about group workouts, given the proliferating gyms and fitness programs.

Les Mills' programs are provided to 8 million people by 90,000 teachers in more than 17,000 clubs around the world every week.

The firm is eyeing fast growth in China. "Workouts have become a lifestyle. People believe they are good for work-life balance. As far as I know, China has more than 18,000 brands of gyms and workout programs. Les Mills has been popular around the world. Now, it's getting increasingly welcomed across the nation," said Phillip Mills.

"China's fitness market, including gyms and program developers, needs consolidation after the fast growth. In the long run, we're confident the market size is really going to expand to a significant size."

According to a research note from Euromonitor International, demand for fitness in China has become one of the top ten drivers of the consumer market. Other drivers include clothing, leisure, entertainment, food and beverages.

Joey Chio, senior associate director of Savills China Retail Tenant Representation, said that athletics-related leisure, also called "athleisure" by fitness fans, has been gaining market share in clothing in recent years. Brands such as Lululemon and Under Amour have become trendy in the retail landscape.

Its spillover effect has been that opportunities arose for players in other sectors, like mobile application developers. Keep, a smartphone app which teaches workout tips and training programs through video clips, now boasts 50 million users. It received C round investments from, among others, technology giant Tencent Holding Ltd. This, just two years after launch.

"Fitness has become popular due to many factors. There is government policy to develop the sports sector. Lifestyles are changing with more focus on health. There is a cultural trend toward sexy six-pack figures. There is middle-class anxiety about the costs of ill health and peer pressure to look better. You want to prove you can afford to hit a gym to stay active," said Julian Chow, an analyst with Shanghai-based Tang Yue Culture and Communication.

Fitness market insiders said China's health clubs and gyms still face some challenges, and measures are needed to make the market more transparent and fair.

"Piracy of choreography, unsafe exercise instructions given by untrained coaches, and poorly regulated membership pricing are hindering the development of the fitness market. As the market gets more mature and competition fiercer, consumers will have more options, which should improve standards," said Michael Yip, a coach with Tera Wellness Club.