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Niche Operators Come to the Fore in Saturated Mainland Fitness Market

With established players and recent entrants vying for market share in the mainland's highly competitive out-of-home exercise sector, many companies are looking to super-serve certain segments, with the emphasis on personal training.

Photo: Health clubbing: Golf training is just one of the niches served by mainland fitness centres.
Health clubbing: Golf training is just one of the niches served by mainland fitness centres.
Photo: Health clubbing: Golf training is just one of the niches served by mainland fitness centres.
Health clubbing: Golf training is just one of the niches served by mainland fitness centres.

With the mainland now home to an ever-increasing number of gyms and fitness centres, the competition to attract new consumer sign-ups is intense, while the sector is becoming notably segmented. Despite a substantial number of players already operating within the industry, the potentially high profits on offer are still attracting new entrants. As a result, niche training facilities are now appearing in many mainland cities, with the increasingly diversified development seen in Guangzhou typical of that of many of the mainland's major cities.

Wang Peng is just one of the entrepreneurs who has been lured by the sector's healthy balance book. A Guangzhou-based businessman, he was previously the president of a local cultural enterprise and has also headed up several companies in the club-management, international-trading and visual-art sectors. A self-confessed advocate of seeking out cross-sector synergy, a co-operative venture with a German company saw him enter the fitness sector earlier this year.

With his existing business interests spanning four sectors – fine art, photography, education and stylish living – his move into the fitness sector saw him look for opportunities that combined one or more of his previous ventures. This led him to open fitness studios within his Qingshe chain of cultural venues as he looked to offer a combined artistic and body workout experience to his patrons. This is in line with his belief that exercise represents an "external achievement", while art can be considered an "internal achievement", with his venues allowing visitors to satisfy both needs.

Believing niche fitness studios need to be very different to traditional gyms and, of necessity, more aesthetically appealing, patrons of Wang's Qingshe clubs have the opportunity to exercise while appreciating fine works of art, all sourced from emerging talents in China and overseas. Overall, this is very much in line with Wang's philosophy of attracting a high-end clientele, which values its privacy, through the provision of state-of-the-art fitness facilities within a sophisticated environment.

Photo: Yoga: A classic fitness option.
Yoga: A classic fitness option.
Photo: Yoga: A classic fitness option.
Yoga: A classic fitness option.
Photo: Xu Lina: A fit fitness coach.
Xu Lina: A fit fitness coach.
Photo: Xu Lina: A fit fitness coach.
Xu Lina: A fit fitness coach.

In another innovation, Wang's staff use high-end Leica cameras to photograph Qingshe's clients both before they begin their exercise programme and after it has been completed, while also making a video record of their progress, highlighting any milestones along the way. An exhibition of such images has also been held in several of the clubs.

Deng Weixia, one of Qinhshe's Fitness Coaches, has day-to-day experience of the way Wang's clubs work, while also being a veteran of several Guangzhou gyms. He believes that Wang's fitness studio offers something very different to the majority of the city's training establishments, citing its superior environment, artistic ambience and opportunities to purchase individual works of art as particular examples.

Highlighting other differences, Deng said: "We are unique in that we offer a range of art-related activities, all designed to develop a client's cultural appreciation even as they develop their physique. They also have the option of ordering custom-made western outfits or cheongsams [tight-fitting traditional Chinese dresses], which are ideal for highlighting their improved body shapes."

Coaches

For many, though, while the artistic ambience of Wang's clubs is clearly a bonus, it is the quality of the private trainers on offer that truly proves the worth of any out-of-home exercise establishment. Indeed, a coach with a good reputation is a huge asset to any gym or fitness centre, especially as they often bring with them a substantial and loyal body of previous clients. It is important, though, that such individuals are given the freedom to properly manage their own training programmes.

Highlighting this, Chen Qiuliang, a Senior Coach with Bei'er Laika, a Guangzhou-based fitness centre, said: "Good trainers should be trusted to develop the kind of fitness programmes their clients require. As the physique and expectations of every client are different, it is important that they are provided with a bespoke training programme, complete with an in-built incentive system and clearly defined goals."

Liang Dapeng, one of Chen's fellow coaches, believes that a good trainer should do more than just supervise fitness regimes, saying: "Beyond giving advice on how to get the best out of exercising, it is also important to help clients adjust their diets. As I was once overweight myself, I can draw on my own experience to help others eat more healthily, ensuring their health and fitness regimes prove sustainable. Overall, though, any truly professional trainer shouldn't struggle to attract clients in the current market."

Photo: Bei’er Laika’s post-exercise facilities.
Bei'r Laika's post-exercise facilities.
Photo: Bei’er Laika’s post-exercise facilities.
Bei'r Laika's post-exercise facilities.
Photo: Junior fitness fans.
Junior fitness fans.
Photo: Junior fitness fans.
Junior fitness fans.

Despite Liang's assertion, many trainers in the city are increasingly looking to specialise in order to maximise their appeal to certain segments of the exercise market. Xu Lina, a Coach with Tongtai, another of Guangzhou's expanding number of fitness centres, primarily focuses on rehabilitation, physical fitness, yoga and golf-related training. In the case of rehabilitory exercise, she believes her sessions particularly benefit those suffering from scoliosis, frozen shoulders, muscle strains or dislocations.

Outlining her approach to the profession, she said: "It is important for trainers to have their own exercise regime and to continually look to refine their knowledge and approach. As I start work at 9am every day and often don't finish until 10pm, if I didn't maintain my own fitness, I would never be able to cope with such a schedule."

As with Xu, Chen also sets great store on ensuring he retains a high level of personal fitness, frequently competing in exercise tournaments across the mainland as a means of both staying in shape and keeping abreast of the latest training techniques. Explaining how his own approach has evolved, he said: "Originally, I specialised in muscle building and body toning, but I am now studying yoga and Pilates as a way of extending my range of coaching services."

Fang Weibin, Special Correspondent, Guangzhou

For more information of the mainland fitness market, see "Gyms and Fitness Studios Battle for Share of Mainland Exercise Market", 29 September 2017.

Content provided by Picture: HKTDC Research
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