Rapidly growing gym chain hits Malaysian shores

Rapidly growing gym chain hits Malaysian shores
The mascot of the Anytime Fitness chain, Captain Running Man working out at Anytime Fitness gym in Bandar Puteri Puchong, Selangor.

MALAYSIA - The fitness bug has been unleashed over the last few years getting more people to take a health-turn for the better.

Whether their goals are to get lean, shed fat, build muscle, stamina or all of the above, almost all fitness health clubs have that personalised service for you.

While that's ideal, most fitness clubs may appear too daunting for some, so a 24-hour no frills-concept gym could be the choice locale one can go to for their workout. It excludes the big and bold posters, flashing lights, the latest fitness gear being paraded around by diehard gym freaks.

On the other hand the business model is - what you see is what you get - the essential cardio and weights machines with the free weights area where the people can work out and get out. As simple as that may sound, it seems that more people prefer it that way, according to John Kersh, vice president of international development for US-based 24-hour fitness chain, Anytime Fitness LLC.

"The club gives people options that have not existed before, coupled with a different kind of atmosphere. Heavily commercialised gyms are like big boxes with plenty of facilities, more amenities and staff.

"While the choices are vast, it means more expensive membership rates and a lot of members are unlikely to use all these facilities. So we eliminate these extras and can reduce costs making them affordable for the masses," said Kersh, who was in Kuala Lumpur for the opening of the first Anytime Fitness club in Puchong.

"Anytime Fitness is a sleek and simple gym where members enter the outlet using their security pass card. Time is no more an issue as it is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. All the clubs are clean and include a warm and pleasing interior design where we believe people will feel comfortable in," said Kersh.

There are the occasional group exercise classes, personal trainers and club consultants during its daytime operating hours.

Perhaps this effective simplicity has contributed to the wellness franchise' rapid growth to over 2,500 clubs in the US and 16 other countries. The 14-year-old American chain continues to open at least one new gym every day somewhere in the world.

It has been recognised by Forbes magazine as the fastest growing health club franchise. Currently it has over two million members and growing.

"About 1,900 of our locations are outside of the US and international expansion has outpaced our local growth rate. In the last five years within the Asia region, we opened 350 gyms in Australia and seven in Singapore. Malaysia marks our 17th country," said Kersh.

It would be modest to announce world domination as the chain aims to open 5,000 outlets around the globe in the next five years.

"Closer to home, we chose Malaysia as a part of Asia after observing that the fitness industry is under-developed in a couple of ways - people are not as aware or as exposed to the benefits of healthy living and regular exercise, Quality gyms are hard to find and we will make ours accessible as we open more outlets in the country.

"Typically, when we enter a market, we grow rapidly to cater to the needs of new clients," explained Kersh.

After their maiden outlet in Malaysia, the Philippines, Hong Kong and China are their new targets. The second outlet here will be in Mont Kiara.

"The initial franchise fee is about US$60,000. We are currently looking for investors in various locations. Over 60 per cent of franchisees own multiple locations.

The difference between our investors and other company franchisees is that ours don't just put their money in and that's it. Anytime Fitness investors are involved in operating and growing the business, they are hands on with the day to day events that happen in the business," says Anytime Fitness master franchisee Maurice B.Levine.

The success of its franchise could be due to the chain's CEO and founder Chuck Runyon's mantra of ROEI (return on emotional investment) where money is the last subject to be addressed. Instead, their annual conferences highlight and inspire franchisees and new business owners to make a change and find their ultimate purpose in life.

The Anytime Fitness' character trademark is its Captain Running Man and has been tattooed at the company's expenses on over 2000 people who are franchisees, personal trainers, club members and even members.

While it may appear cult-like, Levine and Kersh said that it represents the number of people who love the brand and want to have it imprinted in flesh until an unlikely change of mind and heart- do them apart.

"We do lots of things to create the successful brand image. Out fundamentals and philosophies are very different to that of other health clubs. We aim to have good fun when we work and carry that strong human element from the board level to the club operations that all members can relate to," said Kersh.

Competition isn't an issue for the franchise because their value proposition cannot be easily emulated.

"We have a system to make this 24-hour concept work flawlessly - so there are companies who have created a similar business model but don't quite come close to us.

It is simple to copy what we do, but more difficult to copy how we do it," said Kersh.

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