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Health Club Management

Health Club Management

features

FIBO China: A Chinese Puzzle

Jak Phillips went to FIBO China and filed this report

Published in Health Club Management 2019 issue 9
Jak Phillips
Jak Phillips
The online to offline model – where businesses build an audience through a slick digital presence and then channel them towards physical sites – is highly popular in China and made possible by the ubiquity of WeChat

Stormy seas make for great sailors.” This was the prescient theme of the presentation from my fellow speaker Christian Mason – MD of Virgin Active South East Asia – at the Fit Business Live event held at FIBO China in Shanghai last month.

The eloquent Australian was discussing the story of how Virgin Active quickly became a dominant player in the Singapore and Thailand markets from a standing start, but he could equally have been referring to the unlikely situation currently unfolding in the Chinese gym market.

As anyone who’s been to China will attest, the country is full of surprises. And two of the preconceptions I arrived with were well and truly scotched during the course of my week-long trip.

I’ll start with the good news. For all the headlines warning of smog, pollution and wastage, China (or Shanghai at least) is in the midst of an ecological epiphany. The country of red is determined to go green, with recycling bins now dominating every house, hotel and office, while legions of neighbourhood champions are being paid to ensure people play by the rules and diligently sort their rubbish. Single-use plastics are also off the menu as China seeks to cut down on waste and repair the impact that exponential growth has had on its environment.

Winter is coming
The bad news – perhaps more relevant for this audience – is that all is not rosy in the Chinese gym market. Contrary to popular perceptions of endless double-digit growth, driven by a burgeoning middle class, the fitness industry has indeed hit stormy seas and is in the midst of a major slowdown. Aggressive overexpansion has led to a number of club chains going bust in recent months, while the fiscal headwinds slowing the wider economy have meant clubs are being starved of outside investment.

Reliable data is difficult to come by, but many of the operators in attendance at FIBO China were of the poetic view that “Spring has been, and winter is coming”, with suppliers also feeling the resultant pinch.

In some ways, the Chinese club market is following the path of the global fitness industry, but in others, it’s delightfully divergent. One of the main topics at the Fit Business Live event – hosted by Les Mills – was the need for clubs to shift from a sales-driven to service-driven approach in order to add value to members and shore up sky-high attrition rates: a topic familiar to many readers, I’m sure.

Conversely, another hot topic was the exciting opportunities afforded by the high-tech, low-touch business model being deployed to devastating effect by one of the rising stars of the Chinese club market: Super Monkey.

Set to reach 200 sites by the end of 2019, Super Monkey is a low-cost boutique, offering a mix of own-brand and Les Mills workouts. Users book classes via their phone (neatly, they can also book their friends in) and receive a passcode 10 minutes before the class, which they use to access the studio. The lack of staffing and the low square footage required (a small curtained-off area to change in is the only amenity other than the studio) means Super Monkey studios can open virtually anywhere. And they’ve been doing exactly that.

Tech savvy
The online to offline business model – whereby businesses build an audience through a slick digital presence and then channel them towards physical sites – is highly popular in China and made possible by the ubiquity of WeChat.

Whether it’s speaking to friends, paying for a meal or applying for a loan, virtually all business in China is conducted via this app (which makes extensive use of QR codes), with the resultant integrated experience opening up a world of marketing opportunities for digitally-savvy clubs like Super Monkey to own the entire customer journey and a wealth of data.

Given the need for enhanced member experience and the boom in innovative boutiques, group fitness was another hot topic at the event, with its impact on retention and ability to offer quality and consistency to fast-scaling businesses held up as a key factor in its prominence across all segments of the Chinese club market.

Elsewhere at the FIBO show, you continued to encounter a curious blend of the fresh and familiar. Aside from the usual mega-stands from all the big equipment suppliers (I always spare a thought for the poor presenters who have to work-out for the entire day and pretend they’re enjoying it) there were some interesting activation experiences, with Reebok-sponsored functional fitness competitions deftly blending the spectacle of an event with clothing retail opportunities.

Looking ahead
That said, there was also the unedifying sight of men and women in Speedos and oodles of fake tan competing in bodybuilding contests, surrounded by supplement stands where muscle-bound men flex their biceps on beat to German techno. Ours is a vital and professional industry, that’s come a long way since the 80s. So why do we continue to give a platform at our events to a niche sub-culture that for so long has brought mockery on us, scared people away from gyms and marred us with accusations of steroids and supplement abuse? I’ve got nothing against the sport of bodybuilding, but aren’t we’re shooting ourselves in the foot by continuing to willingly associate it with the modern physical activity sector?

Anyway, rant over. Aside from the trade show, FIBO China had a series of star speakers adding sparkle to the education stream on the Friday, including Rene Moos, Jonathan Fisher and Herman Rutgers. I had to leave by then, so I can’t recount what was said, but I’m sure most readers will be familiar with their work and wisdom already. Suffice to say, the calibre of industry professional FIBO China is able to attract is testament to the growing importance of the Chinese gym market. Stormy seas may currently be rocking the boat, but surely its long-term course is set fair to become the next fitness superpower.

Group exercise classes and bodybuilding demonstrations entertained the crowds at FIBO China
Group exercise classes and bodybuilding demonstrations entertained the crowds at FIBO China
http://www.leisureopportunities.com/images/imagesX/141972_362210.jpg
HCM's Jak Philips reports on the most recent FIBO from China and covers the importance and popularity of the online to offline business model in China for the fitness industry as well as explaining why he believes the Chinese gym market is 'on a major slowdown'.
Jak Phillips, FIBO, China, fitness,Jak Phillips, FIBO, China, fitness
People
Jimmy had the brilliant idea to put the logos of all of the current cycling brands in and around NYC onto a piece of paper and we handed it to the investor at the end of our presentation. Then we handed a blank piece of paper and referenced that this was the current number of cool fitness concepts in the world and how we would like the investor to help us fill that page. A day later he wrote us a cheque
People
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Ben Gotting & Dave Thomas

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Because of our strong focus on community and inclusivity our members really do range from unemployed, and even homeless, to CEOs and board members of major institutions and celebrities
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Le Tigre: founder
We now have eight sites and offer retreats, such as a retreat in a Moroccan palace and a French chateaux-based yin yoga and writing retreat
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As Physical Company celebrates its 30th anniversary, we talk to managing director John Halls to find out how this leading supplier continues to improve with age
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Thanks to the rise in popularity of functional zones, there’s been an increased call for turf. We take a look at some of the turf products being installed
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Research
New research from Colliers has highlighted the opportunity for real estate developments in the health and fitness industry, as Ross Kirton explains
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Gen Z
Gen Z has come of age, and is engaging with fitness in new ways. We look at how health clubs can appeal to this young, tech-savvy and value-conscious age group
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feature
New refurbishment featuring Technogym’s Biocircuit sees 27 per cent membership growth in the first six months at Macclesfield Leisure Centre
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Latest News
US-based fitness franchise UFC Gym has opened its first European club. The 18,000sq ft (1,670sq ...
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Public Health England (PHE) and the Centre for Ageing Better (CAB) have set out their ...
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Physical activity bodies ukactive and EuropeActive have agreed to strengthen their partnership in the event ...
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The first-ever FIBO Southeast Asia fitness event will be held in Singapore next year. Taking ...
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Cancer survivors should undertake a minimum of 90 minutes of aerobic and resistance training each ...
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Thrive Global, the wellness and behaviour change tech firm founded by Arianna Huffington, has acquired ...
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Regular exercise is highly beneficial for all patients with cardiovascular disease regardless of age. A ...
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Job search
POST YOUR JOB
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Featured supplier: The secrets to designing a stand-out fitness studio
The design and construction of a group fitness or exercise studio can have a big impact on the success of your gym.
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Featured supplier: 30 and thriving: Physical Company celebrates landmark anniversary
Physical Company, a specialist equipment supplier based in the UK, has celebrated its thirtieth anniversary.
Opinion
promotion
As an industry, we still underestimate the power of a truly varied fitness regime - and the growing appetite for it, especially among emerging customer segments.
Opinion: Collaboration vs aggregation - what’s the difference?
An ever-increasing number of Brits are engaging in sporting events, setting themselves goals and looking to increase their fitness levels....
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At Matrix Fitness, our goal is to make innovative commercial fitness equipment that stands out ...
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Company profile: Stages Indoor Cycling
Stages Indoor Cycling is a product and technology company that is 100% focused on creating ...
Catalogue Gallery
Click on a catalogue to view it online
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Deloitte UK: Professional services
Audio visual
Hutchison Technologies: Audio visual
Fitness software
Go Do.Fitness: Fitness software
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Fisikal: Management software
Wearable technology solutions
MyZone: Wearable technology solutions
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Move GB: Member access schemes
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Property & Tenders
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Property & Tenders
Diary dates
28-30 Oct 2019
Hotel Royal Savoy, Lausanne, Switzerland
Diary dates
30-31 Oct 2019
NEC, Birmingham, United Kingdom
Diary dates
05-08 Nov 2019
Koelnmesse, Cologne, Germany
Diary dates
21-22 Nov 2019
JW Marriott Miami Turnberry Resort, Aventura,
Diary dates
29 Nov 2019
The King’s Fund, London, United Kingdom
Diary dates
29-30 Jan 2020
Holiday Inn San Francisco-Golden Gateway, San Francisco, United States
Diary dates
23-25 Mar 2020
Hilton, Barcelona, Spain
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10-27 Jun 2020
tbc, Pinggu, China
Diary dates
17-18 Jun 2020
ExCeL London, London, United Kingdom
Diary dates

features

FIBO China: A Chinese Puzzle

Jak Phillips went to FIBO China and filed this report

Published in Health Club Management 2019 issue 9
Jak Phillips
Jak Phillips
The online to offline model – where businesses build an audience through a slick digital presence and then channel them towards physical sites – is highly popular in China and made possible by the ubiquity of WeChat

Stormy seas make for great sailors.” This was the prescient theme of the presentation from my fellow speaker Christian Mason – MD of Virgin Active South East Asia – at the Fit Business Live event held at FIBO China in Shanghai last month.

The eloquent Australian was discussing the story of how Virgin Active quickly became a dominant player in the Singapore and Thailand markets from a standing start, but he could equally have been referring to the unlikely situation currently unfolding in the Chinese gym market.

As anyone who’s been to China will attest, the country is full of surprises. And two of the preconceptions I arrived with were well and truly scotched during the course of my week-long trip.

I’ll start with the good news. For all the headlines warning of smog, pollution and wastage, China (or Shanghai at least) is in the midst of an ecological epiphany. The country of red is determined to go green, with recycling bins now dominating every house, hotel and office, while legions of neighbourhood champions are being paid to ensure people play by the rules and diligently sort their rubbish. Single-use plastics are also off the menu as China seeks to cut down on waste and repair the impact that exponential growth has had on its environment.

Winter is coming
The bad news – perhaps more relevant for this audience – is that all is not rosy in the Chinese gym market. Contrary to popular perceptions of endless double-digit growth, driven by a burgeoning middle class, the fitness industry has indeed hit stormy seas and is in the midst of a major slowdown. Aggressive overexpansion has led to a number of club chains going bust in recent months, while the fiscal headwinds slowing the wider economy have meant clubs are being starved of outside investment.

Reliable data is difficult to come by, but many of the operators in attendance at FIBO China were of the poetic view that “Spring has been, and winter is coming”, with suppliers also feeling the resultant pinch.

In some ways, the Chinese club market is following the path of the global fitness industry, but in others, it’s delightfully divergent. One of the main topics at the Fit Business Live event – hosted by Les Mills – was the need for clubs to shift from a sales-driven to service-driven approach in order to add value to members and shore up sky-high attrition rates: a topic familiar to many readers, I’m sure.

Conversely, another hot topic was the exciting opportunities afforded by the high-tech, low-touch business model being deployed to devastating effect by one of the rising stars of the Chinese club market: Super Monkey.

Set to reach 200 sites by the end of 2019, Super Monkey is a low-cost boutique, offering a mix of own-brand and Les Mills workouts. Users book classes via their phone (neatly, they can also book their friends in) and receive a passcode 10 minutes before the class, which they use to access the studio. The lack of staffing and the low square footage required (a small curtained-off area to change in is the only amenity other than the studio) means Super Monkey studios can open virtually anywhere. And they’ve been doing exactly that.

Tech savvy
The online to offline business model – whereby businesses build an audience through a slick digital presence and then channel them towards physical sites – is highly popular in China and made possible by the ubiquity of WeChat.

Whether it’s speaking to friends, paying for a meal or applying for a loan, virtually all business in China is conducted via this app (which makes extensive use of QR codes), with the resultant integrated experience opening up a world of marketing opportunities for digitally-savvy clubs like Super Monkey to own the entire customer journey and a wealth of data.

Given the need for enhanced member experience and the boom in innovative boutiques, group fitness was another hot topic at the event, with its impact on retention and ability to offer quality and consistency to fast-scaling businesses held up as a key factor in its prominence across all segments of the Chinese club market.

Elsewhere at the FIBO show, you continued to encounter a curious blend of the fresh and familiar. Aside from the usual mega-stands from all the big equipment suppliers (I always spare a thought for the poor presenters who have to work-out for the entire day and pretend they’re enjoying it) there were some interesting activation experiences, with Reebok-sponsored functional fitness competitions deftly blending the spectacle of an event with clothing retail opportunities.

Looking ahead
That said, there was also the unedifying sight of men and women in Speedos and oodles of fake tan competing in bodybuilding contests, surrounded by supplement stands where muscle-bound men flex their biceps on beat to German techno. Ours is a vital and professional industry, that’s come a long way since the 80s. So why do we continue to give a platform at our events to a niche sub-culture that for so long has brought mockery on us, scared people away from gyms and marred us with accusations of steroids and supplement abuse? I’ve got nothing against the sport of bodybuilding, but aren’t we’re shooting ourselves in the foot by continuing to willingly associate it with the modern physical activity sector?

Anyway, rant over. Aside from the trade show, FIBO China had a series of star speakers adding sparkle to the education stream on the Friday, including Rene Moos, Jonathan Fisher and Herman Rutgers. I had to leave by then, so I can’t recount what was said, but I’m sure most readers will be familiar with their work and wisdom already. Suffice to say, the calibre of industry professional FIBO China is able to attract is testament to the growing importance of the Chinese gym market. Stormy seas may currently be rocking the boat, but surely its long-term course is set fair to become the next fitness superpower.

Group exercise classes and bodybuilding demonstrations entertained the crowds at FIBO China
Group exercise classes and bodybuilding demonstrations entertained the crowds at FIBO China
http://www.leisureopportunities.com/images/imagesX/141972_362210.jpg
HCM's Jak Philips reports on the most recent FIBO from China and covers the importance and popularity of the online to offline business model in China for the fitness industry as well as explaining why he believes the Chinese gym market is 'on a major slowdown'.
Jak Phillips, FIBO, China, fitness,Jak Phillips, FIBO, China, fitness
Latest News
US-based fitness franchise UFC Gym has opened its first European club. The 18,000sq ft (1,670sq ...
Latest News
Public Health England (PHE) and the Centre for Ageing Better (CAB) have set out their ...
Latest News
Physical activity bodies ukactive and EuropeActive have agreed to strengthen their partnership in the event ...
Latest News
The first-ever FIBO Southeast Asia fitness event will be held in Singapore next year. Taking ...
Latest News
Cancer survivors should undertake a minimum of 90 minutes of aerobic and resistance training each ...
Latest News
Thrive Global, the wellness and behaviour change tech firm founded by Arianna Huffington, has acquired ...
Latest News
Regular exercise is highly beneficial for all patients with cardiovascular disease regardless of age. A ...
Latest News
LXA has inserted a 2,000sq ft (186sq m) indoor/outdoor boxing gym into a mixed-use building ...
Latest News
The number of UK adults classed as physically active has increased by 1 million in ...
Latest News
Australian health club operator Viva Leisure has acquired eight Healthworks Fitness Centres in the state ...
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The physical activity economy is now a US$828bn (€752bn, £655bn) market – and its value ...
Job search
POST YOUR JOB
Featured supplier news
Featured supplier: The secrets to designing a stand-out fitness studio
The design and construction of a group fitness or exercise studio can have a big impact on the success of your gym.
Featured supplier news
Featured supplier: 30 and thriving: Physical Company celebrates landmark anniversary
Physical Company, a specialist equipment supplier based in the UK, has celebrated its thirtieth anniversary.
Opinion
promotion
As an industry, we still underestimate the power of a truly varied fitness regime - and the growing appetite for it, especially among emerging customer segments.
Opinion: Collaboration vs aggregation - what’s the difference?
An ever-increasing number of Brits are engaging in sporting events, setting themselves goals and looking to increase their fitness levels....
Opinion: Dr Crionna Tobin on nutritional training for PTs and fitness experts
Company profiles
Company profile: Matrix Fitness
At Matrix Fitness, our goal is to make innovative commercial fitness equipment that stands out ...
Company profiles
Company profile: Stages Indoor Cycling
Stages Indoor Cycling is a product and technology company that is 100% focused on creating ...
Catalogue Gallery
Click on a catalogue to view it online
Directory
Professional services
Deloitte UK: Professional services
Audio visual
Hutchison Technologies: Audio visual
Fitness software
Go Do.Fitness: Fitness software
Management software
Fisikal: Management software
Wearable technology solutions
MyZone: Wearable technology solutions
Whole body cryotherapy
Zimmer MedizinSysteme GmbH / icelab: Whole body cryotherapy
Locking solutions
Ojmar: Locking solutions
Exercise equipment
Star Trac / Core Health & Fitness: Exercise equipment
Member access schemes
Move GB: Member access schemes
Lockers/interior design
Fitlockers: Lockers/interior design
Property & Tenders
Kirklees Active Leisure
Property & Tenders
Diary dates
28-30 Oct 2019
Hotel Royal Savoy, Lausanne, Switzerland
Diary dates
30-31 Oct 2019
NEC, Birmingham, United Kingdom
Diary dates
05-08 Nov 2019
Koelnmesse, Cologne, Germany
Diary dates
21-22 Nov 2019
JW Marriott Miami Turnberry Resort, Aventura,
Diary dates
29 Nov 2019
The King’s Fund, London, United Kingdom
Diary dates
29-30 Jan 2020
Holiday Inn San Francisco-Golden Gateway, San Francisco, United States
Diary dates
23-25 Mar 2020
Hilton, Barcelona, Spain
Diary dates
10-27 Jun 2020
tbc, Pinggu, China
Diary dates
17-18 Jun 2020
ExCeL London, London, United Kingdom
Diary dates
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