24-hour gym franchise Anytime Fitness has already firmly established itself on the world stage. And it is now flexing its muscles to great effect in the UK
Many American brands have penetrated the United Kingdom over the course of the last thirty years. The obvious candidates here are the household names of McDonald’s, Subway, KFC and Burger King. With regards to the former two of these fast-food behemoths, they have enjoyed considerable growth on these shores, and worldwide, with the aid of franchising.
Yet, there is one global franchise that has eclipsed them both in terms of its rate of expansion. Founded in 2002, 24-hour gym chain Anytime Fitness opened its 2,000th club on December 3 2012, a feat which it took McDonalds 32 years to achieve. Subway, on other hand, had to wait 23 years to reach that particular milestone.
What makes the growth of Anytime Fitness so compelling is the fact that it operates in a sector that can be regarded as both the polar opposite and best friend of the food service sector. As much as treating oneself to a meal out is a popular pastime for large swathes of the global population, keeping oneself fit and healthy has similarly universal appeal. Likewise, neither industry will ever come under any real threat from the internet and the inroads it is making into everyone’s daily lives.
Nevertheless, it would be naïve to suggest that Anytime Fitness’s growth is purely a result of people’s constant need to keep in shape. There has to be something to set one gym concept apart from another and thus make it worthy of the everyday fitness freak’s attention. In the case of Anytime, the very notion of a local 24/7 gym that is open 365 days a year stands it in decent stead. Yet, it was only after taking on board the views of customers that the company’s co-founders – Jeff Klinger, Chuck Runyon, and Dave Mortensen – realised that there was demand for such a service.
“They were listening to their members, listening to the stories, and listening to what they needed to do to try and adapt a business to support modern-day living,” explains Karl Dietrich, sales and marketing manager for Anytime Fitness UK. “They fell upon the 24-hour concept and asked themselves ‘how do we simplify the whole process of a 24-hour gym concept?’”
The answer, it transpired, was franchising. “Within that first year, they had three clubs open and they very quickly realised that suddenly they had a product that they could franchise,” Dietrich continues. “And by franchising, they could maintain the model standard and maintain the brand standard for bringing very emotive, very motivated people on board who could make a real impact.”
The world was soon going crazy for Anytime Fitness, with Australia taking the concept to heart more than any other country. Dietrich explains that 300 clubs opened Down Under in the space of four and a half years and it is now on the verge of saturation, with franchisees signed up in close to 500 territories. At present, the company is operating in 15 countries, and launched in the UK in 2010.
However, Dietrich admits that the idea of a 24-hour gym was somewhat alien to the British public at the time. “If you go outside of the UK, 60% of gyms are 24-hour, so it is not a new concept globally,” he explains. “It is a relatively new concept in the UK. There are some budget gyms now that offer the 24-hour format, but what Anytime brings to the table is that we are smaller, local, and almost perceived as community-based gyms so we become convenient to where we are located.”
And if there was any doubt whatsoever about people’s desire to undertake exercise in the early hours, he adds that 10% of Anytime members worldwide currently make use of its service through the night. Considering the scale it has achieved thus far, that is proof enough of the demand for 24/7 fitness.
Clearly, making what is at heart an American concept work overseas is no easy task. But Anytime Fitness has achieved this admirably, and its franchisees have been at the forefront of its success. “They are our biggest USP,” says Dietrich. “The franchisee has a vested interest in that gym being successful. Rather than being the general manager of a gym, who is just driven by targets, our franchisees also want to help local charities and get involved with the local community base.”
Such an approach means the brand’s global presence is effectively fed down into the individual franchise territories within which it operates. Dietrich explains that Anytime Fitness has adopted the phrase ‘standardise when possible, localise when necessary’ to help drive this home. “We are standardising what the brand stands for, and what the heart and soul of the business is, but then localising it to make the local markets understand what the brand is about,” he comments.
Although Anytime’s sheer global presence may give it the hallmarks of a multinational corporation, the franchise element of the business means that each club has its own unique personality. Members are thus left identifying closely with their local branch, enjoying a personalised experience upon every visit, yet all the while still having access to other Anytime gyms worldwide.
And the size and location of each site merely serves to enhance this further. “The square footage of our clubs is anything from 3,500 to 6,000 square feet as an average, so our clubs are smaller, they are more intimate,” says Dietrich. “It is a friendlier atmosphere but obviously led by a very professional brand, so it means we don’t need to go into the main town centres; we don’t want to go into the main town centres. We want to go into the local community area closer to where you live and where you shop.”
Anytime Fitness definitely looks set to grow at a rapid rate in the UK. By the end of this year, there will be 29 gyms in operation, all of them franchised bar the company’s HQ site in Hemel Hempstead. Dietrich explains that the current target is 300 clubs, a milestone that it should be halfway to reaching by the end of the year.
Indeed, there is probably scope to take it past the magic 300 mark but Dietrich isn’t getting too far ahead of himself just yet. “If you look at David Lloyd which is the largest health club group in the UK currently, it has about 420,000 members, and 300 clubs would give us approximately 350,000 members in the UK,” he says. “When you look at scale and proportion in the UK, 300 would make us quite a large entity as a brand. It is an achievable target but let’s see how the UK is set up when there is 300 open.”
It certainly seems to be a case of ‘when’ and not ‘if’ as far as Anytime Fitness is concerned. Having firmly established itself as a major player in the international health and fitness stakes – and now ranked the world’s fastest-growing franchise by American magazine Entrepreneur – its success only looks like continuing on our shores.
We suspect most people in the UK will probably soon find themselves a short jog from their nearest Anytime Fitness franchise.