Exploring the markets for gym installation in the UK
In today’s health-conscious society, a fit and active lifestyle is of central importance to most adults in the UK. The commercial gym sector has grown significantly over the last 20 years or so. There are thought to be nearly 3500 commercial gyms in the UK and the market is estimated at £1.62 billion pounds per year. The UK market is thought to be at an all-time high value – having increased by 11.5% in the 12 months to March 2023. Around 14-15% of UK adults hold a gym membership.
The market of course suffered a serious blow in 2021 and 2022 due to the Covid lockdowns. Straight after that came the cost-of-living crisis and energy prices skyrocketing, which has affected gyms profoundly. But the market is bouncing back as of 2023. New gyms are being opened every week, and although the marketplace is dominated by some very large players, there is still space for boutique, independent and community-run commercial gyms.
Definition of commercial gym
Commercial gyms, (also known as fitness centres, studios, or health clubs), are dedicated spaces specifically designed to offer a wide range of fitness activities and equipment to the general public for a fee. A range of price points and membership options is offered.
Within this broad definition there’s a very wide range of gym types. Some are designed to cater for a particular demographic of clientele. So, it’s worth taking a moment to look at what exactly a commercial gym is, and how it is different from other types of facility.
In this article, we’ll delve into the details of commercial gyms, highlighting their key features and what differentiates them from residential and corporate gyms. We will touch on the rise of corporate gyms and examine the latest trends in commercial gym design in the UK, and how these trends align with the evolving fitness landscape.
Commercial gyms are, by definition, designed to run at a profit. Startup costs are high. Most revenue is generated from members’ monthly subscription. Additional revenue can come from one-off visits, food and beverage sales, merchandise, added extras such as personal trainers, and many other add-ons.
The commercial gym business model almost always calls for gyms to be oversubscribed – they must have more paying members on their books than they have “active” members. In other words, there is a percentage of gym members who do not attend the gym, or who attend very rarely. Almost all gyms rely on these silent payers to subsidise regular users. And gyms need not have the capacity to host all of their clientele at the same time. Average profit margins for commercial gyms are around 10-15% (sometimes more for boutique gyms – see below).
Commercial gyms: how the scene has developed
Some specialise in particular activities such as Crossfit, military-style training, bootcamp, spin, group fitness, weight training etc. A particular style of gym that has become very popular is the boutique gym.
Boutique gyms can broadly be defined as smaller facilities, focussed on a smaller range of activities, and often with their own particular style of service delivery and branding. They are often independently-owned and have smaller numbers of branches than the larger chains.
The boutique commercial gym market is thriving. Specialist fitness studios which focus only on particular activities such as spinning, HIIT, cycling, dance fitness, Pilates, yoga or even barre are now commonplace. These studios are finding that members don’t want or need the full gym experience, they only use a subset of the features, and don’t want to be charged for things they don’t use.
The point of boutique gyms is that they can develop their own style and thus attract their own tribe of members who might otherwise be indifferent to the usual full-service gym experience. Sure, the tribe they attract is smaller, but they can be more loyal to their chosen gym.
A good example is Buzzgym who, as well as providing a 24-hour gym experience, also specialise in providing a nightclub style experience, combining workouts with DJs and sound systems.
Other gyms specialise in military fitness style training (for example, The Commando Temple in London). And Gymbox, with a highly stylised approach, has “nightclub-inspired décor, resident DJs and banging playlists”.
Almost all gyms are finding that an integrated approach to their members’ health is demanded. Gyms are offering digital workouts that can be accessed in the gym, in classes or at home. This gives members the flexibility they need whilst nurturing and strengthening brand loyalty.
As well as differentiating themselves via the facilities and style, commercial gyms can also differentiate themselves via their overall experience. The market has widened to include high cost/luxury experience gyms as well as low-cost budget gyms. These budget gyms compete heavily on price whereas luxury gyms compete mainly on the range and quality of equipment, added perks and extras, luxurious surroundings and top-flight instructors.
A trend which has developed over the last 10 years is women-only gyms. As many as 61% of women say they have experienced sexual harassment in the gym. This has caused a silent retreat from the gym by women – as many as 40% of women have avoided going to the gym because they feel uncomfortable.
With behaviours ranging from unwanted conversation, invading personal space, unsolicited or patronising advice, to sexual comments and even touching, it’s not surprising that this problem has been recognised in the sector, and more women-only gyms are the result.
Gyms which are LGBTQ+ friendly have proliferated. Within this category there are gyms which are exclusively focussed on LGBTQ+ people, or simply LGBTQ+ friendly.
Latest trends in commercial gym design
Because they are profitable ventures, commercial gyms must do all they can to stay ahead of new and emerging fitness trends. So it’s vital in the commercial gym marketplace to keep in tune with the latest science and technology, as well as fads and fashions, to spot trends which will help gym-goers reach their fitness goals whilst not wasting money on fitness trends which are here-today and gone-tomorrow.
Owners are demanding more and more creativity in gym design. From industrial décor to the nightclub vibe, to holistic natural spaces with calming music, water features and natural plants – everything in the design must reinforce the brand and values of the gym in order to resonate more strongly with their clientele.
Sustainability and community
Customers are demanding accountability and sustainability from gym designers. They are interested in the carbon footprint of their chosen gym, green energy usage, efficient lighting, use of renewables etc. The Gym Group, which has 230 gyms across the UK, claims to be the UK’s first carbon neutral gym chain and aim to be net zero emissions by 2045.
Meanwhile, whilst not actually gyms in the traditional sense, a number of community initiatives have sprung up which aim to combine health and fitness with socially beneficial outcomes. For example, Good Gym asks volunteers to combine their running with doing small jobs for elderly people, tidying up local spaces, clearing rubbish and more. And The Green Gym gets people to help improve their local green spaces – combining physical activity with improving the environment for everybody. Commercial gyms should be watching this space carefully and thinking about how they can leverage their members’ desire to improve their environment and build better communities.
Tech plays a vital role in the contemporary gym environment. From interactive cardio machines with built-in screens to wearable fitness trackers and gym membership apps, the integration of technology enhances the membership experience and facilitates progress tracking.
Fitness wearables such as Apple Watches, Garmin watches and Fitbits have risen in popularity over the last four to five years, with 29% of adults saying they wear a fitness device all the time. Meanwhile, 9% say they own a fitness device but don’t use it, and 54% have never owned one – but this last number is declining quite sharply. Gyms are finding ways to ensure that the most popular fitness apps and wearables are compatible with their equipment and classes.
Gym apps can integrate the on-site experience with the rest of the members’ fitness and wellness lives. They can provide personalised fitness programmes and targets. They can provide tailor-made workout plans, devised by algorithm or in collaboration with on-site personal trainers. These customisable workouts can measure progress towards members’ individual health and fitness goals (e.g., strength, cardio, weight-loss or mental wellbeing).
Gym apps typically have progress trackers, and some even offer fitness challenges which pit members against each other (in a supportive and friendly way) to meet their fitness goals.
Gym apps can go beyond just health and fitness though. As many as 36% of UK adults feel one of the biggest barriers to exercise is simply not having enough time. So whatever gyms can do to save their members time, is usually welcome. Tech plays a part in this, helping members to schedule and book, pay their subs, monitor busy times. For example, motive8 offers digital inductions at our own manned and un-manned residential gyms – saving time for both new members and gym staff. And some gym apps act as a digital membership card, allowing customers to enter the gym, enter restricted places such as spas and saunas and unlock car park gates. They can also manage guest visits in advance, without having to speak to desk staff. The David Lloyd app allows customers to order food and drink from the on-site clubroom.
Commercial gyms are not solely focused on physical fitness but also encompass holistic well-being. Many gyms now include wellness amenities such as spa, saunas, recovery rooms, steam rooms, chill zones and relaxation areas. These features provide an avenue for post-workout recovery and promote overall relaxation and stress reduction.
The recognition of the mind-body connection has prompted gyms to include spaces dedicated to mindfulness practices such as yoga and meditation. These serene areas provide members with an escape from the daily grind.
Group exercise and community building
Group exercise classes have become increasingly popular in commercial gyms due to their social and motivational aspects. Fitness enthusiasts can participate in activities like yoga, Zumba, cycling, and high-intensity interval training (HIIT) sessions, fostering a sense of community and mutual support. Commercial gyms often host special events, challenges, and workshops to engage members and cultivate a vibrant fitness community.
Functional training and multi-purpose spaces
Functional training, which emphasises natural movements and muscle activation, has gained significant traction in recent years. Commercial gym design incorporates designated spaces for functional training. The space is often zoned into specific areas such as cardio zones, strength training areas, and group exercise spaces. Equipment like battle ropes, suspension trainers, and kettlebells is often featured.
The functional layout incorporates designated areas for different types of workouts. This design approach prioritises making the best use of the space available whilst accommodating diverse fitness activities.
If commercial gyms tend to lead the way in gym design, demanding creativity from designers, then corporate gyms and residential gyms are never far behind.
Residential gyms are gym spaces built within new developments, apartments and housing complexes. Such gyms can rival the biggest and best commercial gyms, such is the desire for developers to add value to their properties, attract new owners/renters and keep them there for the longest possible time. The market for residential gyms expanding at pace.
Corporate gyms: promoting health and well-being in the workplace
Finally, one other major emerging market in the UK gym sector over the last few years has been corporate gyms – gyms installed in workplaces. Companies have come to understand that job satisfaction is much more complex than just remuneration. Corporate gym membership can improve employee morale, retention, reduce absenteeism and rates of depression and stress – all vital factors in creating a successful business.
One way of offering gym membership to employees is by offering fully or partly subsidised membership to commercial gym chains. But for many companies, building their own on-premises gyms is proving to be a good use of space. This is especially true in an era when fewer employees are attending work on-site every day and companies are looking for efficient uses for their spare space.
Corporate gyms often feature state-of-the-art equipment, fitness classes, and wellness programs, fostering a healthy work-life balance and boosting employee morale and productivity.
The corporate and workplace gym market also extends to co-working spaces. Again, increasingly, these spaces are finding that attracting people out of their homes and into the city is an important part of their business offering.
At motive8 we are laser-focussed on being market leaders in the design and provision of commercial gyms. We’re also leaders in home gyms, corporate gyms and residential gyms.
We hope that this look at the commercial gym market in 2023 has given you some food for thought if you are considering commissioning a gym design or are otherwise involved in this creative, innovative and ever-evolving sector. If there is any way in which we can help you, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.