12 November 2019
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Exercising the hip pocket

Angela Catterns
9 June 2016

By Angela Catterns

Driving home late the other night, I was fascinated by the sight of a fully equipped gym on a main road with all its lights blazing, and an illuminated “Open 24 hours” sign. I couldn’t see a soul inside and to tell you the truth, it seemed kind of creepy … the thought of going to an unstaffed gym in the middle of the night. Who does that?

Plenty of people, as it turns out. Indeed it’s a growing trend for fitness freaks to substitute their expensive full-service gym memberships for more affordable 24-hour gym memberships.

The emergence of budget 24-hour gym chains has stimulated strong growth in the fitness sector. Franchises like Anytime Fitness and Jetts Fitness have grown exponentially over the past five years, attracting customers with their affordability and accessibility.

According to last year’s Suncorp Cost of Being Fit report, Australians spend at least $8.5 billion a year on gym memberships. More than 4.6 million of us have bought a gym membership, which, on average, costs around $75 a month.

I was surprised to learn that 50-69 year olds spend more money than any other age group at the gym, though I’m in that demo myself and I’ve bought several gym memberships over the past few years.

Once I paid more than $400 to join a busy city gym full of gym junkies and posers. On day one, I rocked up to an aerobics class. One of the routines involved stepping up on a box and within seconds I’d gone over on my ankle, suffered a painful sprain and sheepishly limped out of there. I never went back and I never asked for a refund.

The economics of the fitness industry depends on the fact that many of us will pay in advance for an annual membership, visit maybe three or four times, and then let our membership lapse. In gym-land, the biggest time of the year is January, when all good resolutions are made and about 75% of all gym memberships are bought.

We may as well throw our money away. Or spend it elsewhere. As Jeremiah Colman, the founder of Colman’s Mustard admits, it’s the bit that everyone left behind on their plate which made him his fortune. In the fitness industry, it’s the paid up members who fail to show up after a couple of visits that have helped the industry achieve strong growth.

Despite all that wasted money, the desire to get fit and stay healthy is strong and it’s reflected in the sales of sport and fitness equipment. In fact, the fitness equipment industry is one of the strongest in the Australian sports market with revenues growing every year.

Like gym memberships, I’m sure not everyone is taking full advantage of all their sporting equipment - a large amount seems to make it to the street for the regular council kerbside collections. As I’ve observed here before, exercise bikes, treadmills and golf sets seem to be over-represented when it comes to Council clean-up days.

Alongside gym memberships and equipment, the fitness and athletic clothing industry has flourished over the past five years, despite difficult retail conditions. Changing consumer attitudes and trends have led to people increasingly wearing activewear as streetwear, a trend of which I’m not sure I approve.

In particular, women’s activewear is in the midst of a boom. It’s a $15 billion, rapidly growing market and it’s gaining new customers every day.

Along with the gym membership and the new activewear goes the fitness watch. Mine is on my wrist 24/7, though these days I use it less as a step counter or measure of how deeply I sleep, and more as a simple, comfy, lightweight watch.

The most recent Bureau of Statistics figures shows 63.4% of Australian adults are overweight or obese. The fact is, despite our love affair with gyms and equipment and all the clothing and accoutrements … we are one of the fattest nations in the world.

While the promise of health and fitness is a powerful motivator, we’ve got a long way to go before it becomes the reality.

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