Face off: Less than 1% of Indians are regulars at gyms, says John Kersch, VP, ID, Anytime Fitness

Published: February 17, 2015 12:38:28 AM

We are developing a mobile platform which will help our members to stay healthy and take informed decisions whether they are inside an Anytime Fitness gym, or at their home or office.

A VETERAN in the fitness and franchising industries, Jon Kersch is currently the vice president of international development, Anytime Fitness; a large chain of health and fitness clubs. Anytime Fitness has opened more than 600 gyms outside the US in the last five years and aims to be present in at least 30 countries by 2018. The fitness chain is looking at exceeding $1 billion in system wide revenues in 2015. More importantly, it hopes to double its  customer base to more than 4 million members globally.  The company set foot in India in 2013 through their master franchisee partners, and is aiming to expand its footprint rapidly. In a conversation with FE Brandwagon’s Anushree Chandran, Kersch talks about the chain’s India plans. Edited excerpts:

How do you see the Indian health and fitness business developing?

We are a franchise brand, and our focus in India is to find qualified individuals who wish to start a business that changes peoples lives. We are looking for people who love our mission and philosophy, and who want to invest their energy and attention to helping people. In India, we see a very large growth opportunity. Anytime Fitness currently has 8 centres in India with our master franchise partners—Vikas Jain and the first location opened in Delhi in 2013. We believe there is an enormous opportunity to change people’s perceptions about exercise and to encourage a million more Indians to begin a programme of regular exercise, whether in a gym or independently.

How is the Indian market different or similar to other markets?

Savvy Indian consumers want good service and personal attention and they appreciate quality. We make an effort to make them feel special, and we want them to know we care about them. Fitness participation varies widely around the world. In Europe and the United States, 15% of the population are regular exercisers at gyms.  However, in India, that figure is less than 1% at present.

The challenge for most people globally is they say they don’t have enough time to exercise. But this may actually mean that they don’t like the fitness offerings available to them, or the options available aren’t available when or where they want them. Anytime Fitness removes the time barrier by having long opening hours (often 24 hours a day where possible), and by being located as close as possible to where people live or work.

A study done by IHRSA and the University of Michigan found that the vast majority of consumers have a sense of fear about entering into a gym, particularly those consumers who are not regular exercisers. They consider this a form of “intimidation” which indicates that our industry has been doing a poor job of reaching the people who need us most—people who are not regular exercisers, but who want to improve their health and lifestyles. This is an issue we take very seriously at Anytime Fitness, and we work diligently to reduce the barriers for people to begin a healthy lifestyle. Our gyms operate for a wide range of hours and are convenient and accessible, and our interior design and approach attempt to remove intimidation issues.

How do you address these issues? What is the USP of your brand building strategy?

Anytime Fitness is a global brand, but our customers are local. We do a good job of building relationships in the communities we serve, but we are less focused on building a brand whose advertisements you see in national newspapers or magazines. Our customers are loyal and respectful of the fact that we give them the key to open not only the door to their local gym, but all the 3,000 gyms in our global network. We expect to have approximately 5,000 locations open globally within the next 5 years, with 40% of those outside of North America. We are continually looking for ways to improve and to make Anytime Fitness more accessible to people. We are currently developing a mobile platform which will help our members to stay healthy and make informed decisions whether they are inside an Anytime Fitness gym, or at their home or office.

Are you planning to diversify into other areas?

Our main focus remains bringing Anytime Fitness to as many consumers around the world as possible, and we expect hundreds of locations to open in India over the coming years. We have recently launched a new aesthetic business in the US which concentrates on hair removal, and it’s called Waxing the City. We are also looking at other personal care options to bring to our customers in the future.

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