The big box gym gets a really hard time. Labelled as the dinosaurs of the fitness industry, they occupy sprawling sites, containing rows of boring CV equipment, they offer inflexible memberships and shy away from innovation. If you listen to industry opinion, our fitness future lies firmly in boutique gyms.
Except I don’t buy any of that. Big Box gyms have more opportunity to succeed than half the boutique gyms in London put together.
They have the one thing that boutique gyms can never have. Space.
Above all, the modern consumer wants choice, progressive experiences and an easy life. If they can get that all under one roof, they will be easily tempted.
For me, the argument is more about whether the big boxes will have the gumption to elevate their offering; to listen to consumer desires, to respond to trends and ultimately create spaces that look very different to the traditional big box gym.
A large proportion of leisure centre and health club members are 40+ and, generally speaking, these consumers are quite happy with a traditional gym offering, because it’s all they’ve ever known. Outside of major cities like London and Manchester, most have not experienced boutique fitness so big boxes can tick along, offering the same experiences they always have, without fear their customers will go elsewhere. But as Gen X, Y and Z become a larger proportion of the potential membership base, big boxes ignore wellness innovation at their peril.
Now is the time to really question the model and invest in the future, because the downside of being a big box with a large number of sites is that major change is not quick. The risk from the boutique market is real, but the potential to create an experience which supersedes boutique is even greater.
Big boxes have the space, the capital, the manpower and the space to innovate. The question is not if they can, it is will they?