People exercise more during economic slowdown


  • Business
  • Saturday, 17 Jan 2009

Exercising and sweating it out can be a great stress-buster but it is not just the individual that profits from a good workout.

Gym operators too are reaping the benefits - in the form of positive membership growth and better turnout despite the current economic downturn.

Kepong-based Universe Gym manager-cum-trainer John Anthony said membership of the gym had picked up of late as people were more likely to exercise during an economic slowdown.

“I think the motto for people is that if you can’t stay wealthy, you should at least try to stay healthy. Many people are under stress at work, which is amplified when the economy is slow. The best solution is a good, solid workout,” he told StarBizweek.

His gym has been around since the late 80s. John, who has been managing the gym for about 12 years, said that even during the 1997 Asian financial crisis, attendance and membership rate were stable.

“Times were tough then but we still made enough to pay rent, with some more left over,” he said.

John considers his gym a “hardcore, no frills gym” where members are charged on a monthly basis.

The gym’s members are customers are aged from 15 to 68, primarily from the Kepong, Selayang, Manjalara and Segambut areas. Most of them have a middle-class background.

International fitness chain California Fitness, which has three outlets in the Klang Valley, concurs that business has picked up.

“Fitness is a great de-stresser. We tend to find that in times of economic challenge, workouts actually increase in our clubs. Having an avenue to recharge and relax is important for many people during this time of uncertainty,” the company said in an e-mail.

It also said it remained positive about the development of the fitness industry in Asia in the medium to long term.

The company adds that it expects its customers not take on additional fixed cash commitments due to the economic uncertainties.

“People will be focusing more on value and we anticipate a drop in the sales of our ancillary services like personal training, while we expect gym goers to perhaps enter into shorter membership commitments during this period,” it says.

It has an outlet at Mid Valley, Sunway Pyramid and Menara Standard Chartered.

Nur Hazrina, who is in her mid-20s and a regular at California Fitness, says she does not mind spending a little extra money if it meant looking after and maintaining her health.

“I frequent the gym about three times a week and find the classes useful in maintaining my fitness,” she said.

True Fitness founder and group chief executive officer Patrick Wee also said its business has been seeing positive growth despite the current economic slowdown.

“New members are still signing up for packages daily while current members are still coming in on a regular basis.

“Our club operations are still running like they have in the past,” he says.

Wee expects the full impact of the global financial crisis at the end of the first quarter this year. He says the company is already taking precautionary measures by practising prudent expenditure.

Celebrity Fitness managing director Choi Kwang Ho agrees that people are placing greater emphasis on health and fitness.

“Whenever the economy gets a little tough, fitness centres tend to do a little better.

“With lower disposable income, people will cut down on their social activities and use the spare time in a more pro-active way, such as spending time in a gym to release stress,” he adds.

He says 2009 would be a good year for Celebrity Fitness as it is targeting to open more outlets. Choi says the company will be providing more value-added packages to attract and retain more members.

Meanwhile, A. Nannimuthu, who operates a small gym called J.L. Gym in Sri Gombak, says the current economic downturn has affected its membership. His gym is primarily targeted at customers in the low to middle income group in the area.

He says the high cost of living is making it difficult for people with financial constraints to commit to health clubs or gyms.

“A person who exercises regularly needs to eat well to complement his or her training and the high food prices will have an impact on a person’s disposable income, especially for the gym enthusiast.”

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