Fitness is big business. There are over 7,000 gyms in the UK, and the market is worth almost £5bn, with around one in seven people paying gym membership fees.
The sector has swelled thanks to the health and wellbeing trend which has grown in importance over the last decade, but also because of the huge range of choice and competition. At the premium end are chains like Fitness First and David Lloyd Leisure for dedicated fitness fanatics, while more budget conscious gym-goers might look at Pure Gym, with a range of boutique establishments in between.
One name at the forefront of the evolving fitness scene is Frame, a London chain of studio gyms, which first launched in Shoreditch in 2009.
Now with six sites across the capital, Frame specialises in offering exercise classes across a range of disciplines, from yoga and pilates, to dance, barre and boxing. During a standard week, it runs around 1,500 classes and has 3,500 customers pass through its doors. Classes start at £15 on a pay-as-you-go basis, while an unlimited classes membership would set you back £120 a month. The chain made turnover of £4.6m last year.
Now 10 years old, Frame is the brainchild of Pip Black and Joan Murphy. The pair met in 2007 and bonded over both their shared love of fitness and the fact that they’d recently completed business degrees. They wanted to hang out and do exercise classes together, but couldn’t find anywhere that offered the variety and flexibility that they desired.
“Both of us being quite determined people, we decided why don’t we create something ourselves that other people like us would want to go to?” explains Black.
“We specifically launched in Shoreditch because we wanted to create a brand that was cool, specifically in a place with lots of creatives, where people weren’t working out already. We wanted to increase the number of people exercising.
Black and Murphy also wanted to encourage new approaches to fitness, and that meant a business model that was relatively rare at the time.
“We were pioneers of the industry,” says Black. “Pay-as-you-go didn’t exist 10 years ago, it was a new concept. Online booking didn’t exist, either.”
According to Black, booking classes online was such an alien concept to gym-goers back in 2009 that they would instead email her and Murphy, who’d then have to manually add customer’s names to classes in the back-end of their booking system. Now, we don’t even think about it.
Fitness is an intensely competitive industry, but one element that sets Frame apart is the range of pre and post natal classes that it runs for new and expectant mothers. Both Black and Murphy have children and felt that this important market was being overlooked.
“It’s a really, really important area of fitness,” explains Black. “If you think of the amount of women aged 22 to 35 that are now exercising regularly, many of those women are going to fall pregnant at some point and aren’t going to want to give up their exercise routine because they love it. It’s really important that we are able to motivate and educate pregnant ladies in a way that’s safe.”
Black agrees that there is a blindspot in the fitness industry in terms of catering to pregnant women, who may be unable to train due to safety concerns held by gym instructors.
“We are going through a process of educating all of our instructors to make sure that they’re all capable and happy to have pregnant ladies in their classes. We’ve seen a lot of women come to Frame who’ve been turned away from other fitness studios, and are a bit confused about what they can and can’t be doing.”
To address this, Frame not only offers classes in its studios, but has an online workout programme for mums to do from home, and offers space in its post natal classes so that women can bring their babies rather than incur extra childcare costs.
Training the best
Frame has other ambitions: it wants to produce the next generation of gym instructors. Its academy programme trains people to teach fitness, yoga, pilates and more. While this is an additional revenue stream, the decision to launch an academy came from the struggle Murphy and Black had when trying to hire good instructors.
“Even though the fitness industry has come a long way since 2009, the training behind it hasn’t kept up,” explains Black. “Things are quite outdated if you go to a lot of training courses. We’ve tried to look at how we can make it really relevant.”
Murphy agrees, and says that part of the problem is that the courses regulated by the Chartered Institute for the Management of Sport and Physical Activity, which most UK instructors have to complete, are outdated.
“If you look at the national standards that it is in charge of, the courses haven’t been updated since we’ve been operating, but the market’s moved on,” she says. “None of it is fit for purpose.”
Looking ahead, Black and Murphy see growth opportunity from tapping into demographics and capitalising on the ongoing wellbeing trend.
“I can’t see that the fitness trend is going to ever stop growing in the near future,” Black says. “You can see how important it is to the younger generation – especially to their mental wellbeing. It’s part of their life, they’ve grown up with it.”
Another key source for future growth is attracting those aged over 55 – this cohort is the fastest growing market for fitness in the UK, according to Murphy.
“You’ve got the baby-boomers whose kids have left home, they’ve got more time on their hands, and they think ‘I’m getting old, maybe I should do something’. Fitness can also be quite social,” she adds.
Frame is poised to capitalise as people continue to become more aware of the importance of exercise and concerned about their health. By offering a wide variety of classes, it is able to cater to lots of different audiences and attract more people. While it might not be as big as brands like Fitness First or Pure Gym, Frame is certainly carving out its own market niche.