In conversation with Zaini Bin Mohamad Hassan, Managing Director at Vertex Fitness, UAE, we attempt to identify the key trends in the UAE Fitness Market and how the industry was impacted by COVID 19
What led to ideation for Vertex Fitness? How has the journey been for the company since its inception?
I came to UAE in 2006. I have worked with Fitness First, Fitness 360, and Gold’s Gym before joining Vertex Fitness. Vertex introduced Electrical Muscle Stimulation (EMS) Functional training in early 2017, looking at the potential it holds in the industry I founded this company. EMS training is the future of the Industry. A 20 minutes Session using the EMS is equivalent up to 4 to 6 hours of traditional training. This is especially good and practical for countries with a large population. Another advantage of the EMS is that it has a one on one application, using an age old Rehabilitation technology with a new twist. Due to this advantage, we were not impacted as much due to Covid as the One on One application allowed the training in to continue. Vertex currently has 4 facilities in the UAE.
What was the impact of COVID 19 on the industry?
I personally believe some of the initial decisions related to COVID protocols for the fitness industry were taken in haste. For example, I feel the group sessions should have been stopped while the Personal training should have been allowed to continue. I say this because Fitness is coined in the industry as ‘the true medicine’.
Many people lost a lot of investment and many businesses closed during this period. It took the industry about 4-6 months to realize that COVID are here to stay and that there will be no business in the coming months. This led to salary delay and layoffs or redundancy in attempt to reduce operational cost.
Due to operational shutdown of gyms, clubs have no choice but took steps and many trainers (due to being the bulk of the operational cost and no members based revenues) were laid off. This lead to them starting their own online training sessions. In early 2020, about 60% of the ‘fitness/exercise’ market was serviced by freelancers.
Now the industry is back to about the same levels as pre-Covid. There is a heightened awareness about health due to Covid and there is definitely an increase in the penetration rate of gym-goers.
What are the future trends for the Industry?
I am seeing in the current years that the fitness training used in the 1980s is coming back. For example, Cross fit which is a form of Functional Training is back in trend. Treadmills and stationary bikes are another example. In the early 1980s treadmills were simple, non- electronics and worked on rollers. We see the same trend emerging once again, but with improved design. Another perfect example is the recorded video training sessions. In the past, we had VHS tapes that had recorded training sessions and the customer would plug it in the record player and follow the recorded instructions. So you see trends have a cyclical nature.
What are the latest marketing techniques in the Industry?
The gym which has more variety, in terms of offering the types of training disciplines, will attract more clients. This is because with more variety, the gym will cater to a larger audience or demographics. The gym will have better customer retention rate. Traditionally there have been three factors that attract any client. The first is Cost. This is followed by the proximity of the gym to the workplace or the home. The last is Variety. Now post covid along with these three factors, safety, hygiene and sanitization have also become a major selling point.
How did companies cope up with COVID?
The online training was a saviour for a lot of the gyms. There were a few gyms that are providing online training pre covid but a majority of the gyms who provide online training now shifted to it during covid. Shift to online training helped gyms retain as much as 60% of their revenue. The 3 months of lockdown saw the emergence of online gyms/workout providers mushroomed, almost overnight.
Once things got back to normal the online training is going to shrink and go back to pre covid levels. Humans are social animals and we like to communicate and connect with individuals and in groups. This personal touch is missing in the online mode. Training is also more effective physically as compared to online or virtual as the trainers can correct the posture and can monitor the client better.
More gyms have already started opening in the country. These gyms are much larger than before. One of the latest gym that is opening in the country is about 60,000 to 75,000 sq ft. Previously the largest gym I remember was about 60,000 sq ft. The opening of this gym in itself is a statement towards the volumes expected post covid and the realisation of the importance of keeping fit and active to improve our immune system.
Is the Fitness equipment market in the UAE an import-driven market?
A lot of the equipment traditionally has been manufactured in the USA, Europe, China, Taiwan and imported in UAE. But in recent times a few companies have started manufacturing equipment domestically. The companies have made sure that the quality is at par with the international standard. The domestic manufacturing of the equipment is extremely beneficial for the companies as they are significantly cheaper, faster delivery and after sales support. But the quantity of equipment manufactured domestically is still very low to meet the demand. I would say about 15% are manufactured domestically while the rest are still imported.
The second-hand equipment market is extremely large in UAE. This is mainly due to the set SOPs of various hotels and companies which compels them to update their equipment regularly.
The demand in the second-hand equipment market picked up exponentially during covid. The gyms had to follow the covid protocols while in operation. The protocols mentioned a specific distance to be maintained or ‘Social Distancing’ requirement between two equipment. Due to these stringent required conditions, many gyms sold more than half the equipment to the used equipment market as the cost of storage is high and also helped in bringing some needed revenue for the business. The excess supply was balanced by the rise in the demand for fitness equipment for home use.
Where do you see the industry heading post-COVID?
I expect double-digit growth in the fitness industry in the coming years. By the end of the year, you will see at least 10 big clubs opening. The general public’s mindset has transformed during the pandemic. They all want to get fitter and will join the gyms. The market is expected to surpass growth by more than 600-700 million USD by 2025.
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