Healthy opportunities abound in fitness industry

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 08 May, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 08 May, 2004, 12:00am

For most people in most industries, the reality of last year's Sars outbreak was not a pretty one. But it was a boon for many companies in the fitness sector, adding fuel to a general change in mindset on the importance of getting fit and keeping the immune system pumped up.

Prompted by the Department of Health, people are taking fitness more seriously and even businesses are beginning to appreciate the need to keep their staff healthy, according to Kent Richards, managing director of Fitness First in Hong Kong.

'I've been in Hong Kong now for over a year and I've seen a big change. Sars has prompted a far greater understanding of the benefits of healthy, active living and people no longer need to be convinced to join a health club,' said Mr Richards, a South African who has worked in the fitness industry for 17 years.

Even companies have cottoned on to the benefits of having an active workforce.

'When I got here, companies would say, 'It's not our concern how fit our staff are.' Now they're saying, 'We recognise the importance of having a fit workforce. How can you help us?'' Mr Richards said.

As recognition of the importance of healthy living grows, so too does the demand for health clubs.

It is with this in mind that Fitness First is gearing up to open more clubs in Hong Kong, its first expansionary move in more than a year.

The British-based firm arrived in Hong Kong in 2001, building seven clubs here and two on the mainland - in Beijing and Shanghai.

'Year one, was open, open, open, followed by a year of consolidation to focus on what we've got before we get to the next stage,' Mr Richards said.

'Now we've reached the next stage and we're searching for the right locations to open next.'

He said the company was looking at five sites in Hong Kong and hoped to open between one and three clubs within the next 12 months.

To meet its expansion plans, the fitness chain estimates it will need 30 to 40 full-time staff members at each new club.

It will need fitness instructors, who work the floor maintaining machines and helping clients; personal trainers, who provide weight and cardio-training advice; membership consultants, who are responsible for sales; customer care staff; front desk staff; beauticians; cleaners and administration staff. The company does not hire staff only when it opens new clubs. It continues to add to its ranks as its clubs become more popular or as demand dictates.

This is particularly true in the case of personal trainers. Mr Richards said the number of personal trainers hired by Fitness First had doubled in the past year.

Training is a key feature for all staff at Fitness First. So intent is the firm on using its people to help it keep ahead of the game that all new employees can expect to undergo an intensive development programme.

To ensure it recruits only the best fitness professionals the city has to offer, Fitness First has also launched a personal training course which all newly appointed fitness instructors and personal trainers must sign up for.

'We're finding that people come in and they might have a professional training qualification but they won't have the skills we're after,' said Mr Richards. 'So we created an eight-day course on Fitness First's philosophy, followed by an exam.'

Mr Richards said fees for the course would vary depending on the value the employee added to the club and would, in some cases, be zero.

'People will be charged for the course depending on what they score in the exam.

'We don't have a high turnover and we're not one of those high-pressure clubs. But we don't want people who just want to try out being personal trainers and then leave. We want people who will stay and the course will show us the people who have the right commitment for the job.'

Employees who get through the rigorous entrance system will be rewarded with global career prospects, a competitive salary and a comprehensive incentive programme.

getting in shape

Fitness First is planning to open up to three clubs within 12 months

The fitness industry is benefiting from a new awareness of the need to lead an active lifestyle

Hong Kong businesses are finally appreciating the 'bottom-line' benefits of having fitter staff

Fitness First will be looking to hire personal trainers, fitness instructors, cleaners, front-office staff, customer-care staff and sales staff

It provides an eight-day training programme to ensure the highest quality staff

Opportunities and rewards can be tremendous