Motivation is the first lesson
THE DIFFICULT THING about exercise regimes is not starting them, but sticking to the task. People begin with a burst of enthusiasm but then give up as soon as the aches and pains of the first few weeks kick in, and before the benefits of a regular routine can be felt.
For this reason, fitness centres pay particular attention to helping members ride out those painful early stages to reach their ultimate fitness goals.
They make it their business to create a commitment to exercise, so that people do not simply join a club and find excuses not to visit, but actually work towards a long-term fitness plan, which offers well-being and genuine personal satisfaction.
To encourage regular attendance, clubs have several motivational techniques. Firstly, they tailor each exercise regime to the member's individual needs. During the initial visit, a trained expert asks whether the prime objective is to build muscle tone, improve cardiovascular endurance or simply lose weight. New joiners are then given a realistic idea of what they will be able to achieve.
'If a prospective member comes in and says 'I'm getting married in eight weeks' time, I want to lose 12 kilos', our staff are instructed to be honest and explain that it is not safe to lose more than one kilo a week,' said Andrew Phillips, managing director of Fitness First, which has five clubs in Hong Kong.
Members are also encouraged to train with a friend. The clubs know that people who do this are more likely to stick to their routines for longer. Consequently, most gyms in Hong Kong have incentives for members who introduce friends. In the case of Fitness First, it is a HK$25 deduction from monthly fees for every friend successfully recommended.
Working out with a personal trainer also helps people keep focused on their goal. And it ensures that they use the gym equipment properly and consistently, which leads to better overall results. The quality of equipment and the variety of classes have also become a key part of the marketing strategy.
'We've got a group of people who are constantly out looking for new and exciting products and services that can be offered to make sure that we are the first in the market to offer these,' said Randy Dobson, vice-president of sales at California Fitness. The atmosphere of the club is also important. Good music, the feeling of energy and an upbeat atmosphere can encourage members to spend more time on the premises.
Fitness First now promotes the concept of its centres as being a person's 'third home', after work and home. In line with this, the company is making it easy for people to spend more time at a club before or after a workout. A significant amount of space has been set aside for relaxation, with armchairs, magazines, internet stations and soft drinks available.
The company is also introducing personal televisions in its Tsim Sha Tsui centre, so that members can relax by watching a DVD after working out if they are not yet ready to go home.
'So many people in Hong Kong live in a [small] apartment,' said Mr Phillips. 'It's cramped, and they just want to get out of there. What [fitness centres] offer is a world that we call a third home.'
However, the success of all these marketing initiatives ultimately depends on the quality of staff and the way they interact with members. At present, the fitness industry is struggling to compete for good employees with other service-based companies in Hong Kong. This is likely to present Mr Phillips with a considerable challenge, since Fitness First plans to double its local business in the next five years. One factor is that the fitness industry is still relatively young in Asia, and not yet viewed as a mainstream career choice for school or university leavers.
'You do battle against that a little bit,' Mr Dobson said. 'But it is becoming a more accepted career path, because it offers so much opportunity.'