Mon, 14/10/2019 - 12:21
Current Issue 41
Anytime Fitness Asia has established itself in hundreds of communities across eight countries, its gyms becoming a welcoming home away from home for its members, staff, and franchisees
Writer: Tom Wadlow | Project Manager: Josh Hyland
The Eureka moment came on a random late night in Singapore.
“There were no 24-hour fitness centres anywhere in the country, and to my recollection, Asia for that matter. A quick online search, and I found this brand, called Anytime Fitness.
“Serendipitously, one of my sons called me from out of the blue and asked me about this 24-hour gym he had just heard of – you guessed it – Anytime Fitness. Right then and there, I got in touch with them, and proposed to be the master franchisee for Asia.”
In 2013 Maurice Levine had no idea his career was about to be transformed into the world of health and fitness.
Trading in gold at the time, he was enjoying a lucrative and successful juncture in his professional life serving as CEO of Gold Buyers Asia out of Singapore.
But something was missing.
“I was looking for something that mattered,” he recalls, “something that made a difference, something that touched and changed people’s lives.
“I believe their reaction to my master franchisee proposal was ‘who is this audacious man who wanted to bring our brand not just to one country, but to an entire region that was not yet in our sights?’
“The same day they responded, I flew to the Anytime Fitness headquarters in Minnesota, and the rest – six years, eight countries, 350 territories, 250 gyms – as they say, is history.”
Indeed, Levine is now Chairman and Master Franchisee of Anytime Fitness Asia, a brand that has been exponentially built up from the single gym he still owns in Woodlands, a small enclave in Singapore that went against the traditional high-traffic, high-rent grain suggested by developers.
“I asked them for a location they would never show me. Woodlands is a small neighbourhood right in the middle of where people live, and its success led me to be able to franchise quickly in Singapore in 2014.”
Today the company operates in seven other countries, including Malaysia, the Philippines, Indonesia, Thailand, Hong Kong and Macau, a footprint that translates into more than 250 24-hour gyms across the region, and part of Anytime Fitness’s network of over 4,500 sites around the world.
Beyond the bricks and mortar and 24-seven access provided, Levine is quick to recognise that the business fundamentally boils down to its people, all of whom carry his motivation to positively impact their communities and help change the lives of others.
And it has never been a better time to do so.
“If it was an exciting time to enter the fitness industry in 2013, it’s an exhilarating time now,” says Levine. “It’s like being present at a birth, with all the joys, pains, and fulfilment that goes along with it. The opportunities are massive, and so are the challenges.
“The region is where the US, Europe, and Australia were over 30 years ago, when fitness was not yet a lifestyle and was just a fad. Setting up in a country and being part of both the learning and the educating process, watching more gyms open and more people get involved, Anytime Fitness is there when the industry is born.”
Levine also points to a statistic which represents both the greatest challenge and opportunity to the fitness industry in Asia.
Again, people are front and centre here. Across Anytime Fitness’s Asian markets, an average of just 2.17 percent of citizens are gym goers, with an even smaller number considering fitness as a viable business investment, or a job through which to forge a career.
However, the goalposts are moving thanks in no small part to the work of Anytime Fitness in changing perceptions. For instance, it partners with national governments on their long-term nationwide fitness goals and also works within communities where its expertise is needed.
“We have a growing network of franchisees who are now multi-gym owners, having seen monetary and emotional return on their investment,” Levine explains. “And as we grow, the number of people employed in fitness, and who see fitness as a viable career, also grows with us.”
Central to the momentum being gathered by Anytime Fitness Asia is the simplicity and impact of its business model.
Levine summarises: “Our model is simple, and that is why it works. Be within one to three kilometres of where people live and work; offer safe, convenient, secure access to a gym with top-of-the-line equipment; and provide a surprisingly personable experience to members and the community.
“People do not enter gyms if they are intimidated, so we set out to welcome everyone – first-time gym goers, disillusioned former members, athletes, and gym buffs. This has created a community of people with varying interests and goals but with a shared safe space to work towards them.”
For Levine, this sense of camaraderie sits at the core of Anytime Fitness, its gyms acting as a place where people feel welcome and safe. Beyond serving as a hub for members, the company’s franchisees actively support local CSR initiatives and address the needs of their areas.
Locations with young families, for example, may benefit from programmes that involve their gym hosting nearby schools, while those near more elderly populations might partner with retirement homes to spread the benefits of being active.
“We encourage and instil this mindset in franchisees from the first time we meet with them, andreinforce it with their staff through our continuous training,” Levine adds. “Our success attracts them to the business, but they return and open more gyms because they realise how much more fulfilling it is to not just run a business, but to change lives.”
This sense of community extends into providing business for local enterprises, with franchisees encouraged to procure items such as office supplies as locally as possible. The bigger procurement involving machinery and gym equipment is carried out through Anytime Fitness’s global network, ensuring the benefits relating to economies of scale are realised.
Franchise partners also leverage cutting-edge technology to streamline and optimise their operations, not least through the Anytime Fitness app.
Available on and offline, it completes the experience for members by enabling them to set and track goals and communicate with personal trainers. Users can also use it to locate gyms when they are away from their local centre, with memberships covering the entire Anytime Fitness network.
Another critical benefit the app can harness for the business is information.
Asked what trends he sees impacting the market in Asia in the coming years, Levine emphatically responds: “Data, data, data. As we move the gym experience from on-ground to online, we will have more data on our members – what they need, when they need it, and how we can provide it.
“From customised workouts to personalised communication to a holistic view on health, wellness, and fitness, these will become more important to both gyms and our consumers.
“At Anytime Fitness, we have moved from simply providing convenience to caring and coaching, and we are enabling our gyms to take it to the next step – customisation and communication. It’s not about being always on, it’s about being on top of what our members need and want.”
The near future is also about serving the needs and changing the lives of a greater number of members.
For example, Anytime Fitness has recently moved into the Indonesian market, its two existing gyms set to be joined by another six in and around the Jakarta area. It is a country with abundant scope to adopt a formalised fitness presence with just 0.18 percent of the population in possession of a gym membership, and Levine’s goal is to expand into the provinces outside of the capital city.
Indeed, Levine is set on targeting the provincial and traditionally underserved areas in the seven other Asian countries Anytime Fitness operates in, the company looking to establish itself in locations not previously touched by other big brands.
“We aim to be truly networked within a country, where members can access an Anytime Fitness near their home, their place of work, and even on vacation,” he says. “We are already doing this, and the response has been highly positive.
“We are also revisiting our current locations to determine whether communities need another gym. We are not looking for the greatest number of members in a gym, hence our small footprint – we are looking for spaces where people can feel they are welcome, and that they belong.”
Beyond expanding the bigger picture, the Chairman’s priorities also include enhancing the everyday operations that keep Anytime Fitness up and running.
Levine concludes: “Continuous improvement is our ever-moving goal post every year.
“In franchise sales, we are streamlining the process and making it easier for new franchisees to onboard and for existing franchisees to open new gyms. For club operations, it’s understanding and gaining even more insight into the challenges our franchisees face and how we can support them better.
“Anytime Fitness Asia will continue to work to become more than a gym, a business, a franchise – we are a movement to change lives, and we welcome everyone to join.”