This is also true of sport and outdoor opportunities, which are seeing a boost in business on the back of pent-up customer demand
Suddenly we all want a fitter lifestyle - and if achieving it means getting outdoors, all the better.
Fitness, sport and outdoor franchises such as FitStudioZ, which provides one-on-one personal training, are seeing business surge on the back of pent-up demand from customers.
Niri S Patel, managing director of fit20, a growing fitness franchise where franchisees open small centres that deliver personal, 20-minute training sessions, says: “In the first three days after we reopened in April, more people signed up than we usually experience in a month.”
This could be a sign of a permanent change in attitudes after pandemic restrictions made many people realise the value of fitness and outdoor activity. If it is, now could be a good time for prospective franchisees to take a look at franchise opportunities in this sector.
How franchises have changed to take advantage of an expanding market
Many existing franchisees have adapted the ways they operate in order to attract new customers.
When fitness clubs reopened in April, many saw a surge of customers and many announced plans to expand.
Matt Roberts, master franchisee for énergie Fitness in Scotland, where the brand has five clubs, says: “We saw a big uptick in sales even before the reopening on April 26.
“The vaccine roll-out and more awareness of the benefits of a healthy lifestyle meant a surge in memberships, but we’re keeping our visit booking system and reduced capacity in place to ensure all members can work out safely and enjoyably.”
While closed during lockdown, énergie Fitness, like many fitness franchises, created an online platform where instructors deliver classes. It also provided 200-plus on-demand videos, yoga and meditation classes and seminars on nutrition.
As soon as the restrictions allowed it, the company started holding socially distanced outdoor classes in local parks. Matt aims to open two new clubs by the end of the year.
“It’s a fantastic time to invest in the fitness industry,” he adds. “The pandemic has reinforced how vital health and well-being is and it’s a hugely enjoyable business to work in, full of passionate and motivated people.”
Meanwhile, Anytime Fitness UK, one of the largest health club operators, opened nine new locations before the end of May, adding to its 175 locations across the UK and Ireland.
Chief executive Neil Randall says: “The past year has seen many people reassess their lives and business objectives and it’s been great for us to be able to welcome new faces to the network, as well as supporting current franchisees to own further clubs.
“Pent-up demand for fitness memberships was significant during lockdown and these new clubs saw substantial demand from potential members.”
At fit20, customers make individual appointments at small studios for weekly sessions on resistance machines under the tutelage of a personal trainer. Niri says: “It involves slow and careful movements for a high intensity, deep core workout that gradually increases the customer’s strength and fitness.
“With very limited numbers of people training at once in cool rooms, there’s no panting or sweating and equipment can be easily cleaned between clients.
“These socially distant and hygienic protocols were in place even before the pandemic, so it is an attractive option for customers now.”
The franchise, which targets customers from among the 85 per cent of people in the UK who don’t have a gym membership, originated in the Netherlands and has 160 studios in 10 countries. It now has seven locations in the UK and plans another seven next year.
Young franchises boosted by the new emphasis on health
Unsurprisingly, new franchises that cater to the demand for outdoor workouts - and outdoor working - are now appearing.
GYMGUYZ, a mobile franchise that involves bringing personal training to customers in their homes, gardens, parks and even car parks, has 260 franchisees in the USA and now has three in the UK, with potential for 330 more.
UK managing director Laike Mantori says: “This meets the demand for personal training without the need to go to a gym and unlike online training GYMGUYZ trainers provide equipment.”
He’s looking for investors or personal trainers as franchisees and the franchise provides training and recruitment support.
The Rise franchise was started by four fitness industry veterans in 2021 to cater to the new demand for personal training post-lockdown. Co-founder James Cotton, formerly with Anytime Fitness, says: “Rise is an affordable and fast way for people interested in fitness to set up a business delivering personalised training plans and nutritional advice to customers indoors or outside and with the support of apps.”
It plans to recruit eight to 10 franchisees this year and another five annually for five years.
Working in the great outdoors
The trend for outdoor activity also means outdoor franchises look set for growth.
The PGH Beegone franchise, which launched in December 2020 after 14 years as a family business, is looking for franchisees who like working outdoors.
Peter Higgs, founder and managing director, says: “Now’s a brilliant time to invest in the PGH Beegone franchise, which offers both pest control and live bee removal.
“Honeybees have been in the press recently regarding insecticide regulations and need our help more than ever. During lockdown, the pest population thrived, so our services are in demand.”
PGH Beegone specialises in the expert removal of live honey bees and combs, swarms and colonies from chimneys, walls, roofs and trees without using insecticides or pesticides.
“The bees are extracted alive and relocated, either to a new home in a beekeeper’s hive or if necessary to a bee hospital,” Peter says. “The colony can be supplied with a new queen bee if necessary.”
No other franchise offers this combination of services and pest controllers are classed as key workers, so the business has remained operational during lockdown.
Peter is looking for franchisees who are passionate about wildlife conservation, relish the thought of making a difference and who have excellent customer service skills.
Prospective franchisees need no previous experience of bee removal or pest control, as the franchise provides full training. You can start as an owner-operator or a management franchisee, recruiting technicians to do the practical work.
Activity and sport set to grow
Activity levels in England were on course to reach record highs before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, according to the latest Sport England Active Lives Adult Survey.
When lockdown started, the government’s advice that people could get outside for an hour a day for exercise led to a boom in walking, running and cycling.
In the first seven weeks of lockdown, walking was the most popular overall activity, with more than 21 million adults walking at moderate intensity, while running was also popular.
The number of people cycling for leisure or sport increased from 6.1 million to 7.2 million during the first few weeks of the 2020 lockdown, compared to the same period 12 months prior.
Exercising at home also saw a boom compared to the same two-month period in 2019. Over the first seven weeks of lockdown, home exercise participants grew by 2.1 million - an increase largely driven by women.
Shad Straker and Victoria Deborah: GYMGUYZ
“We could immediately see the potential for delivering fitness services in a new way”
“The lockdown has changed the way people see fitness,” Shad Straker says. “It no longer automatically means going to the gym.”
Shad and co-franchisee Victoria Deborah now own the Kingston, Surrey GYMGUYZ franchise, which provides personalised fitness training to customers wherever they want it - in their homes, gardens, local parks, even office car parks.
“When we saw the GYMGUYZ franchise model, we could immediately see the potential for delivering fitness services in a new way,” Shad, a former property developer, says.
Victoria, who formerly competed at national level in athletics and went on to work in the City, says: “I used to live and breathe the gym, but when I went through depression at university I found that exercising at home was massively helpful, so I know that home exercise can deliver the same physical and mental benefits as gym workouts.”
They found the franchise just before the first 2020 lockdown and launched last September.
“COVID has complicated things, but it’s also meant people are looking for fitness training in new ways,” Shad says.
“We now employ five mobile fitness coaches, who visit people to deliver individually tailored exercise programmes, and we’re now recruiting another 10.
“People can choose the kind of training they like. At present, boxing is hugely popular, especially among the young. Yoga and pilates are big and HIIT and martial arts are always fashionable.”
“It’s not just about physical fitness,” Victoria adds. “Working out together helps promote bonding between couples and families and increasingly when clients see the results, they ask if their partners and families can join them, so the business grows organically. Our coaches become part of their family.”
The pair are now developing partnerships with private hospitals and communities of new mums to help them get back in shape after giving birth.
“We’re planning on picking up over 100 clients a month in the next few months and hoping to achieve a £1 million turnover with 40 per cent profits within two years,” Shad says.
“But it’s not just about money. Helping people reach their personal fitness goals is more rewarding than I ever expected.”
David Hasler: PGH Beegone
“You get two businesses for the price of one”
David Hasler had always been fascinated by bees. Now he’s starting life as a franchisee with PGH Beegone, which offers live bee removal and pest control solutions.
David, from Bury St Edmunds, says: “Bees have always interested me - they are such clever creatures - so when I was looking to buy a franchise as a way to run my own company PGH Beegone immediately grabbed my attention.”
David, a former refrigerated courier for The National Laboratory Service and the Environment Agency, looked at various franchise options over a few months but didn’t find anything that excited him until he came across PGH Beegone.
Franchisees provide expert removal of swarms and colonies of honeybees and their combs from chimneys, walls, roofs and trees without using insecticides or pesticides.
The bees are extracted live and transported to their new home before the structure is bee-proofed to prevent bees from returning. They also offer pest control and prevention services, covering rodents, birds, large animals and insects.
“It was different from all the other franchises I had seen and you get two businesses for the price of one,” David says.
He launched his franchise in April after completing his training, which included a series of external courses to lay a foundation of knowledge and 12 days’ face-to-face theoretical training with PGH Beegone, plus shadowing the company’s support centre technicians on a wide variety of treatments.
“In the future, I hope to take on some technicians and more territories and build on the business year on year,” David says.
Kieran Igwe: fit20
“I can scale and benefit more customers, but am free to go on holiday”
When personal trainer Kieran Igwe first heard about the fit20 franchise, he was sceptical.
Kieran explains: “I had my own business with a number of personal training clients and I suspected fit20 was just another fad.
“But I researched it and liked the slick, clean studios, the precision of the machines and brand feel.”
He believed his own company had gone as far as it could, but that the fit20 business would be easier to scale and deliver a beneficial impact to more customers.
“A 20-minute session once a week is much more appealing to people than giving up your family life or favourite TV programme to go to the gym there times a week,” Kieran says.
He opened his first fit20 studio in Leeds, now has two and is planning a third.
“I got great support from fit20 from the beginning,” Kieran says. “I had experience in personal training and the fit20 organisation had 10 years more, which was a winning combination.
“I can scale and benefit more customers, but am free to go on holiday, knowing my team can operate the business while I’m not there.”
Linda Whitney writes about franchising for the Daily Mail, What Franchise and many other publications.