A fit person is not necessarily a thin person. For too long, the fitness industry was synonymous with the weight-loss industry. However, change is coming and Basic-Fit wants to be one of its main drivers. “Basic means uncomplicated, essential and effective,” says Richard Piekaar, Director Treasury, Investor Relations & Corporate Development of Basic-Fit. “We have gone back to basics with our fitness studio concept in an attempt to reduce the barriers to fitness that keep people tied to their couches.”
The first barrier is the question most people ask when looking at joining a gym or fitness studio – what will it cost? “One of the first things that we did when drawing up our concept was to simplify and reduce the cost of membership,” explains Mr. Piekaar “Few people appreciate being forced to pay for an all-inclusive package of extras that 85% of the time they won’t use.”
Basic-Fit has simplified membership rates by offering a membership model consisting of two formats called Comfort and Premium varying the possibility to share the membership with a family member and bring a friend along when you go to the club.
The cheapest contract offers unlimited use of all of Basic Fit’s clubs across Europe for just 19.99 EUR per four weeks. “Obviously, the more someone uses the gym, the lower the cost per session, but even someone who only goes a couple of times a week is getting excellent value for money at that price,” insists Mr. Piekaar
More than 1.8 million members across Europe appear to agree, although the actual number of users is higher as the Basic-Fit Premium membership model allows more than one person to share the same membership pass. Another key part of the concept is inclusivity. Fitness means different things to different people and not everyone’s fitness goals are the same.
“Whatever it takes to get people up and off their couches and exercising is what we want to provide,” says Mr. Piekaar “Our membership spans all ages and is open to the whole family. Fitness comes in many different shapes and sizes, and we are open to all.”
We have gone back to basics with our fitness studio concept in an attempt to reduce the barriers to fitness that keep people tied to their couches. Richard Piekaar
Nevertheless, Basic-Fit’s core customer group is predominantly populated by younger age groups. “We have a lot of millennials amongst our customers,” says Mr. Piekaar “This generation has grown up surrounded by fitness packaged as a lifestyle and paraded by a new breed of instagram fitness gurus. This is accompanied by a marked decline in drinking and smoking rates amongst younger generations for whom fitness is a key priority.”
Nevertheless, the definition of fitness has changed. For many people, fitness is no longer about being slim or looking a certain way. It is a functional definition that can mean anything from being able to run for the bus with heavy shopping bags to running a marathon under three hours, with all points in between seen in Basic-Fit’s gyms.
“We are seeing a significant uptick in the number of members in the 50 to 60 age category,” remarks Mr. Piekaar “There are plenty of older fitness role models on social media and in the public eye, and people who have managed to stay active that long want to keep on doing it.”
Often these are returnees to exercise; people whose children have now grown up and who have more time for themselves again. “Because we serve such a wide spectrum of ages, abilities and requirements, we do our best to understand and cater to every need,” adds Mr. Piekaar “We hold open days to demonstrate our concept and give potential customers a taster of what awaits them.”
All Basic-Fit clubs occupy positions in central locations within large catchment areas. They are situated with easy access to transport routes and plenty of onsite parking. Inside, the emphasis is on creating open, airy spaces with high ceilings and a distinctive orange-hued decor.
In addition to a full range of fitness machines, all of which sport the company’s trademark orange livery, there are free weights areas and separate rooms for exercise classes. Advice and support is provided by qualified staff to ensure that customers use the equipment correctly for optimal results. “There is always someone on hand to provide assistance and answer questions,” says Mr. Piekaar “Alternatively, all of the machines have a QR code that can be read by our phone app to provide a helpful reminder.”
This is an indication of how much modern technology is shaping the face of fitness. Another example can be found in the exercise classes offered in the fitness studios. These are partly taken by a live instructor and partly by a pre-recorded instructor projected on a screen. From here, it is just a small step to permitting members to access these videos via the app so that they can do the class at home.
For those who enjoy the social aspect of exercising with others, Basic-Fit members are part of a growing community. Basic-Fit operates 586 clubs in five European countries. Its presence extends across Belgium (169 clubs), the Netherlands (157) and Luxembourg (10) as well as France (217) and Spain (33). the company has ambitious plans for future expansion.
“In the medium term, we plan to open new clubs at a rate of 100 clubs a year,” says Mr. Piekaar “The main focus in the first instance will be on increasing our presence in France and Spain. Looking further ahead, the market fragmentation in the European health and fitness sector offers opportunities for consolidation through the selective acquisition and conversion of other fitness clubs, providing a way to accelerate our club roll-out strategy. Furthermore, we believe there are a number of other geographic markets in Europe that could provide attractive opportunities for us to establish a presence in the longer term.”
Key is France where only 8% of the population is a member of a fitness studio and there are many areas where there is no provision at all. “If you look at the USA where one in five people has a gym membership or the Netherlands where the figure is 17%, then it is clear that there is strong potential in the French market,” says Mr. Piekaar Basic-Fit already ranks as the European market leader in “value-for-money” fitness as measured by number of clubs. The company is listed on the Amsterdam stock exchange and generates annual turnover of 326 million EUR (2017). It employs 4,000 people across Europe.
Sustainability is a large part of Basic-Fit’s successful formula. “We take a very broad interpretation of sustainability and environmental protection,” says Mr. Piekaar “It starts with our efforts to keep the CO2 footprint of our new clubs as low as possible right from the building phase.”
It continues with efforts to minimize water consumption in showers and the use of self-powered resistance machines rather than electrically-assisted training equipment. “You could also say that our core business of motivating people to be active is the essence of sustainability,” Mr. Piekaar continues. “Regular exercise tends to have a positive effect on mood and creates a self-reinforcing feedback loop with tangible benefits on health and well-being.” Despite all of these benefits, the non-gymgoers still outnumber those with gym memberships who train regularly.
Basic-Fit has succeeded in removing cost and inconvenience as the main barriers to participation with its affordable, local clubs. It is now skilfully harnessing the power of new technology to make healthier lifestyles more inclusive. “We can only grow by attracting a wide audience and catering to their needs,” says Mr. Piekaar “I think everyone wants to be fit but not everyone believes that fitness is for them. We want to convince them otherwise.