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Searching for the body beautiful

By Liu Jie  (China Daily)

14:21, August 10, 2012

Women participate in a spin class in a gym in Xingtai, Hebei province. ([Photo/China Daily)

Gyms are closing, prices are dropping, promotions abound in a suffering sector

Fitness fanatic Tao Yingjian is considering a change of club, again.

"People here are giving me the hard sell."

"They have even asked me to try and sell memberships to my friends, and offered me commission."

"My coach has been trying to persuade me to add more hours to my training schedule. But I really don't like this kind of promotion," said Tao, a 30-year-old accountant.

She's currently a member of CSI-Bally Total Fitness in northern Beijing. She had moved there after Nirvana Fitness & Spa's Beijing Anzhen outlet suddenly closed last January.

"Although it reopened, I could never trust the brand again, and I quit," she said.

Before Nirvana, Tao had tried Hosa Fitness and some other smaller gyms - but none could satisfy her fully for long.

There's always been something not quite right, she said, whether it's been the equipment installed, the management of the courses being offered, or the quality of coaching.

CSI-Bally, Nirvana and Hosa are all among China's top 10 fitness chains, each with several outlets.

The desire for fitness is booming in China, but as more and more open, the sector is also becoming highly competitive.

According to experts, there may well be a growing appetite for the body beautiful, and many of the larger chains have invested heavily in their hope of attracting business - but at the same time, the rate of expansion has now tipped the industry into one of over-supply.

That's great news for consumers, of course, but bad news for the many companies now scrambling for business - and many are having to take urgent measures to survive.

Luo Juan, an expert on the sector with Forward Business Intelligence Co Ltd, explained: "The country's fitness industry has huge potential, and there are many investors who see that - but the demands of customers, with so much choice becoming available all the time, are becoming very sophisticated for such a fledgling industry.

"The industry is going through a tough time as a result, and is experiencing big changes."

A 2011 survey of 60 key cities in China - by the Asian Academy for Sports and Fitness Professionals, a Hong Kong-based fitness professional training center and study institute - showed that 1.05 percent of the population were members of a fitness club, compared with 18.1 percent in the United States, showing just how much potential there is for the fitness sector in China.

However, the survey also revealed that the number of gyms being run by fitness chains in those key cities actually dropped 10 percent year-on-year in 2011 - the first fall since gyms first emerged in China in the early 2000s.

In Beijing, for example, the number of outlets owned by large fitness chains declined 46 year-on-year, to 483 last year.

At the other end of the scale, there has been a gradual increase in the numbers of privately run individual fitness centers.

The result of this conflict between the larger and smaller operators isn't surprising - falling prices, hefty promotions, and sudden closures for those unable to keep up with the pace.

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