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interview


Fashionable fitness: FITLane clubs are designed to offer a buzzing, trendy place to be


“I DO SEE FRANCE CATCHING UP WITH THE REST OF EUROPE – AND THAT MEANS A LOT OF OPPORTUNITY”


There’s also a 200sq m group exercise studio and an 80-bike Spinning studio – group exercise is very popular in France – as well as functional training and circuit areas. Significantly for the south of France, where parking is at a premium, the club also offers 600 free parking spaces. The club has already surpassed all


targets: with 7,000 members, the original goal of 4,000 has been smashed. “We’re a volume business,” admits Franklin. “Rightly or wrongly, I’ve always believed volume tends to work.” Franklin is already negotiating a second site in the centre of Nice, and would like to open a third. The latest development – a new-build on the outskirts of Antibes – is due to open in early 2013 and is currently slated as the sixth site. However, Franklin now plans to speed up expansion, with other options – Grasse, central Nice and further afield in Toulon – all in advance negotiation that may beat it to launch. Plans are to reach 10 to 12 clubs on the Côte d’Azur “as quickly as possible, then I believe the job is done in this area”. Private equity offers – which are already coming in – might then be considered to take the brand to other regions. “But I don’t want to do what I consider was a mistake for Fitness First, which was to put one club in each part of France, like little islands stuck out there. It’s important to control your geographic area.”


French focus Given that FITLane is having such success with what Franklin himself admits is a fairly simple model – albeit delivered


effectively – is he not worried about competition coming in and taking market share, perhaps even undercutting him? “Really, to understand the French fitness market, you have to go back to the beginning. It developed on a franchise basis – franchising is very popular out here. But while that’s all very well in a mature industry, in an immature industry like fitness it can go wrong very quickly. “The way it happened here, finance companies were brought in to finance all the memberships in advance. Club operators got all their money upfront, with members signing up for two years, but owners perhaps didn’t have the financial discipline to run the operation. The money would run out, clubs closed, members were up in arms and the banks put a big cross against fitness. “That happened a lot in France, and it’s one of the reasons why the percentage of the population who are gym members remains well below not only the US and UK, but also Germany, Spain, Italy. “But that’s all changing now, and that’s


why there’s such a market. I shouldn’t be saying this, because everyone will want to come and try it, but I do see France catching up with the rest of Europe. And that means a lot of opportunity. “But first operators have to get a


foothold. Anything’s possible, but if they come to the Côte d’Azur, they won’t be any cheaper than us – certainly not for the same service. France is not an easy place to run a business. VAT and social security are high. And when you go beyond 49 staff, a percentage of the


36 Read Health Club Management online at healthclubmanagement.co.uk/digital


profits must go to them. Real estate is expensive and incredibly hard to come by, as there’s no commercial real estate – you have to buy people’s businesses. “I suppose discount operators might be able to come in and knock off l5–10 a month, get a bit of market share – but make money? I doubt it. I think there’s a limit to how discount you can go here, and ultimately l49 isn’t a barrier when you have access to 10 classes a day, great equipment, air conditioning, nice showers, a good reception and generally a buzzing, trendy place to be. “You have to make it a fashionable place – get the film stars in there, the sports stars. If you have two restaurants on a boulevard and one’s packed and the other’s empty, which are you attracted to? The same goes for nightclubs. And I believe a fitness centre is no different – it has to be the place to be.”


Local specialist Yet Franklin is modest about FITLane’s success: “If I were to describe our model compared to what’s on offer in LA, Chicago, maybe London, we don’t offer anything that’s exceptional. The best way I can describe it is a fresh version of what 24 Hour Fitness, California Fitness and Fitness First have already been doing, which I think is a very good offering. “What I know is how to operate in the south of France – and, believe me, that’s not easy.”


healthclub@leisuremedia.com kate cracknell


october 2012 © cybertrek 2012


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