It does not come as a shock that the growth for fitness centers and gym franchises is starting to plateau out in the low single digits in the U.S. Based on a sample of 100 fitness franchises, the number of franchised locations for this vertical grew at a compound annual rate of only 2%, with the growth in the new units opened domestically starting to plateau out at 3% between 2015 and 2017. Consequently an increasing number of fitness franchise concepts are looking for their next growth to come from beyond the U.S. borders.
The latest data on the fitness industry pegs its global revenues at a whopping $87.2 billion with more than 200,000 gyms and clubs spread across the world. This growth is expected to continue for the next several years, with membership counts estimated to grow from 174 million in 2017 to more than 230 million members worldwide by 2030. A lot of this growth is expected to come from fast growing franchise markets in the Asia-Pacific regions. Not the ones to be left behind, U.S. fitness franchise brands are taking advantage of these high growth markets by focusing their next development phase in these regions.
The Chinese gym and fitness sector were pegged at $6 billion dollars in 2017. The primary force behind this growth in China is the willingness to improve health and physical fitness coupled with the mind set of sharing or displaying athletic achievements, and U.S. brands are primed to take advantage of this trend. In 2017, Anytime Fitness is the first U.S. fitness franchise to be granted a license to franchise in China. By 2020, it anticipates 300-500 gyms in China, which will help it reach its goal of having more than 400 clubs open in Asia by 2020. Another U.S. fitness franchise brand that is targeting China is Little Land Gym. In January 2019, it signed an agreement to open more than 100 locations across China in the next 3 years. The first location, in Beijing, is slated to be open by mid-2019.
By contrast, Australia’s fitness market is more mature, and franchising is a popular model. Both big box and boutique gyms are equally targeting this region for growth. World Gym, for example, signed 11 new international clubs in four countries during the first half of 2018, including expansions in Australia, Brazil, India and Taiwan. Other U.S. franchises like Snap Fitness, 9Round, Title Boxing Club, Orangetheory Fitness also have a sizeable presence in the country.
Meanwhile India, which ranks fifth in market size among Asia-Pacific health club markets, grew its industry size to $821 million in 2017, with nearly 2 million in membership counts. In recent times, in India, there has been a rise in inclination towards gym memberships and health clubs, add to that the growing middle class and discretionary spending in the urban areas has led to many international franchises entering the India market. Renowned fitness chains and gyms are busy in diversifying their product and services to tap into the market in every possible way so that they reach out to a diverse range of customers. One of the U.S. fitness brands that took advantage of this growing vertical in India was Gold’s Gym. A significant part of its international franchise commitments in 2018, came from this country. Of the 18 new global franchise commitments it signed in 2018, 8 were related to development plans in India. Others like Snap Fitness, Powerhouse Gym, Knockout, World Gym, etc. are also focusing their future development to the India shores.
Growth is not just limited to core markets in the Asia-Pacific region like India or China. Some U.S. franchise brands have now found success in non-traditional franchise markets like Russia as well. Earlier this year, UFC Gym partnered with Russian Fitness Group to open 55 locations throughout the country.
Call it what you like, but U.S. health and fitness brands are expanding abroad by leaps and bounds, and it can be well expected that the next uptick for U.S fitness concepts will come from the Asia-Pacific markets.
 FRANdata Research 2019
 2018 IHRSA Global Report: The State of the Health Club Industry
 China Briefing, September 2018
 Club Industry Magazine, June 2017
 Franchising.com, January 2019
 Company Press Release, July 2018
 Franchising.com, August 2018