Exclusive: Sports Direct to offer £5 gym memberships
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Exclusive: Sports Direct to offer £5 gym memberships

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Sports Direct’s gym chain – Sports Direct Fitness – has revealed more elements of its business model, saying it will offer memberships from as little as £5 a month and will embed its new health clubs in its retail stores.

Embracing the ethos on which Sports Direct founder Mike Ashley built his retail empire, the gym arm will sell memberships at this low rate with the aim of capturing market share and fostering rapid growth.

Sports Direct’s head of sales and products, Mel Crossland, told Health Club Management: “We’re expecting large amounts of additional spend from gym users, both because of the convenience of the on-site store for impulse buys and the fact that they’re the exact target market for Sports Direct products.”

“The stores will be busy in their own right, so the gyms will also benefit from increased footfall. We’re following the Sports Direct model of focusing on becoming the biggest,” she said.

The aggressive price plan for the new model will see 12-month gym memberships offered at £5 per month, with gym and exercise class combos available for £8 per month.

Health Club Management’s editorial director, Liz Terry, believes Sports Direct is innovating and developing an alternative business model: “Industry insiders will clearly see that this low membership rate means Sports Direct is treating the gym membership as an additional driver of retail sales,” she said.

“This is a new approach for a health club operator – we know from the experience of existing operators that a £9 membership can turn a profit without the retail element, so this isn’t a huge gap to bridge. It will be interesting to see how a company such as Sports Direct, with its expertise in consumer marketing, optimises the profit potential by upselling customers.

“It’s exciting for the industry to have new energy coming in from an allied sector and developing a new approach,” she concluded.

When it comes to marketing, the gyms will have access to Sports Direct’s mammoth database of customers from its retail empire – which includes its own brand stores and website, plus those of USC, Lillywhites, Sweatshop and many others.

The burgeoning chain currently comprises 18 former LA fitness sites, with a further eight expected to be acquired in the coming months. The new model of offering Sports Direct’s gym and retail outlets side by side will start with the launch of an Aintree site in mid-December. This will be closely followed by openings in Keighley and St Helens, while four more new-builds – two in southern England, one in Wales and one in Scotland – are currently going through planning.

Much of the cardio and strength equipment at the new sites will be provided by Precor, while the chain is in advanced discussion with two other major suppliers regarding the free weight and functional training areas.

Crossland added that despite the ultra low-cost strategy, the gym chain will avoid other traits of the growing sector, such as minimal staffing.

“We want our gyms to have a personal touch – we won’t follow the budget model and be doing everything in pods,” she said. “We want to have a rapport with our members, so for every visit, staff will be there to say ‘Hi’ and ‘Goodbye.’”

The trio heading up the gym venture have all arrived from senior positions at DW Fitness. In addition to Crossland, DW’s former CEO Winston Higham is the head of leisure and ex head of membership Dean Hogan has become Sports Direct Fitness’s head of operations.

The masterplan for the new gym model will be revealed to club general managers during a conference at the group’s Shirebrook headquarters in Mansfield from 11-12 November. The two-day session will present the chain’s vision for moving forward, as well as the potential awards available to staff through the company’s highly-publicised bonus structure.

Founded by Newcastle United Football Club owner Mike Ashley in 1982, Sports Direct has over 600 sports retail stores in Europe, including 400 in the UK and also owns sports brands such as Dunlop, Everlast and Slazenger.

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Sports Direct’s gym chain – Sports Direct Fitness – has revealed more elements of its business model, saying it will offer memberships from as little as £5 a month and will embed its new health clubs in its retail stores.
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