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Independent health clubs in the UK recovered 2019 membership numbers by the end of 2020

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Independent gyms in the UK have fared better during the pandemic than larger corporate operators in holding on to their members, according to new research.

Net member movement among independents was generally positive during key times in 2020 – in spite of being negative for the wider sector.

The finding comes from a new study, titled Independent Fitness Clubs Benchmarking Report, by 4global, ukactive and GGFit, which outlines the impact of COVID-19 on independent fitness clubs.

Among the key findings is that membership levels bounced back significantly better at independent clubs, both in terms of visit throughput and active member percentage.

The report is based on a study from July to December 2020, using data from 627 independent clubs, representing a total of 289,000 members, 3.9 million visits, and revenue of £32m.

It shows that the percentage of active members at independent clubs was clearly lower in July and November 2020 – when compared to 2019 levels – due to clubs being in lockdown for most of the time during these months.

By December 2020, however, the level of active members recovered to within 1 per cent of 2019 numbers, showing a healthy appetite for returning to the gym.

Interestingly, independent clubs achieved much higher joiner rates during these six months – sometimes by a factor of three.

The report suggests that this was due to a combination of re-engagement campaigns, re-joiners, and the ‘local’ business effect of independents reaching out to their community during the pandemic.

"Many independents were able to adapt and pivot quickly, to deliver what their members needed during lockdown," the report reads.

Commenting on the findings, Huw Edwards, CEO of ukactive, said: “We know that independent fitness businesses have been hit hard by the pandemic but with the support of their members they have proven to be agile and adaptable to change, which is clearly demonstrated in this report.

“It is our hope that we can continue to support the growth of independents across the physical activity sector by sharing our insight and data, and working together with our members to drive change.”

Utku Toprakseven, Partner at 4global, said: “This report represents the first collaborative dive into the independent gyms collective data and is an exciting opportunity to assess the value of the rich diversity delivered across the sector.

“We very much look forward to working with even more independent operators and system providers in the coming months, with an aim to deepen our collective understanding of the critical impact that independent gyms have to the wider health and physical activity agenda.”

To download and read the full report, click here.

• A special webinar discussing the findings of the report and plotting the next steps for the sector will be held at 10am on Thursday 6 May, hosted by ukactive with support from 4global and GGFit. To register for the webinar, click here

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Independent gyms in the UK have fared better during the pandemic than larger corporate operators in holding on to their members, according to new research.
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