Women's Weight Loss and Fitness: Will This Booming Market Suffer from Success?

Even 10,000-unit gorillas have an Achilles' heel. For Curves, the number-one women's fitness and weight loss franchise, its own success is now biting it in the ankle. Competitors of all sizes and shapes have sprung up, offering women an ever-increasing array of options for losing weight and staying fit.

Yet, despite increasing competition--from Contour Express, Liberty Fitness & Weight Loss, Jazzercise, Jenny Craig, StrollerFit, to name a fewâ€"the fitness pie, nearly $50 billion annually, is large enough to accommodate plenty of newcomers. And newcomers are exactly who franchisors are seeking to build this growing segment.

"No experience needed." That's what weight loss and fitness brands tell prospective franchisees. And thanks to extensive training programs and marketing support, many franchisees are succeeding in building a clientele and managing their new business.

Liz Goodwin, owner of a Curves franchise in Durham, N.C., had no experience in franchising, or in the women's weight loss and fitness industry. But in 2002, when she saw her older sister succeeding as a Curves franchisee in New Hampshire, a seed was planted, and it continued to grow.

"When she'd tell me about her experiences with her members, I was envious," says Goodwin. "I hadn't heard her so excited and upbeat in years."

In April 2003, Goodwin opened her own Curves unit. "I had absolute confidence in the program, and I went to Club Camp to learn how to run a Curves," she says. In her first year, Goodwin had more than 800 members. And a few years later, she was named 2006 Curves Franchisee of the Year for the Southeastern Regionâ€"and, fittingly enough, older sister Sue Mercier, in Pelham, N.H., won the award for the Northeastern Region.

Today Goodwin says her greatest challenge (and joy, she adds) is keeping her members motivated. "For some people, it takes more than earning Curves Cash and other incentive programs," she says. "Some people expect a quick fix or the same amount of weight loss as someone else. It just takes time for something to trigger in them, to help them use Curves more effectively," she says.

One of the biggest factors contributing to the continuing growth of women's weight loss and fitness centers is the breadth of programs and opportunities they offer to customers and franchisees alike. In addition to diet and exercise programs and equipment, they combine, in varying degrees, lifestyle, wellness, and beauty programs. They also are social centers, fostering community, boosting self-esteem, and giving women much more than traditional gyms and workout centers (where membership and attendance frequently falls off after the novelty is gone).

Franchisors in this segment have high expectations for growth. At Contours Express, with 360 U.S. sites and 600 globally, executives project at least 1,000 clubs worldwide by 2009. Liberty Fitness, with 61 women's fitness centers in 16 states, predicts 1,500+ units within the next five years.

The primary demographic for most of these brands is women aged 30 to 55. For decades, this has been the Baby Boomers, but they are aging out of this group. However, help is on the way. The up-and-coming Millennialsâ€"born 1980â€"2000 and whose ranks (73 million) exceed those of the Baby Boom generationâ€"are filling the gap as the Boomers become seniors. Millennials, currently aged 8 to 28, provide a growing customer base that will continue to swell in the coming decades.

Nutritional supplements, lifestyle changes, therapy, and spas are all part of a holistic approach that consider a member's entire lifestyle and keep members coming back. Individualized, personalized, and customized workouts and programs are another variation in the competitive women's weight loss and fitness segment. And a growing number clubs offer private, one-on-one training and consulting, while others offer 24-hour keycard access.

Additional women-only or women-oriented franchise brands include Beverly Hills Weight Loss & Wellness, Butterfly Life, Get In Shape For Women, L.A. Weight Loss, Ladies Workout Express, Lady of America, ShapeXpress, Slender Lady, Slim and Tone, and more.

In 2008, with a large customer base, an overweight nation obsessed with being slim and trim, a coming generation eager to stay fit, and an older generation determined to stay active, the only real obstacle to success for the growing number of women's weight loss and fitness franchise brands is one another.

Published: February 7th, 2008

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