Running a gym and fitness business in the time of Covid  

While the health and fitness industry in Ireland lags behind European neighbours, it is growing fast.    
Running a gym and fitness business in the time of Covid  

Peter Stringer is an investor and co-owner of a new gym business opening this month in the heart of Cork city.

Ireland’s fitness industry is expected to recover from the shock of the pandemic over the coming years, benefiting from a combination of heightened health concerns and government initiatives targeted at encouraging physical activity. 

Over 500,000 people in the Republic are fitness club members in an industry worth up to €300m annually. 

With an average of 700 members per outlet, Ireland has one of the lowest ratios in Europe — a statistic that has seen the arrival of a number of chains opening here over recent years. 

A report by Deloitte and not-for-profit group EuropeActive estimated the health and fitness industry across the EU was worth €27.2bn in 2018 , making it the world’s largest fitness market, ahead of North America’s €26.6bn value. 

While the market in the Republic continues to grow, offering career openings for personal trainers, fitness instructors, nutritionists, physios and instructors across disciplines such as yoga, pilates, exercise classes and running, current membership is equivalent to approximately 10% of the population. 

That is well behind Sweden and the Netherlands.

Peter Stringer, the former scrum-half with 98 Ireland caps, a Grand Slam and three Triple Crowns, is an investor and co-owner of a new gym business opening this month in the heart of Cork city. 

The F45 fitness franchise, founded in 2013 in Australia and now operating in 63 counties, including 2,800 franchises and 1,500 studios, will employ 12 people in a dedicated space in the Elysian complex. 

A full scale launch is planned in January when many of us look to fitness resolutions for the New Year. 

Described as the fastest-growing fitness franchise in the world, F45 currently has six studios in Dublin. 

The company recently entered a partnership with soccer star David Beckham, actor Mark Wahlberg, basketball star Magic Johnson, golfer Greg Norman and model Cindy Crawford for overseas expansion.

“Our team will help each client improve their fitness levels and overall health markers through training and nutritional advice," according to the company.

Max Life Fitness is another addition to the health and fitness sector. Founded by Brian O’Sullivan in March 2020, it was only open three weeks when it had to shut down due to Covid-19. 

Having opened its doors again in July, membership quickly reached 1,100. It says it is on target to sign up 2,000 more users in 2022. 

A second location in Cork is planned, accommodating a further 4,000 members in a space of 20,000 sq ft. 

“The jobs market in Cork is really strong,” Mr O’Sullivan says. “It’s a good time for the industry – for both employers and employees alike. 

"The closure of bars and restaurants actually had a positive knock-on effect — people have more time on their hands and they are focussing on fitness, health and wellness."  

And it’s not just in state of the art fitness machines and classes that the sector is expanding - much of the heavy lifting of fitness administration is also being streamlined. 

App fit

Legit Fit, a business management platform for fitness operations and management offers greater efficiency in billing, payments, and client messaging. 

Its owner Ryan O’Neill estimates that Legit Fit can save operators and owners over 200 hours on administration a year. 

“The app allows health and fitness professionals to increase their earnings by up to €10,000 a year primarily by reducing administration and cancellation costs, while it also streamlines the client’s fitness experience as they can book, pay and track their progress online,” Mr O’Neill says.

While the initial phase of LegitFit was designed as a business support for trainers, the second phase will be aimed at the wider fitness market to allow new members to network and build their profile.

Health and fitness is also becoming a regular feature of the travel business. 

Wellness, mindfulness and sustainability are fast becoming bywords in the international tourist trade, as our holiday habits change for a different world. 

Wellness tourism is now worth an estimated €600bn globally, growing twice as fast as general tourism. 

Physical fitness is an important draw for holidaymakers who want to focus on wellness, with two-thirds of people planning activities such as yoga, pilates and nature hikes. 

In response, travel companies are increasingly catering to the demand for the emerging sector, offering new programmes which seek to alleviate stress by focusing on mindfulness and nutrition. 

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