Last month, a new gym opened in my neigbourhood. I always have my antennas up for interesting business ideas and this one surely caught my attention.

The entrepreneur behind this new gym must have discovered a significant potential for the gym business in my neighborhood. In fact, I’m not surprised. Every morning and evening, it’s common to see young and not-so-young men and women taking a brisk walk, jogging or indulging in some form of physical exercise.

I decided to do some research into the fitness business in Africa.

Is there a trend and growing demand for physical fitness and weight loss services in Africa? How large is the market? Who are the best potential customers to target? And what are the important things to consider in order to succeed in the fitness business in Africa?

In this article, I’ll introduce you to this interesting industry and its amazing business potentials in Africa.


A Quick Introduction to the Fitness Industry

In developed markets like North America and Europe, the fitness industry makes over $30 billion every year. It’s an industry that is widely regarded as recession-proof and popular in countries with a large middle class population and most often, an obesity problem.

This industry is broadly classified into two main sectors. First are fitness centres or health clubs, which are more popularly known as the ‘gym’. The second, and fast-growing sector, is weight loss. I think it’s a good idea to explain both sectors a bit more so you can fully appreciate the scope of this industry.

  1. Gyms

1.1 A Fitness industry in Africa 2Gyms generally offer exercise equipment for physical exercise that focus on building muscular and/or cardiovascular strength. There is a wide range of simple and complex equipment that exist on the market for the gym business. Free weights (dumbbells and barbells), treadmills, stationary bikes and elliptical trainers are some of the most popular gym equipment available.

It’s quite typical for gyms to provide group exercise classes (like aerobics) and personal training to its members. Some modern world gyms provide yoga, self-defence classes, spa/sauna services and sports facilities (like swimming pools, basketball and tennis courts).

Gyms typically charge a membership or subscription fee to use the equipment and facilities. These fees could be charged on a daily, weekly, monthly or annual basis. (photo credit:

ii. Weight loss programs

Weight loss programs provide a structured therapy that helps people to slim down and lose weight. There are several different types of weight loss programs on the market that offer different solutions to weight loss. Customised diets, exercise plans, surgery, counselling, drugs and supplements are just some of the methods used by these programs.

Studies show that women are more likely to want to slim down or lose weight. As a result, the Weight Loss market is generally targeted at women, However, there is a growing opportunity to provide similar services to the menfolk.

Why Is Africa An Interesting Place For The Fitness Industry?

Poor people are unlikely to want to join a gym or subscribe to a weight loss program. But that’s if you think all of Africa is poor. In fact, Africa is far more interesting than that. The continent is fast becoming a huge demand pool for the fitness industry.

1.1 A Fitness industry in Africa 3South Africa leads the continent in the fitness industry. Available statistics show that about 60 percent of South Africa’s population is overweight. No wonder the country has the highest density of gyms and health clubs on the continent.

Nairobi (Kenya) and Lagos (Nigeria) have also become booming markets for the fitness business.

Impressive economic growth, rapid urbanization and changing lifestyles due to the growing influence of western cultures and diets are just a few of the factors responsible for the growing demand for fitness services in several countries on the continent. (photo credit:

Countries like Ivory Coast, Ghana and Kenya already have body builders’ associations. In March 2013, Ivory Coast hosted the 6th edition of the Open West Africa Bodybuilding competition. A year earlier, Zimbabwe hosted the All Africa Olympia, a body builder’s competition featuring both women and men.

In this section, I’ll share with you a couple of additional facts and drivers that are responsible for the growing demand for fitness and weight loss services in Africa.

1.    Africa’s middle class is expanding.

Like I mentioned earlier, poor people are hardly interested in fitness or weight loss. The growth in demand for fitness and weight loss services in Africa is coming from a fast-growing and consumption-driven section of its population; the middle class.

A 2010 report by McKinsey and another report released by the Africa Development Bank (AfDB) in 2011 both agree that Africa’s middle class has grown into a significant consumer pool. It’s also one of the fastest growing middle class populations in the world. According to the AfDB report, the current size of the continent’s middle class is over 350 million people.

Another (more recent) report on Africa’s middle class released by the Standard Bank Group shows that most middle class households in Africa spend between $15 and $115 a day. This is an indication that Africans who fall into the ‘middle class’ category have more disposable or ‘extra’ income to spend.

When people have more money to spend, they eat more (because they can afford it) and their lifestyles are very likely to change. It’s no surprise that obesity (excess body weight) is a common feature in countries and regions with significant disposable household income. The United States and Australia are good examples in this regard.

2.    More people are becoming conscious of their health and fitness

1.1 A Fitness industry in Africa 4With a growing middle class and increasing urbanisation on the continent, unhealthy ‘Western’ diets and lifestyles are contributing to the rising rates of obesity and chronic diseases like cardiovascular conditions (hypertension, heart attacks and stroke), cancer and diabetes.

More middle-class and rich Africans are becoming health and fitness-conscious because they understand the benefits of being fit and healthy. Regular exercise and an ideal body weight significantly reduce the likelihood of falling sick. This is one of the biggest reasons why people are motivated to stay fit and healthy.

To satisfy the need to stay fit and healthy, fitness clubs (or gyms) and weight loss programs are setting up within and around neighbourhoods, residential and office areas where people who need these services can easily access them. (photo credit:

3.    It’s more expensive to own personal equipment

Setting up a comprehensive gym facility usually requires significant capital. Most individuals cannot afford the luxury of a full-range gym at home. The cheaper and more convenient option is usually to join a local gym and pay to use the exercise equipment on a daily, weekly, monthly or yearly payment plan.

To satisfy this need, most gyms provide a wide range of exercise equipment, from free weights to leg presses and treadmills. Some others have a more diversified range of services that include swimming pools, spas, and sports arenas (like basketball and tennis courts.)

4.    People often need a source of commitment and motivation

Many people lack the self-motivation and commitment to exercise or lose weight on their own. They need a community, personal trainer or gym subscription to stay motivated and committed to their fitness and weight loss goals.

The most successful businesses in the fitness and weight loss industry provide a personal touch with their services. Most people need inspiration, encouragement and support in order to achieve the fitness goals they want.

Two of Africa’s Biggest Success Stories in the Fitness Business

As proof of the potential of the fitness and weight loss business in Africa, I’ll introduce you to two companies that are leading the expansion of the fitness industry in Africa.

Although both are based in South Africa, they are currently executing their plans to expand aggressively across the continent. Here they are…

1.  Virgin Active

Virgin Active is definitely the largest fitness centre and health club chain in Africa. With over 600,000 members, it currently operates 114 clubs in South Africa and one in Namibia. Most clubs in the chain are equipped with four-to eight-lane heated swimming pools, mind and body studios, professional dieticians, therapists and several other services.

1.1 A Fitness industry in Africa 5
Photo credit:

Virgin Active, which launched in South Africa in 2001, is a member company of the Virgin Group owned by Sir Richard Branson, one of the world’s most celebrated serial entrepreneurs. Virgin Active has over 250 clubs in nine countries across the world in Europe, Asia and Africa. In 2013, Virgin Active opened five clubs in South Africa. In 2014, it opened another four clubs in the country.

Over the next few years, Virgin Active plans to expand into more countries in Southern Africa. This just proves how huge the demand and lucrative potential of the fitness industry is in Africa. This company remains one of the top companies to watch as the fitness industry expands and matures across Africa.

2.  Planet Fitness

1.1 A Fitness industry in Africa 6

Planet Fitness is arguably the second largest chain of gym and fitness centres in Africa. Founded in 1995, the company has over 23 health clubs on the continent with just over 160,000 active members. It plans to double the number of its clubs in the next five years within and outside South Africa.

Who Are The Best Customers To Target For The Fitness Business?

Knowing your target market and customers is one of the most important keys to success in any business. If you’re considering the fitness and weight loss business in Africa, there are five major categories of potential customers you should look out for. Here they are…

  • Working class professionals – These are people who typically work at a day job or run their own business. They typically fall within the 25-45 age bracket, are well-educated and appreciate the health benefits of physical exercise. They fall into the middle-class we talked about earlier and can afford a reasonably-priced gym membership. As many of them are young and socially active, a gym is usually a great opportunity to stay fit, hang out and interact.
  • 1.1 A Fitness industry in Africa 7Fitness enthusiasts – This category refers to people who buy a gym membership because they love to work out. They could be athletes, body builders or individuals who live by a health and wellness philosophy. Fitness enthusiasts are actively looking out for places with the best exercise equipment and services. When you open a fitness business, these are usually the first people to show up.
  • Women – Women are more likely to feel insecure about their physique and weight than the menfolk. As a result, women are a great target market for weight loss programs. Stay-at-home moms (housewives) who have a less-active lifestyle are more likely to put on weight and will usually be interested in a service that helps them stay in shape. (photo credit:

In recent years, brides have also become an interesting niche market. Most brides sign up for fitness and weight loss programs so they can look great on their wedding day.

  • Senior citizens – Fitness is not only reserved for the young. There is a growing opportunity to provide wellness therapy for the not-so-young. This category of potential customers understands that physical exercise is great for their health and could extend their life. One way to appeal to this market is to add amenities for health maintenance and monitoring like checks for blood sugar, blood pressure and bone density.
  • Expat community – Many foreigners who come over to Africa for visits, business or pleasure, may already be fitness enthusiasts and will definitely be on the lookout for fitness centres and health clubs. Targeting the expat community in major urban areas would be a great strategy!

Ready to Start a Fitness Business? Here Are A Few Things You Should Watch Out For…

In every business, there are important things to consider if you want to succeed. The fitness business is no different. In this section, I’ll share a couple of tips you must keep in mind if you plan to enter the fitness industry.

  • Location makes a huge difference

All successful gyms and health clubs are situated close to their target customers. The ideal location for a fitness centre should be located in a residential or office area of a major city. It should also be easily accessible and convenient for customers to visit. Depending on their schedules, most people prefer to work out before or after work hours, or during the weekend. Your location should help potential customers keep to their schedule.

  • Yeah, this can be a capital intensive business

Any business that requires a significant investment in machinery and equipment usually needs a lot of capital. Every successful gym, fitness centre or health club has to continue buying equipment to keep up with the latest trends, and this can require a significant capital expense.

However, the amount of capital you need to set up a fitness centre will vary depending on the size of the facility you want to start with. You could start with a few equipment first and scale up gradually as your business grows.

  • 1.1 A Fitness industry in Africa 8Always look out for changes and trends

The fitness and weight loss business can be significantly influenced by changes and trends in the tastes of consumers. What is the hottest weight loss technique, diet, or exercise routine one year may be all but ‘old school’ a couple of years later. As a result, if you want to succeed in the fitness business, you need to always be on the lookout for the latest trends, fads and changes in the industry. (photo credit:

  • Qualifications and branding will boost your credibility

Anybody with some capital can join the fitness business. But it takes a lot more than capital to succeed and remain in this business. Customers are more likely to be drawn to and remain loyal to a strong and credible brand. Courses run by professional trainers who are educated in the field of fitness or are certified by a recognised official organisation have become a popular trend in the fitness industry.

One of the easiest ways to enjoy the benefits of strong branding is to buy into a fitness franchise if you can. This allows you to gain credibility from the market and grow your business on the back of a successful fitness company.

  • Timing can be very important too.

Yes, there appears to be a level of seasonality in the fitness and weight loss business. Statistics show that more people join gym and weight loss memberships during the first quarter of the year (January to March). This is definitely due to the effect of New Year’s resolutions. It’ll be a good idea to focus your advertising and marketing campaign during this time of year.

  • Remember to pay attention to safety and maintenance

Safety is very important in the gym business because of the equipment and machinery used. A poor safety culture could lead to injuries and maybe death. There is a danger that you could suffer serious liabilities if a customer gets injured in your gym. In addition to the costs you’re likely to suffer, such an event could damage the reputation and brand of your business.

  • Maintenance is also very important.

Machines and equipment require regular maintenance to keep them in good and safe working condition. Well-maintained equipment perform better, last longer and are safer to use. All of these will help to maintain the quality of your brand and save you the costs of always replacing broken-down equipment.

If you have a passion for physical fitness and would love to build a business that helps people get in shape, this would surely be a fulfilling business to consider. As long as you consider the business advice and success tips in this article, you will have all the ingredients you need to start and build a successful fitness and weight loss business.

It’s been a long article. If you enjoyed reading it and found a lot of value in it, give us a thumbs up by sharing this article with your friends and followers on Facebook, Twitter and Google + using the social icons below.

Don’t forget to share your thoughts and questions in the Comments section below.

To your success!