Landmark to spend $136m to whip Fitness First into shape

Gulf conglomerate plans to roll out up to 100 gyms across the Middle East by 2016
Landmark to spend $136m to whip Fitness First into shape
Landmark expects to roll out up to 50 Fitness First gyms in Saudi Arabia
By Claire Ferris-Lay
Mon 24 Oct 2011 07:40 AM

Landmark Group plans to spend as much as AED500m ($136m) on expanding its Fitness First chain of gyms across the Middle East, the COO of the fitness group has told Arabian Business.

Landmark, which bought up the regional rights for the UK-based chain of fitness centres last year, plans to open 100 new branches over five years, including 35 in the UAE.

“We’ve got 13 clubs in the UAE at the moment and we’ve got big plans for Abu Dhabi, Sharjah – we’re looking at all of the other emirate states to open clubs,” said George Flooks, COO of Fitness First Middle East. “Over a five year period we will look to get ourselves to 35 clubs in the UAE.

“The broader strategy is 100 clubs in five years, that’s across the Middle East. We’ve got the rights to 21 countries so places like Kuwait, Egypt etc. Saudi is a big target market for us; they have the population for us so you could quite easily get 50 clubs into Saudi,” he added.

Dubai-based Landmark acquired the Fitness First franchise for the Middle East after purchasing a subsidiary of Saudi leisure company Al Hokair Group.

The 100 percent buyout of Leisure Unlimited, the previous franchisee, was carried out by the group’s investment arm, Landmark Investments. Under the terms of the deal, Landmark absorbed all Fitness First assets and employees in the Middle East.

Sources close to the deal said Leisure Unlimited had been starved of funding, putting pressure on its growing gym business.

Landmark, which also manages retail chains such as New Look, Centrepoint and Splash, has spent millions of dirhams on upgrading existing facilities and introducing new fitness classes such as Zumba in a bid to boost membership.

Fitness First Middle East currently has 35,000 members and has seen its membership increase by 5,000 in the last seven months, Flooks said.

“We’re currently sitting on about 35,000 members. We’ve shown considerable growth in membership since April…we’ve probably grown by 5,000 members [April to date],” he said.

Landmark will look to spend around AED3-5m on each club and hopes to sign up 3,000 members per gym, he added.

The retail giant in August said it would launch nine clubs across the Middle East taking the total number of outlets in the Middle East to 23 and the UAE to 17 by January 2012. New branches will include Dubai Motor City and Deira City Centre.

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