Rise of the mini gyms

Updated 2018-01-20 13:21:00 China Daily

Shaped like shipping containers, modular gyms have been a hit with fitness enthusiasts because they offer lower fees and 24-hour access. (Provided to China Daily)

In a bid to solve his alcoholism, which led to health issues such as insomnia and obesity, Wang Jianping picked up running in 2012.

The researcher at Fudan University's medical college has since become a fitness fanatic, running every day and amassing a box full of medals from competitions including the Shanghai International Marathon which he has attended six times.

In 2016, the 50-year-old decided to start running in gyms instead of outdoors, citing that it can get too hot in the summer and too cold during winter. This was when he chanced upon a modular building called ParkBox.

To his surprise, the space was filled with fitness equipment such as multifunctional weight machines, dumbbells, treadmills and intelligent coaching systems which provide training programs for users and can even determine if they are performing their workouts correctly. Wang was quick to sign up as a member.

Shaped like shipping containers, these 24-hour mini gyms have been sprouting up all over Shanghai in the past year. ParkBox currently operates gyms in three sizes: 8 square meters, 18 sq m and 28 sq m. They can accommodate up to two, four and five people respectively.

"Although small, these gyms are very convenient and practical. Every facility is equipped with a treadmill, a set of dumbbells and an intelligent coaching system," said Huang Xiaolei, co-founder and CEO of ParkBox.

Users like Wang can reserve a spot in the gym at any time of the day simply by making a booking using the ParkBox app or WeChat. Every hour in the gym costs just 10 yuan (.50) during peak hours. Those working out in the facility before 10 am and after 10 pm pay just 5 yuan per hour.

ParkBox, which was first launched in the Zhangjiang area in Shanghai's Pudong New Area at the end of 2016, now operates 50 mini gyms across Shanghai and Hangzhou, Zhejiang province, and has nearly 200,000 registered users. According to the company, each user visits these gyms an average of six times per month.

Huang pointed out that conventional gyms usually require about two years to break even. In contrast, ParkBox was able to do so after six to eight months because of the lower costs associated with rental and hiring coaches.

The emergence of these mini gyms comes at a time when traditional gyms are struggling to stay afloat. Chen Xinzhuo, the product director of a Wuhan-based mini gym brand XimoPanda, said that the company's research has found that 80 percent of traditional gyms in Shanghai and Shenzhen are either unprofitable or fighting to make ends meet because of increasing costs and competition.

XimoPanda opened its first 24-hour mini gym in Wuhan, Hubei province — it measures 300 sq m and is equipped with about 40 sets of equipment — in October. Admission to the gym is just 3 yuan per hour and it is able to accommodate more than 40 people at a time. Chen said that the company is looking to open more than 100 of such facilities by the end of 2018.

Besides cost savings and round-the-clock access, these mini gyms also offer consumers a welcomed reprieve from one of the biggest drawbacks of conventional fitness facilities — the hard selling of membership packages.

"I had bad experiences at traditional gyms where fitness coaches are more like salesmen," said Li Yi, a 23-year-old interior designer from Wuhan. "Besides, the annual membership fees often range from 3,000 to 4,000 yuan, which is so much higher than these mini gyms.

"By working out at XimoPanda gyms, I can save about 2,000 yuan a year while getting the same quality and quantity of fitness."

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