No longer sweatshop-type gyms, health and fitness clubs are big business attracting major investment. But in a market that is underexploited as far as branding goes, Esporta is leading the way providing clubs for the overweight and those over 40. Launching a series of clubs with the Eden brand name, Esporta, once part of First Leisure, hopes to pull in the overweight and middle-aged with premium-priced, health, fitness and above all, relaxation centres. Graham Coles, chief executive, and former financial director at First Leisure, is banking on Eden to help double the firm’s 23-strong stable of clubs. Things have gone well so far. Clubs which opened in 1999 exceeded membership targets and the first club of this year, Esporta Edinburgh, opened with 2,200 members. Eden’s launch comes days before the company is listed on the Stock Exchange, an event preceded by news that Esporta’s sales in the last quarter were seven per cent ahead of the comparable quarter in 1998. That said, the health and fitness market looks set to go through a change as competition gets tougher. Industry commentators note that customers still join the most conveniently located club, but with increasing competition among chains with strong financial backing, the future lies in producing branded clubs for a more discerning clientele. Hence Esporta’s Eden. ‘The market has been under supplied and so in the next three to five years all major operators will open new clubs to meet growing demand,’ Coles said recently. ‘The different operators are bound to come into direct competition, which means products will have to differentiate themselves from the competition,’ he added. Esporta looks confident. Created out of Michael Grade’s fragmented First Leisure (which will officially cease to exist when the shares are issued) it comes with some experienced people on board, despite not yet having an appointed financial director. However, only time will tell if Coles and his other directors have read the runes well.
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