Planet FitSmart’s first full year of business in Port Elizabeth is further proof that the South African health industry is taking to franchising like a duck to water.

According to club general manager, Egmont Pauls, the FitSmart owner-operated clubs have been the “guinea pigs” of the franchising process in the South African health sector and the experiment is paying dividends.

“There was a gap in the market for a health group that was based on a successful model, but that could be run on a personal level,” he said yesterday after the local franchise drew the curtain on a successful opening year. “People pay for a product and then expect service.”

Pauls said the PE franchise already had between 3 500 and 4 000 “effective members” – which resulted in between 2 000 and 2 500 visits per week – and that the membership base was growing by about 200 per month.

He believed the fact that individual clubs were run directly by the owners gave them a measure of flexibility and personal touch that set them apart from their competition. “Our structure is more efficient than some others in the marketplace, therefore we can adapt to changing needs at the drop of a hat.

“One of the fundamental differences between us and some of our competitors is that our packages are adaptable. In these times, price is an important consideration.”

Pauls added that every region had a “unique mindset” and that you had to embrace this if you did not want to alienate your prospective clientele.

“Something that works in Johannesburg may not necessarily work in PE. You have to be able to offer the market what it is asking.”

The local franchise – which is affiliated to all major medical aids – initiated pre-opening sales in late 2007 and in the first 16 months their turnover consistently ranked in the top three among 23 clubs nationwide. “Our goal was to open with 600 members, but (with 2 500) we far exceeded that.”

Pauls attributed brand awareness as another factor that contributed to their phenomenal growth. “From the outset we focused on branding the club and we achieved this by associating ourselves with other well-known, major local brands.”

To this end, they have formed several partnerships this year, including with Absa (Eastern Cape), EP Rugby, Bay United, Algoa FM and their official charity, the MTR Smit Children’s Haven.

Hygiene was also very important in the industry, said Pauls, pointing out that the group had been voted the cleanest in the country for several years.

Pauls confirmed that planning for a second of three clubs in PE was well underway.

Issued by:

Full Stop Communications

Coetzee Gouws
082 575 7991
041 368 4992

On behalf of:

Signature Communications & Planet FitSmart