Luxury Fitness Studios Upper-Class Sweating

Nicole Krug, owner of the fitness studio BAL91 in Munich
Nicole Krug, owner of the fitness studio BAL91 in Munich | Photo (detail): Julia Flüs

The main thing is that it’s cheap? Not with fitness studios. Luxury providers are on the rise. In fourteen years, the turnover of the fitness industry has more than doubled. The branch is doing well. Especially the premium segment where customers pay less attention to the price than to the services. An example from Munich.

Onnne. A man – grey moustache, big beer belly – is sitting in the rowing machine. Twooo. Quite as stately as his belly are the movements he makes, and the weights that he pushes back and forth. Threee. A few metres to his side stands a woman on the cross trainer. Fooour. Early thirties, dark hair, mischievous eyes. Fiiive. Seated on the bike, a lady with dyed red hair, her face already folded in wrinkles. Siiix.

There is no typical visitor to the BAL91 on Wednesday morning. “Early in the day our customers tend to be older. The later it gets, the closer it comes to closing time, the younger they become”, says Nicole Krug. She is the manager of BAL91, a fitness temple in the east end of Munich. Two thousand square metres of weights, stamina and wellness. Krug is 1.75 metres tall, with short hair and a square-edged face – focussed. She has been in the business for twenty-three years. At twenty, she started in a studio behind the counter. Then came the trainer’s qualifications, stations in administration and management. She works out four to five times a week. Rarely in the studio, preferably at home without equipment. Krug looks much younger than her forty-three years.


Discount studios vs. luxury providers


The fitness industry is booming and with it fitness studios. No other sport has so many practitioners – not handball, not tennis and not football. After all, almost ten per cent of Germans are members of a “muscle factory”. Popular are the cheap studios with predatory pricing of about 17 euros per month. For this sum there’s no sauna, no tanning, no courses, no shakes, no frills.

Nicole Krug deliberately chose not to follow that line. She took over the studio in 2009. Previously she had worked there as club manager. But the fitness studio chain, to which the present BAL91 once belonged, went bankrupt. “I hadn’t really planned to open a studio myself. But I had to seize the opportunity”, says Krug. Entrepreneur by chance.

Just round the corner from Krug’s studio is a discount gym, one of those for less than 17 euros per month. But Krug is not worried that her customers will be lured away. “Some want it cheap; others want a personal training programme”, she explains confidently. And as a matter of fact the fitness studio industry can be divided into three levels: discount studios for under 30 euros per month, classical fitness clubs for 40 to 60 euros and the luxury segment for 70 euros and up.

Middle-class studios have little chance


The economist Karsten Hollasch analyzed the fitness industry for a large consulting firm. “Growth is taking place mainly in two niches”, he says, “among the discounters and the premium providers”. The middle field has to fight for its customers, who often go in the direction of more affordable studios or else put more money on the table for better services. “Where services are comparable, people change providers faster.” Between discounters and luxury studios, there is little competition. They have both found their niches. In both niches, however, it has of course gradually become rather tight. “You have to set yourself off from the crowd”, says Krug.

In her studio, she does this with individual training plans, more than a hundred courses per week, child-care, about 150 weight-training and endurance machines, and no waits. In addition, a swimming pool, 16 metres and 20 degrees water temperature. “For competitive swimmers that’s too warm, but we have some gymnastics courses in the water and the temperature would otherwise be too cold for the participants.” There are also ten fitness trainers and fifteen course instructors. Cheap it is not. But then it is not supposed to be. Members pay between 59 and 89 euros per month. This is the basic package. To it can be added 15 euros for a personal locker, 15 euros for a towel service, 15 euros for a mineral drink flat-rate and 25 euros for protein shakes, as much as you want. If you book everything, BAL91 will then cost you at least 129 euros per month. Still, membership has been rising since the opening. “Not by leaps and bounds, but steadily”, says Krug. The success confirms her concept.