Gold's Gym hopes to pump iron in UK fitness market

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The Independent Online

Gold's Gym, part of the iron-pumping fame of California's Muscle Beach since the 1960s and home to star bodybuilders, is planning a big push in the UK health club market.

Gold's Gym, part of the iron-pumping fame of California's Muscle Beach since the 1960s and home to star bodybuilders, is planning a big push in the UK health club market.

The company, which was set up by the late Jim Gold in 1965 and helped discover Arnold Schwarzenegger, wants to develop a major presence in the UK through a franchise system.

Luis Campalans, the senior vice president of Gold's, said yesterday: "The UK fitness market is the second biggest in the world. But there were a lot of companies here over the past 10 years that pumped investors for money and went on a building spree, manufacturing brands which have failed to connect with customers. No single brand dominates - it is very fragmented and there are lots of small independent operators. Memberships have fallen and now is the time for a strong health club brand that can offer individuals a chance to compete with major companies."

LA Fitness is now the only health club business listed on the stock exchange, after Fitness First, Holmes Place and Cannons went back in to private hands. Gold's has built up a worldwide health club business from its weight-lifting origins. Muscle Beach began life in the 1930s, when the local authority installed gymnastic equipment by the pier.

The beach was named originally after the crustaceans on the pier, but the meaning, and the spelling, changed as circus performers and bodybuilders began to gather there to practice - and show off - their skills. Mr Gold was a regular, and met Mr Schwarzenegger in 1968. He had just arrived from Austria and was determined to take the Mr Universe title. Mr Gold let him sleep on his sofa and became a father figure to the budding star.

Gold's Gyms now claims to be the biggest health and fitness chain in the world, with 550 gyms and 2.5 million members in 27 countries. It hopes to attract UK franchisees with its buying power, which will give individual gym owners substantial discounts on expensive equipment. The group also provides specialist training in a wide variety of fitness regimes, having branched out from its bodybuilding focus. Mr Campalans said: "We teach Latin dance classes that have come direct from South America and can even offer Thai dancing from experience we have gained in Thailand."

The company already has four gyms operating in the UK under a license arrangement. These will be converted into franchise arrangements, but the company's management is flying in to London next week to find six new franchisees. Once it has 10 franchise operations running well, it will look to expand.

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