Kieser's back story

Is there room for another fitness chain? The Kieser method is moving in on Australia’s bad backs.

More than two million people world-wide reckon the Kieser method has reduced their chronic back pain. Even some golfers say it’s helped them knock several strokes off their handicap.

At least that's what the Kieser Method's promotional brochure tells us. So, if it’s so great, why haven’t more people heard of it?

Kieser Training is a Swiss fitness chain that’s recently hit Australian shores, and delivers medical fitness programs to around one thousand middle-aged members in two Melbourne facilities.

The idea of Kieser (pronounced key-zer) is that a strong back is a strong body, and can be strengthened through no-sweat, slow-moving exercises using specially-designed equipment. Practitioners say a couple of 30 minute work-outs a week is enough to see results – ideal for the time-poor professional that KT targets.

But how will such an enterprise fare in a market saturated with health and fitness clubs?

The recent collapse of small independent gyms Beach House Health and Fitness and LeisureCo suggests that smaller gym chains are struggling to compete.

Fitness First dominates the fitness market (it increased its 2007-08 profit by $8.4 million to $40 million in 2007-08) while players like Fernwood, Curves and Contours have managed to secure a niche women’s market. Non-gym operators such as personal trainers and "boot camps” have proliferated in recent years.

Mark Brown, holder of the Australian/New Zealand license for Kieser Training, is confident his brand of fitness centre will secure a slice of the market.

Brown, the former general manager of the tyre retailer Bob Jane Group, intends to expand KT’s market share through franchising rather than increasing membership.

He plans to open 18 Kieser centres in Melbourne, Sydney, Adelaide and Brisbane within five years on the back of affordable franchising opportunities ($175,000 to $200,000 compared to an average of $A250K for start-up retail franchises).

Plus, Brown says, KT is more a physiotherapy clinic than a gym, relying mainly on referrals from health professionals for members. However, it’s questionable whether referrals will continue to deliver the numbers needed to grow a new fitness brand.

If the experiences of Beach House Health and Fitness and LeisureCo are anything to go by, a critical mass of centres is crucial to stay alive in the increasingly segmented fitness industry.

It will be interesting to see if Kieser Training, the Rolls Royce of exercise, survives in Australia, or whether it’ll become exercise fad.

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