US gym chain pumped for MidEast expansion in $50m drive

Anytime Fitness plans to open 100 gyms across the Middle East

Anytime Fitness, the US-based health club chain, said it plans to open 100 gyms across the Middle East in the next five to seven years under an ambitious $50m expansion drive.

The brand, which debuted its first gym in Al Wakrah, in the suburbs of Doha, earlier this month, has signed a master franchise deal with Almuftah Marketing, a division of the Doha-based conglomerate Almuftah Group.

“We intend to expand across the entire Middle East,” said John Kersh, vice president of international development at the company. “Our first club opened in Doha, Qatar on January 1, but our expectation is to have 100 clubs operating within the foreseeable future.”

Capital for the clubs will be primarily raised by Almuftah Fitness, with an average cost of $500,000 per venue, he added.

Anytime Fitness claims to be the world's largest co-ed health club chain with 1,700 gyms across 11 countries. The deal marks the first wellness venture for privately-held Almuftah, which counts Pizza Hut and Arby’s among its existing franchise portfolio.

“We plan to introduce Anytime Fitness all over the Middle East and GCC countries,” said Ali A Almuftah, the group’s director. “Our first step will be moving to the UAE and Saudi Arabia, and we plan to have 100 clubs open within five-seven years if the political situation allows.”

In the Gulf, Anytime will compete directly with the region’s existing biggest gym chain, Fitness First, which recently announced its own aggressive expansion plans.

The UK-based chain told Arabian Business in October it would also roll out 100 new branches in the region over the next five years, in partnership with Dubai’s Landmark Group.

Landmark, which acquired the franchise after purchasing a subsidiary of Saudi leisure company Al Hokair Group, said it would spend AED500m ($136m) on expanding the chain, with 35 outlets planned for the UAE alone. 

“We’ve got 13 clubs in the UAE at the moment and we’ve got big plans for Abu Dhabi, Sharjah – we’re looking at all of the other emirate states to open clubs,” said George Flooks, COO of Fitness First Middle East. “Over a five year period we will look to get ourselves to 35 clubs in the UAE. We’ve got the rights to 21 countries so places like Kuwait, Egypt etc.

“Saudi is a big target market for us; they have the population for us so you could quite easily get 50 clubs into Saudi,” he added.

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