Operators are cashing in on the booming health and fitness industry and, according to Eugene O'Brien, the move is away from city sites
Such is the pace of life today that Britons have less time to spend on leisure. Yet the leisure boom is set to continue with operators looking at the relatively untapped market in urban areas.
Health and fitness centres are set to be the new local, a community facility and a place to keep healthy, says Eugene O'Brien, director of property consultants Phoenix Beard.
Phoenix Beard is helping health and fitness specialist Cannons Group to expand in the Midlands as part of a #275 million nationwide programme.
The company reckons that with leisure time declining - women have some five hours less free time per week than just ten years ago - the emphasis is on couples doing things together, which means those facilities close to housing will do better than those close to offices.
"Experience shows that outside London, clubs associated with a residential population, as opposed to town centre and business districts, perform better, attract more members and are better utilised," says Mr O'Brien.
"Those operators that have placed emphasis on suburban environments have become stronger performers in a market which is set to expand further."
Much of the expansion in city centres had been driven, not by demand, but by local authority planners who favoured mixed-use schemes.
The expectation seemed to be that in every office or commercial complex, there would be a health and fitness club. The reality was that there was room for only a small number of operators in that type of environment.
The market had changed over the years, explains Mr O'Brien. There was less emphasis on individuals going to the gym from the office and a trend towards gym use before or after work - on the way to or from home. And the emphasis was home, he adds.
"Move to out-of-town and suburban area centres, and you find that members tend to arrive in pairs, meet with neighbours and make friends," he says. "Health and fitness centres have become the new local, acting as community facility and a place to keep healthy."
Urban and out-of-town centres are also likely to provide facilities that users want. "It's surprising how many people go to a fitness centre - but want to park outside the door," says Mr O?Brien.
"We can see there are a number of clubs in the city which are struggling. The market is quite mature there and almost flooded, but there is still considerable demand in the suburbs."
To attract clients, clubs must provide swimming pools, spacious car parks, relaxation and beauty treatment facilities, creche, and smart facilities from which to eat and drink.
Cannons has opened four new Midland centres.