“I feel like the market in Macau, at the moment, is still only targeting the group that already have the habit of working out, and so it seems like we’re still fighting for [a slice of the] cake, not expanding the group,” says Josephine Kuan, founder of JK Fitbox, a fitness studio which provides fitness classes as well as customised personal training.
Although more fitness centres are surfacing in Macau and the sector appears to be more visible, the fitness industry in the city does not appear to be trying to expand the user base.
Ms. Kuan referred to a report showing that 17 per cent of the population of the United States has the habit of exercising, while 0.4 per cent in Mainland China do so, with no specific data for Macau.
“I feel like the packaging of exercise is not doing its best [in Macau],” said Ms. Kuan, adding that the majority in Macau think that going to the gym is for bodybuilding.
She also said that the market would expand so much more if ‘fitness’ was packaged in the right way.
A similar notion is held by Kidonis Ng, co-owner of the Mini Education Centre, a provider of fitness classes and training for both adults and children.
“The culture of fitness in Macau is not strong enough,” commented Mr. Ng. “Many think working out is body building but it is not. It is more about maintaining our health.”
Mr. Ng also perceives that the market is currently still developing, noting that many are still not completely sure what fitness really is.
Although the majority of people in the city are not attracted to fitness centres due to their limited notion of fitness, the fitness industry still sees potential in the market.
Lee Kin Kip, the Managing Director of Top Fighting, does see the potential of the fitness business in the city.
“More and more people in Macau care about their health,” said Mr. Lee. “Macau has limited entertainment and working out can be a way to release stress and make people feel better.”
Competition not a problem
Specialising in Muay Thai and providing fitness courses as well as gym equipment, Mr. Lee is confident about Top Fighting professionalism, perceiving that growing competition would not pose a negative impact on its business performance.
“I know that more new fitness centres are gradually opening in the city but for us we are not worried because even if they can provide fitness training services they won’t be able to be as professional as we are in Muay Thai. We have professionals in this field,” commented Mr. Lee.
Located in Taipa and currently the only fitness studio in the district, according to Ms. Kuan, JK Fitbox has not been affected by the growing competition within the industry, she maintains.
“We don’t have severe competition for the one we have in Taipa. As far as I know, many gyms and fitness centres are mostly situated in Fai Zhi Kei and Areia Preta – there is only us in Taipa,” the owner of JK Fitness said.
She noted that JK Fitbox targets a different group of customers, adding that she would not be worried about members switching to another fitness centre which opened in another region since most of them live in Taipa.
But the studio founder did admit that their provision of three hours of free parking is a major advantage for her studio.
Instead of wishing fewer fitness centres operated in the city, Mr. Ng, meanwhile, believes that the number of fitness centres in the city should the same as convenience stores such as 7-11, saying that competition is not a significant problem when fitness centres are opened in different areas or districts.
With regard to what they provide, the Mini Education Centre provides functional training courses, which vary from the usual gym rooms in the city with treadmills and other equipment.
“We don’t have much equipment […] As far as I know there are only a few [fitness centres] providing this [functional] training, [which] is more about training the body parts you use every day.”
Mr. Ng and his partner always wanted to specifically provide training courses to professional athletes when they first decided to open Mini Education Centre.
“Professional athletes also need professional physical trainers and it would be stricter […] because most fitness centres only teach people body building,” claimed Mr. Ng.
But the business of training athletes, which is considered private training, is difficult to expand.
As such, Mr. Ng and his partner have to provide fitness classes and courses to the general public for their business revenue.
He also explained that the training for professional athletes is still developing in the city.
“In the past, the Macau Government had not developed in this area [physical training for professional athletes],” noted Mr. Ng. “Before there were no professional athletes but we have now, and professional athlete training has just started developing.”
Apart from developing their sports business, Mr. Ng said they would also like to attract the population which does not exercise on a regular basis to exercise more often in order to strengthen the health of the entire population.
On the other hand, like many owners who operate fitness businesses, Mr. Lee’s passion for Muay Thai has led to his involvement in establishing Top Fighting.
In the beginning, many of Mr. Lee’s friends did not see the potential of the business and people during that time would not accept paying for membership of a boxing hall.
But people started accepting this once the brand and image had coalesced, the Muay Thai fighter said.
For Ms. Kuan, her main motivation in opening her own fitness studio was to create an exclusive space and environment for women to exercise comfortably.
“As everyone knows, there are usually more guys working out at the power training section area [in a gym]. When I was there, I didn’t feel comfortable about the gazing around,” she said. “I also think that although they [men working out at the gym] took the initiative to assist me, I think in terms of messages I can filter that and I don’t believe [in] what they taught me.”
As such, she wanted to allow ladies to have a secure and comfortable environment, together with a base of scientific understanding of exercises and work-out by creating her own fitness station.
Employment of personal trainers and instructors
Like many other industries, hiring fitness trainers and instructors, in particular full-time trainers, is the major difficulty that the majority of fitness centres suffer.
Ms. Kuan indicated that the small market in Macau has led to the low supply of qualified trainers.
“Trainers who have a licence would not consider working as a full-time trainer because of instability – plus people in Macau would rather choose to work in casinos,” remarked Ms. Kuan.
In addition, JK Fitbox had a hard time hiring qualified trainers.
As such, the majority of the trainers who currently work in JK Fitbox are part-timers.
Mr. Lee holds a similar opinion about the more favourable remuneration from casinos which has led to the shortage of fitness trainers.
“If we offer higher [remuneration] our costs increase but then if we offer lower prices people would rather work in casinos,” echoed Mr. Lee. “For us, we would like to attract those who are really into sports, fitness or Muay Thai to ensure that they are interested in working at our place.”
Although Top Fighting currently has the majority of full-time instructors, Mr. Lee said they would hire part-timers to help out when there is a shortage of full-time trainers.
In terms of Muay Thai, Mr. Lee opined that it is not necessary for Muay Thai instructors to obtain qualifications, saying that it is easy to recognise if one is capable or not.
Mr. Ng basically finds it difficult to hire trainers who are suitable for his centre.
“Our trainers all acquired qualifications outside [of Macau], taking courses mostly in Taiwan,” revealed Mr. Ng.
There are currently no regulations in the city requiring fitness trainers and instructors to have qualifications.
Licence for fitness centres
Mini Education Centre obtained its licence from the Education and Youth Affairs Bureau (DSEJ) and, as mentioned earlier, primarily offer fitness classes and courses.
“In Macau, all institutions giving classes and courses need [the education] licence,” Mr. Ng said. “We are mainly teaching people and many other gyms only give out membership for using their facilities; so, we would have this support this July [Continuing Education Develop Plan].”
The plan assists local citizens aged 15 or over to participate in local or overseas educational programmes by disbursing MOP6,000 (US$749) per person.
In terms of obtaining a licence, the law requires fitness centres acquire a notice issued by the Sports Bureau (ID) in order to be approved for the establishment of a fitness centre.
However, studios which provide fitness courses would be considered as private education centres and are obliged to acquire a licence from DSEJ, while the ID has no authority to approve such application.
Given the nature of fitness studios, the ID would provide consultations or opinions regarding licence applications made by fitness studios as well as extending support if requested by DSEJ.
Mr. Ng, however, criticised the inflexibility of the law relating to the operation of fitness centres.
“If you got a licence for education then you can only do stuff related to teaching, like we can’t sell drinks or any other stuff,” said Ms. Ng. “My opinion is that the government’s policy has limited many SMEs […] Macau has very limited space. Normally, fitness centres provide private trainers but they might violate the law because opening courses require an educational licence.”
In response to Business Daily’s enquiries, DSEJ confirmed that licensed education centres are prohibited from performing non-teaching activities.
JK Fitbox, which is commercially operating within a residential building, has acquired a licence approved by three different bureaus – the Fire Service Bureau, Health Bureau and DSEJ.
“Our studio is commercially operating, so we need to provide the venue plan to the Fire Services Bureau, Health Bureau and Education and Youth Affairs Bureau,” explained Ms. Kuan.
DSEJ explained that an inspection committee would be formed comprising staff from the Land, Public Works and Transport Bureau (DSSOPT), Fire Service Bureau, Health Bureau and DSEJ to examine the fitness venue in question regarding safety considerations.
Meanwhile, Top Fighting, located within an industrial building, obtained its licence from the ID.
“We initially started as an athletic association,” said Mr. Lee. “It is a difficult thing to achieve to open an officially approved fitness centre – like you need to take care of fire safety, the venue, and equipment.”
He added that the government wants to open fitness centres in street stores or within commercial buildings, but said the cost is comparatively higher.
The law states that fitness centres which operate in residential buildings can only be opened from 6:00am to 12:00am.
Moreover, it is mandated that fitness centres located within residential buildings be located underground or in street stores.
Meanwhile, fitness centres operating in industrial buildings are required to be located on the podium of the building with individual entrances and exits.
Top Fighting is being registered as a private club, with the regulations prohibiting it from pocketing its profits.
“We use our income to [host] boxing matches or competitions […] we can only use the money for paying employees or promoting sports development in the city.”
JK Fitbox has realised its constraints in offering only training courses, thus another bigger studio will open in Avenida do Ouvidor Arriaga, providing equipment such as cardio machines as well as supporting facilities.
“We’ve been running the one in Taipa for half a year and we discovered that there is a shortcoming in terms of marketing by not having cardio machines; without them it is hard to sell a membership,” remarked the owner.
She pointed out that the exclusiveness of personal and group training as well as its instability confines its business expansion, adding that “membership is necessary for marketing.”
“Sometimes we have a quiet period like cases when students are not feeling well and so can’t make it for a couple of classes; as such, our centre is heavily dependent upon these unpredictable factors.”
Meanwhile, Mini Education Centre has its greatest competitor, the MSAR Government.
“The government might offer MOP50 for a month of yoga class and we can only offer [them at] MOP500,” said Mr. Ng, pointing out that the quality of classes offered by the government would not be guaranteed.
Mr. Ng, moreover, criticised the government’s incapability of supporting the development of business in the city.
“The government give out money, but they might not if they think the business is not rewarding,” commented Mr. Ng. “The government wants us to cater t6 20, 30 or maybe even 50 students in one class, but then the quality of these classes would not be guaranteed.”
Mr. Ng was also confused about the lack of support from the Sports Bureau, with Mini Education Centre mainly providing fitness courses.
“I mean, the Summer activities offered by the government are supported and managed by both the education and sports bureaus. Why would the Sports Bureau not support us?”
Although challenges appear, Ms. Kuan is confident about the future of her fitness business,
revealing that JK Fitbox has been collaborating with other healthy brands in the city.
“I spent a lot of time co-operating with other brands like Juice Ga Macau Red Bull,” disclosed the owner. “With much collaboration with different brands, there are noises created and so I believe the business will get more interesting.”
Regarding the overall picture, Ms. Kuan perceives that exercising will become an essential part of people’s lives if the industry keeps improving its marketing and provides good experiences for clients.
Mr. Ng also has a positive outlook of the industry, although he cannot tell how long it will take to alter the general opinions about fitness.
The MD of Top Fighting also expressed confidence, claiming that its developed reputation would meet the increasing demand to learn Mauy Thai or keep fit.