Brazil: fitness chains bulk up

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Nowhere is looking good as important as in Brazil. Whether it be the media images of supermodels like Gisele Bundchen, the sexy clothes and tiny bikinis, or the hot and sultry climate that serves as an open invitation to strip off, the body beautiful (and not so beautiful) is constantly on display.

That’s a powerful incentive to stay in shape and gyms are taking note. Over the last 10 years, bigger and more professional gyms have muscled in on the smaller neighbourhood academias, as they are known here.

Brazil now has around 18,000 gyms, up from just 4,000 in 2000, according to Acad, the Brazilian Association of Gyms. Almost 5m people use them on a regular basis, generating revenue of R$2bn a year.

US chains see Brazil as a land of opportunity and at least two are expanding their operations here this year. One is Fitness Together, which is warming up to invest a reported R$11m in 15 new gyms.

Another is Contours, a female-only gym that plans to open 25 new franchises this year in Brazil’s three most important states São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and Minas Gerais. The first Countours franchise set up shop in Fortaleza in northern Brazil in July 2004 and 81 are now operational, with another 24 in the advanced planning stages.

There is certainly no shortage of budding entrepreneurs ready to pay R$70,000 for a franchise and R$200,000 to secure, prepare and equip a venue, said Cassiano Ximenes, Contour’s representative in Brazil.

“There is a lot of interest, especially in the southeast,” Ximenes said. “There is a huge market in rural São Paulo. I could have 250 gyms there quite easily.”

Ximenes believes his gyms are a hit because they provide associated services that American gyms do not, such as massages, nutrition classes and yoga. Personal service is also provided with one-on-one training part of the package.

That is a plus for Contours clients, most of whom are in their mid-30s, married or attached and relatively well off. The women-only rule also shields them from the unwanted attentions of sweaty lotharios (Brazilian gyms are not just places to work out but also to meet and flirt).

Those guidelines keep workouts serious and focused and allow the women to concentrate on looking good, said Ximenes. The biggest difference between US and Brazilian gym rats is their focus. “Americans work their superior limbs and Brazilians work their lower limbs,” Ximenes said. That explains a whole load of national preferences.

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