Luke Guanlao on why the time is now for Anytime Fitness Asia

Fitness and wellness are important at all times, but against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic, they’re essential to physical and mental health. That’s partly why Luke Guanlao, COO of Anytime Fitness Asia and co-founder of Inspire Brands Asia, sees now as the perfect time for a big franchise launch.

“The pandemic has made it clear to people that health, wellness, and fitness are not luxuries anymore, they are necessities,” he told VENTURE. “Where people used to think of gyms as part of discretionary spending, fitness is now becoming a conscious, daily habit, along with making better food choices and getting sufficient rest.”

Guanlao started with a single Anytime Fitness franchise in Western Sydney and has built an empire from there. He explained to VENTURE why Asia is the right fit for fitness franchising and how Australian investors can get in the game.

Growth Markets

Many of the markets Guanlao is expanding in have relatively young populations increasingly interested in fitness. These young people are also part of a growing middle class in places such as Singapore, Malaysia, Philippines, Indonesia, Thailand, Taiwan, Vietnam, Hong Kong, and Macau. These conditions are optimal for growing the fitness industry and educating people on the importance of keeping fit and staying healthy, he said.

It also helps that these markets have fared better than others during the pandemic and are ready for larger-scale societal openings.

“In the markets that have reopened, such as Singapore and Malaysia, we are almost at pre-COVID levels,” he said. “And although Hong Kong has closed temporarily again, the response has been phenomenal in terms of gym usage, even going higher than before the pandemic.”

In the meantime, Anytime Fitness has managed to stay connected with the people it serves through online classes and app-based workouts during lockdowns. Those have been instrumental in helping people stay balanced in turbulent times.

“Online classes and apps have helped supplement the gym experience, especially in countries that have had enforced gym closures,” Guanlao said. “We launched the Anytime Fitness app in Asia last year, and our goal is to have the Anytime experience right in the hands of our members. We are also exploring additional avenues for virtual personal training and piloting remote coaching in select markets to ensure that our members can reach their health goals both in and out of the gym.”

Investment Potential

One factor that led Guanlao to turn his gaze toward Asia was the saturation of the fitness market in Australia. He always knew that first location in Western Sydney was the first of many so he decided to focus not just on profitability, but on staff and services. If you’re helping clients become fitter and healthier, they’ll come in droves, and the profits will take care of themselves. That philosophy took Guanlao from one gym to two to being the submaster franchisee of the Philippines, and ultimately to where he is today.

Whilst it’s taken a lot of hard work, it’s also a blueprint that is replicable, which Guanlao views as a good sign for Australian investors looking to get into franchising.

“First, Anytime Fitness is a known brand to Australia that needs no introduction,” he said. “They have seen its success Down Under, and we are proud to show that we are on track to replicating and exceeding this in Asia. Second, we have quite a sizeable number of Australians that have already ventured into Anytime Fitness Asia as franchisees, and their community grows as word of our success spreads. Third, the diversity of investment opportunities in Asia is immense. It could take the form of multi-unit ownership in one country, multiple-country ownership, and even passive investment through managed services.”

Depending on an individual investor’s appetite for risk and potential returns, there is a variety of investment iterations to suit every portfolio.

Flexible Model

In the decade-plus that he’s been an Anytime Fitness franchisee, Guanlao has seen the sense of community grow among staff, trainers, and clientele. It’s no accident, rather it’s part of the Anytime model.

“This is not something you read on a billboard or an ad, but the model is truly about people. It has succeeded based on a culture of caring, coaching, and connecting with franchisees, staff, and members,” he said. “This translates to the business as we see members who bring their friends and family to the gym, staff who grow alongside the business, and franchisees who become multi-unit owners because they see purpose in what they do.”

That focus enables Anytime Fitness to remain resilient and adapt without the model growing stagnant.

“There is also a constant evolution happening in how we provide products and services. What started out as just a convenient location to work out in has evolved into a community to reach health goals into a potential business even for members and staff to get into.”

One of Guanlao’s favorite things about Anytime is that whilst the model is easily replicable, there’s also flexibility built in to localize the rollout in individual countries, an important factor for Asia, where cultures and languages are quite diverse.

“We are able to adapt to each market without diluting our brand equity,” he said. “It is a true privilege to be in a position to grow the Anytime Fitness footprint across Asia, and we are excited to lead the business, our franchisees, our teams, and our members beyond the pandemic. We look forward to welcoming everyone to the gym, whether they want to own one, work out at one, or just be part of one.”