The fitness industry in China has experienced a remarkable transformation in recent years, shifting from a niche market (from about 500 gyms in 2001) to a burgeoning mainstream sector (more than 128k fitness studios in 2023). As urbanization intensifies and health consciousness rises, Chinese consumers are increasingly seeking ways to stay fit and active.
This article delves into the evolution, challenges, industry trends, and prospects of China’s rapidly expanding fitness landscape.
China Fitness Industry Analysis
The fitness market is booming globally and China is no exception here. In fact, let me tell you, that the Chinese fitness industry grew remarkably in a matter of only 12 years, and the growth is expected to continue, given the fact that people of all ages are joining the sporty lifestyle trend in the country.
From only about 500 gyms registered in 2001, today (2023) China has more than 128.000 thousand fitness clubs and sports venues, not to mention the enormous size of the online fitness market and digital gyms.
According to Daxue Consulting, 67.5% of people above 7 years old participated in fitness and sports activities at least once a week in 2022. It’s an increase of 18.5% compared to the rate in 2014.
In 2023, especially thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic and the need it woke in people for a healthier lifestyle, more and more people are joining fitness venues, personal training studios, or downloading training apps. Only in the last year, more than 15 million customers subscribed to gym memberships, where an average yearly cost is 1289 RMB.
What is driving the growth in the health and fitness market in China?
The primary force behind this growing phenomenon is the willingness to improve health and physical fitness coupled with the mindset of sharing or displaying athletic achievements. It goes hand in hand with fashion and beauty and the desire to be the best, in several areas. But there are many other drivers to this trend, such as:
- Rising Disposable Income: As China’s middle class continues to expand, there’s increased disposable income to spend on health and lifestyle choices, including gym memberships, fitness equipment, and health supplements.
- Urbanization: With a growing number of people moving to cities, there’s greater access to fitness facilities and infrastructure.
- Government Initiatives: The Chinese government has launched health and wellness campaigns, promoting physical activity as a means to combat lifestyle-related diseases. The “Healthy China 2030” initiative is a notable example.
- Health Awareness: Increased awareness of lifestyle-related illnesses, such as obesity, diabetes, and heart disease, has spurred many Chinese consumers to become proactive about their health.
- Influence of Western Culture: The influence of Western lifestyle and culture, where fitness and being active are often emphasized, has made its mark in China. This includes the popularity of marathons, yoga, and other fitness trends.
- Technology Integration: Fitness apps, online workout classes, and wearable tech (like smartwatches that monitor health metrics) have made it easier and more engaging for consumers to track and maintain their health goals.
- Aging Population: With an aging population, there’s a growing focus on health and wellness solutions that cater to the needs of the elderly, promoting longevity and reducing age-related ailments.
- Rise of Local Fitness Brands: Domestic brands and startups are entering the market, offering localized fitness solutions, from apps to equipment tailored to the preferences of the Chinese consumer.
- Social Factors: Social media platforms and influencers emphasize fitness, beauty, and a healthy lifestyle, pushing more people to engage in fitness activities.
- Diversification of Fitness Offerings: Beyond traditional gyms, there’s a rise in specialty fitness centers such as yoga studios, spinning classes, and MMA gyms, catering to varied interests.
As a foreign sports brand, which consumer groups should you target?
In 2023, when assessing China’s vast fitness landscape, foreign sports brands should consider targeting these five distinctive consumer groups:
This group primarily comprises young urban professionals and tech-savvy individuals aged 20-40. Living predominantly in major cities, these consumers are acutely health-conscious, influenced by global fitness trends, and have a penchant for fitness apps. They often follow influencers on platforms like Douyin and are likely to be participants in virtual fitness classes or challenges.
Women, particularly those seeking boutique fitness experiences and a holistic health approach, make up this group. They’re especially attracted to specialized fitness classes such as spinning, pilates, and HIIT. Furthermore, their focus extends beyond physical fitness to include practices like yoga, tai chi, and meditation, with a keen interest in fostering a sense of community and overall well-being.
Endurance and Outdoor Enthusiasts
This group brings together individuals passionate about marathons, outdoor adventures, and trail activities. Their pursuits range from marathons and hiking to rock climbing and other endurance sports. For these enthusiasts, functional clothing, durable equipment, and performance nutrition are of paramount importance.
Next-Gen and Family Fitness Advocates
These are primarily parents of young children and younger millennials who emphasize the importance of early physical education, sports training, and cultivating an active lifestyle from a young age. Their needs often encompass sports equipment suitable for children, training classes tailored for kids, and child-friendly fitness apparel.
Silver Fitness Seekers and Premium Experience Pursuers
With China’s aging population, there’s a growing segment of older adults becoming increasingly health-conscious. They seek activities that can help them maintain flexibility, strength, and cardiovascular health.
Alongside them, there’s another group that consists of affluent consumers and enthusiasts of combat sports, like MMA. Both these sub-groups are after unique experiences, with the former leaning towards low-impact exercises and the latter, combat training. They value luxury or premium fitness experiences, high-end sports equipment, and exclusive memberships.
By understanding and addressing the diverse needs of these five groups, foreign sports brands can carve out a significant niche for themselves in China’s evolving fitness market.
Most Popular Fitness and Sports Activities in China in 2023
China’s fitness industry is a mix of traditional elements with modern interpretations, where all fitness enthusiasts, no matter their age, pick something they like, from tai chi to combat sports.
Virtual Workouts and Functional Fitness
The integration of technology in fitness has made digital workouts a go-to option for many. Coupled with this, functional fitness exercises that focus on strength, coordination, and flexibility using minimal equipment have gained traction, appealing to those keen on achieving daily life movement goals.
Yoga and Tai Chi
These mind-body practices continue to resonate deeply with the population. Yoga, with its global influence, and Tai Chi, a traditional Chinese art form, remain top choices for holistic health.
Activities like hiking, mountain climbing, and cycling in picturesque areas are increasingly popular. They not only offer fitness benefits but also allow enthusiasts to connect with nature.
Marathons and Group Runs
Running events, whether they’re marathons or community runs, have become significant attractions. They symbolize both a fitness trend and a community bonding activity.
Combat Sports and Dance Workouts
The adrenaline rush of modern combat sports like MMA and boxing has garnered a younger, adventurous audience. On the other hand, dance workouts, which can range from Zumba classes to traditional square dancing, attract a diverse crowd seeking fun ways to stay fit.
Racquet Sports and Swimming
Indoor sports like badminton and table tennis have remained evergreen favorites for recreation and competition. Swimming, with its wide-ranging health benefits and suitability for all ages, complements this category, given the growth in available facilities.
Who are the key players in the fitness industry in China?
Among domestic entities, Li Ning and Anta stand out, not only as sportswear manufacturers but also in endorsing fitness movements and sponsoring key athletic events. Their brand presence is integral to the nation’s athletic aspirations, both from a professional and recreational perspective.
On the gym front, Keep, a homegrown fitness app, has grown exponentially, now boasting its own physical fitness centers across major urban areas, while Supermonkey has innovated with its unmanned gym concept.
International brands such as Adidas, New Balance, and Nike have long been ensconced in the Chinese market, influencing sportswear trends and fitness lifestyles. They constantly innovate, bringing localized campaigns and collaborations that resonate with the Chinese populace.
Other global fitness brands like Anytime Fitness and UFC Gym have carved niches in the realm of 24-hour gym accessibility and combat fitness, respectively. Each brand, whether domestic or international, contributes uniquely to China’s multifaceted fitness ecosystem.
Do You Want to Promote Your Fitness Brand in China?
Let me tell you the secret:
- KOL or Influencers
Are the key components to your success in the Chinese fitness market. So let’s take a closer look at how to manage your branding and reputation in China well.
Branding and eReputation in China
In China, your e-reputation (online reputation) is what determines your failure, or your success. Chinese consumers want to comment on your product or services through their social media platforms. They pay special attention to KOLs (Key Opinion Leaders), influencers that have the ability to bring revenue to your brand through a simple post.
The key is to make sure that your brand is known and in order to achieve this, as well as communicate with your target market, you need to use the same social media platforms that they are using, regularly uploading new content.
High-quality videos and pictures that provide insight into your offerings are a must if you want customers to trust your brand.
You need to familiarise yourself with Baidu, WeChat, Douyin, RED and Weibo.
Build your Chinese website and focus on Baidu SEO
Your Chinese website is the first place of contact with your potential consumers. Although websites in China are not meant to sell, they serve as the hallmark of brands. Chinese people like to do research before purchasing any product, especially from a foreign brand. This is why you need to take care of good keyword selection, localized content, and providing your visitors with all the necessary information on the page.
In addition, it’s worth investing time in Baidu search engine optimization. In fact, in our opinion, it’s the best long-lasting, organic strategy for digital marketing in China. Baidu is a whole ecosystem of platforms and websites and if you participate in Baidu forums, focus on PR, keywords, and valid backlinks, you will be able to appear in the first position in the search results in the domestic fitness industry.
Create official accounts on the main Chinese social media platforms
Social media platforms play a crucial role in the decision-making process of China’s tech-savvy consumers. They check their favorite platforms for product recommendations, reviews, and inspiration, to make sure they are purchasing the right product for them. It’s the perfect place for word-of-mouth marketing and e-reputation.
There are many different platforms to choose from, but the four main ones used but the majority of society are; WeChat, Weibo, Little Red Book, and Douyin. The choice depends on your product offering, whether it’s fitness club promotion, fitness equipment, digital fitness offerings, or sportswear. Each platform has a different set of features and a different target audience. But for sure, you cannot miss having a WeChat Official Account.
WeChat is one of the most popular platforms to engage and attract Chinese consumers, incomparable to any Western social platform.
WeChat offers businesses the chance to launch official profiles and establish WeChat-based shops. This is a more cost-effective approach than venturing onto expansive online marketplaces such as Tmall or Jd.com, providing a glimpse into the fitness market and gauging interest in your offering.
Additionally, you might contemplate initiating profiles on platforms like Weibo, Xiaohongshu, and Douyin. These sites excel in lead generation and amplify your reach through varied content mediums. From bite-sized videos, interactive polls, and live broadcasts to captivating photos, there’s a plethora of content types to explore.
Furthermore, Xiaohongshu and Douyin come equipped with their dedicated marketplaces, streamlining product promotion and boosting revenue potential.
Collaborate with Key Opinion Leaders and fitness studios
Team up with Chinese sports personalities, social media stars, and fitness centers. The fitness scene in China is growing, and so are its fitness-focused social media personalities. This rise in sports influencers became especially notable after the Covid-19 pandemic and the Beijing Winter Olympics. Athletes and those in the fitness industry have become favorites among the Chinese, especially among those who frequent gyms and are passionate about sports.
Working with these fitness personalities to showcase your brand on their online platforms can really boost your brand’s visibility and sales in China. They can do live online showcases of your items, or even use them during their workouts. Additionally, partnering with local fitness hubs and introducing your offerings to their trainers can be effective, as they can further introduce them to their clientele.
Enter the Chinese e-commerce platforms
While the previously mentioned strategies are crucial for building a brand’s online reputation, nothing can match the visibility gained from being on China’s cross-border e-commerce platforms. The majority of Chinese consumers gravitate towards these platforms as they find it more convenient and trustworthy.
However, it’s essential to note that to launch on platforms like Tmall, Taobao, or JD, a brand must already have a solid online reputation and recognition in China. Chinese consumers typically opt for brands they’re familiar with or those that come highly recommended.
Gentlemen Marketing Agency: Your Gateway to the Fitness Industry in China
Navigating the bustling fitness market in China can be challenging, but with the right partner by your side, the journey becomes smoother. That’s where the Gentlemen Marketing Agency steps in.
As a seasoned player with years of experience understanding the Chinese consumer’s psyche and purchasing patterns, we’re primed to help international brands make their mark in this lucrative industry.
We leverage local insights and digital expertise to tailor strategies that resonate with your target audience. From partnering with influential fitness personalities to ensuring your brand stands out on leading e-commerce platforms, our comprehensive approach ensures you not only enter the market but thrive in it.
Trust in Gentlemen Marketing Agency to be your guiding star in the ever-evolving Chinese fitness landscape. Contact us today!