An increasing number of local companies are showing greater interest in corporate fitness programmes because they know that healthy employees make a strong company. This has led to increased opportunities for sales personnel working in the fitness industry.
"The public's perception of fitness clubs has completely changed over the past decade," says Rocky Chow, senior vice president of sales and fitness, California Fitness.
While many people saw gym membership as a symbol of status in the past, they now regard health clubs as venues for personal training, stress relief and social interaction because of a growing awareness of the importance of exercise and the popularity of yoga in Hong Kong, he says.
To cater for increased company memberships within the corporate sector, California Fitness' Hong Kong corporate sales team has doubled in size over the past six years. Shirley Yau, the company's corporate account manager, is at the forefront of this movement.
"Studies show that companies with corporate fitness programmes tend to experience reduced absenteeism and resultant lower healthcare insurance costs," says Ms Yau. "Employees who have corporate gym memberships tend to feel their companies have their best interests at heart. This helps to increase morale and work satisfaction, which in turn improves the employees' productivity and loyalty to the company."
Ms Yau, who started off as a fitness consultant in the company's club sales division five years ago, says her current job is in every sense different from her previous role.
"Good communication skills and an interest in sports give candidates a career boost"
California Fitness invests a lot of effort into convincing companies that they would be using their money wisely if they signed up for a corporate membership. "Part of my job is to provide these potential clients with statistics from research studies, as well as tailor-made health talks, on-site stretching classes and physical assessment programmes," Ms Yau notes.
Recalling her career development, she remarks that corporate sales is different from its retail counterpart. "Corporate sales is a rewarding job, offering exciting exposure to key human resources personnel and company executives across a range of companies and industries. My new role also requires a different sales approach and long-term vision," she says, adding that retail sales entails selling club memberships mainly to individuals, and contracts can be signed within a week or so while the process takes much longer when companies are involved.
"Once we start a relationship with a company, it may take two to three months or even longer to run all our tailor-made programmes to convince the company to sign up," she remarks.
Ms Yau stresses that corporate account managers should be flexible and see things from their client's point of view in order to offer them specially tailored options. These may include partially subsidised membership schemes that meet smaller clients' budget constraints.
She explains that there is more preparation work involved in corporate sales than in individual sales. "Since I took on this role, I have spent a lot of time reading business magazines and doing company research to find out more about different industries," she says. "Good communication skills and an interest in sports give candidates a career boost."
While California Fitness has seen impressive growth in corporate membership sales over the past few years, competition has also become stronger in Hong Kong.
However, Mr Chow is confident that the industry has yet to reach saturation point. "Hong Kong still lacks public space for exercise and workers have an increasing need for stress relief," he says. "In addition, the gym membership penetration rate in Hong Kong is only at two to three per cent. There is certainly room for growth."
Corporate gym membership is still in its early stages in China, Mr Chow remarks. "However, this also means that there is huge potential for growth, and we have the advantage of being a prime mover on the mainland." While many large mainland companies can afford corporate wellness programmes, they are generally not fully aware of the staff retention and productivity benefits that such programmes offer. The key to making them aware of these benefits lie in ongoing education, Mr Chow adds.