Wellness in India is still an untapped market: Vivekanand Palaniappan

In a conversation with exchange4media, Vivekanand Palaniappan, Founder & Joint MD of Fitness One, underscores the importance of creating a secure space for women to work out, and shares his plans for 2014. Excerpts

e4m by Deepa Balasubramanian
Updated: Sep 20, 2014 9:53 AM
Wellness in India is still an untapped market: Vivekanand Palaniappan

Vivekanand Palaniappan is the Joint Managing Director and Founder of Fitness One Group India, which was founded in 2004. A Physics graduate from Loyola College, Chennai, he underwent flight training in Dallas, Texas and went on to become a flight and ground instructor in the US. He was posted with Air Nevada as a cargo pilot for the United States Postal Service and worked with United Parcel Service.

Being a cargo pilot, lifting heavy weights was part of the job, until one day his back developed an acute injury due to the strain. During this time, it was yoga and exercise that nursed him back to good health. This trying period served as an eye opener on the importance of staying fit irrespective of the nature of one’s job. After a long and successful career of 17 years, this former pilot re-focused on his health. Palaniappan began his research on the fitness industry and found only a few good brands in India. It was then that ‘Fitness One’ came into being.

In a conversation with exchange4media, Palaniappan speaks about the importance of fitness in an individual’s life, marketing strategy, plans for 2014 and more...

Fitness One started in 2004 with just one outlet in Alwarpet, Chennai. Today you have gone national. How has your journey been? 
When I planned my foray into the fitness industry before coming back to India, the idea was to have 10 centres initially. Since I was from another industry, everything was new to me. Today, we have about 170 centres, including the corporate centres, where we do turn-key solutions for their employees. We are in the township projects that are built across India. We follow the analogy of low hanging fruits. We have not tapped the southern market completely. We wanted to first saturate the South and in the next two to three years we should be in a position to expand to the West and the North.

What prompted you to begin Pink, when you already had Fitness One almost in all the major cities of Tamil Nadu?
Not every woman is comfortable working out with men, especially in the South which is more conservative. Pink was born out of that insight. We had a lot of Muslim clients who wanted to work out. So ROI became a biggest problem. Given how expensive real estate is, smaller centres made sense.

How big is the fitness or wellness industry in India and globally? What is your share of the market?
Wellness in India is a Rs 3,000-crore market, while in the US it is a $40 billion market. According to IHRSA (International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association), a fitness industry body, in most developed nations around 20 per cent of the population uses an organised fitness centre. But in India it is less than one per cent. So there is a chance to strive towards getting 10-15 per cent here.

We have a client base of about half a million, including corporate customers.

How do you plan to increase your brand value?
We have been concentrating on investing in proper equipment and training. Given that our main focus is on BTL activities, we will do some digital activities to increase our brand value.

What is your marketing budget?
We spend about Rs 2 crore for all the brands. 

Who is your biggest competitor in the South?
Talwalkers is the biggest competitor. 

How has your company performed in the last few years? How do you intend to scale up your presence in India?
We are increasing at the rate of 20 per cent. In a year, we open about 20 to 25 gym centres and have started accelerating of late. We are also focussing on a franchise model.

What are your plans for 2014?
As mentioned, 15 to 20 fitness centres will be added across South India. We have set up a video conferencing for customers and will focus more on digital.

What does your media mix look like?
Around 60 per cent of our focus is on the digital platforms. We feel this is a good and effective way to reach out to people. We are very active on social media with Twitter and Facebook. We invest in promotional ads, Google ads and bulk emailers.

Do you plan to rope in a brand ambassador? 
At the moment we do not have a brand ambassador. We may decide on having one at a later date. We advertise for Pink and Fitness One in The Times of India and other mainstream publications. 

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