Dr. Hajira Mashijo identified a gap in gyms in South Africa towns and peri-urban areas. In an interview with How we made it in Africaspoke about the untapped potential in the country’s gym industry, its most effective marketing initiatives and why the majority of Fitness Junction members don’t come to the gym in the first place to exercise.
Life before becoming an entrepreneur
Machigo started her career as a physiotherapist and went on to become a lecturer in the field. In 2007, she joined the National Sports and Recreation Administration as Director of Scientific Support Services, and in 2014, was appointed Acting Director of Sports and Recreation in Mpumalanga Province. However, she was frustrated with working in the public sector because she felt that the impact of her work was minimal. In 2017, after completing her PhD and a part-time course in Social Entrepreneurship at GIBS Business School in Johannesburg, she left her government role to start her own gym. She spent her pension to fund equipment for her first gym.
Mashego’s decision to enter the fitness industry stemmed from her doctoral thesis, which examined physical activity among South African adolescents. Her research found that in most towns (underdeveloped urban areas that were reserved for non-whites until the end of segregation), people had limited access to physical activity facilities, which contributed to higher rates of obesity that lead to high blood pressure, diabetes, heart failure and many Other chronic diseases in lifestyle.
Although South Africa has a relatively developed gym industry – with big players like Virgin Active and Planet Fitness – Mashego has seen an underserved market in towns and semi-urban areas. Most people turn to running or walking clubs for exercise. “If you drive into a town in the morning, you’ll see people running on the main roads. It’s unsafe. In some towns, you get robbed while running,” she explains.
Getting started and running
Securing its first location proved to be a challenge as Mashego did not have a proven track record that it could offer to landlords. After several refusals, the owners of Madeira Shopping Center in Danville, Pretoria, agreed to give her a lease. The location was perfect; It is located between the western towns of Pretoria and the Central Business District, where many operate. Mashego polled motorists at area traffic lights to validate its assumptions that there was demand for a gym in the area.
Fitness Junction opened its doors on February 23, 2018. On the first day, the company allowed everyone to test the equipment for free. He received a large number of subscriptions that first day and until he ran out of receipt books.
Fitness is not the main reason people visit
While Mashigo’s initial value proposition was to provide its clients with a facility to improve their health, I soon discovered that most of its members were there for more than just exercise. They were there to socialize.
“In South Africa, gyms, car washes, and nightclubs are a bit similar. People get dressed to go to the car wash; they look the part, get a cooler box and sit at the car wash and reach out to grilled meats and drink while washing their car.
“The gym in our community is similar. They dress up and wear the latest makeup to go to the gym. It’s more of a social area. A place where you find a partner or make new friends… It’s where you show that you’re in the right social class, and carry the right bag.” , and wears appropriate athletic shoes. Only about 25% go there primarily to exercise.”
Mashigo adds that the majority of its members – 65% of women – come for aerobics and spinning classes. They don’t use exercise equipment much.
The pandemic shutdown has been a massive setback for Fitness Junction. In 2020, gyms have not been allowed to operate for several months, and even when they can open, they must be of reduced capacity. Many people have suspended or canceled their contracts. Mashego expects business to return to pre-Covid-19 levels only by September of this year.
Marketing: Brochures Work Best
The distribution of brochures in the surrounding areas achieved the best results for Fitness Junction. The company pays people in the community 100 rand (US$7) per day to distribute brochures at homes and at traffic lights.
They also do activities like aerobics races in malls. “Every month, we do an aerobics marathon in the parking lot. Everyone is welcome; they don’t need to be members. People end up joining the gym because they have so much fun.”
While the company has a website and social media presence, it is aimed at young people. “Students find us on social media but older adults find us through brochures. They are less familiar with social media.”
Sources of income
At the time of writing, Fitness Junction has around 1,400 members, of which 1,000 are “active members”. Mashego reveals “Our active members fluctuate due to bouncing of opponent’s orders”.
Although The Fitness Junction’s main income comes from membership, it generates additional revenue by renting space for a juice bar operator within the gym. It also collects rent from a children’s dance school, which uses its facilities on Saturdays.
Mashego sees the potential to replicate its business model in several remote towns. “If I can get the financing, I can extend it to every town that adults don’t want to go to. People have income to spend but there isn’t much to do in towns; they work, they go home, they barbecue, they drink and that’s it” .
She hopes to open her second gym by the end of 2022, depending on whether she can secure funding. “Jumping from the first gym to the second is difficult because the money we make is not enough to support the opening of another gym. Setup costs are very high with equipment, renovations and other items; you need at least 3 million rand ($195,000).”
Fitness Junction CEO contact information, Dr. Hajira Mashijo
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