"Fitness-Buffet" serves up a smorgasbord of sports

SINGAPORE Mon Jan 16, 2012 7:46am EST

Instructor Alvaro Ramirez from Uruguay relaxes in a circus studio in Athens January 16, 2008.   REUTERS/Yiorgos Karahalis

Instructor Alvaro Ramirez from Uruguay relaxes in a circus studio in Athens January 16, 2008.

Credit: Reuters/Yiorgos Karahalis

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SINGAPORE (Reuters) - Turned off by the treadmill and bored by the bike, but know you need to get in shape?

A start-up firm may have the answer: an array of coupons for fitness and sports programs, at bargain prices, to tempt aspiring athletes into trying a little of everything to see what really works for them.

"Everyone knows they should be doing more fitness," said Callum Laing, a 36-year-old New Zealander and the founder of "Fitness-Buffet."

"And most people assume the answer is to head to the local gym and spend half an hour on a treadmill. So many people have become turned off by that experience, it's no wonder they lose motivation so quickly."

Far better is trying new things and reintroducing vitality to your life by signing up to Zumba dancing, kick-boxing, dragon boat racing or touch rugby, he said.

"On your way to the gym, you probably pass three or four places that are offering great services that you're just not aware of. Fitness-Buffet gives you an easy, low risk way to sample them," he told Reuters.

The company (www.fitness-buffet.com/) sells sets of downloadable fitness offers for a one-time fee of $99 that contain, Fitness-Buffet says, over $1,000 worth of deals on anything from yoga to kettlebells to Aussie Rules football classes.

Customers have two months to try as many of them as they want, and all offers are included at no extra cost.

One such customer was Cathy Fuggle, a British teacher who, prior to her move to Singapore, had never been to a nutritionist nor possessed the courage to attend a fitness "boot camp."

But after buying coupons from Fitness-Buffet, she has tried both these and more.

"If you've got something in your hand, and you've got a time limit, it motivates you and encourages you to go for it - especially in the New Year," Fuggle said.

Though opened only in June 2011, Fitness-Buffet's sales figures have been "brisk," according to Laing, with the biggest growth area coming from companies using the product for employee wellness schemes.

Employers, under pressure to boost the overall health of their staff, can accomplish two goals at once by improving the fitness of their employees, and by so doing, stave off rising medical insurance costs.

Such programs are finally taking hold in Asia, said Joan Collar, Employee Benefits regional leader-Asia for insurance broker Marsh.

"This trend will continue as companies recognize the value of the programs... as a way to fight absenteeism or staff sickness rates," she added.

With employee insurance costs one of the fastest growing expenses in many businesses, maintaining overall health has become a critical business issue, Laing said.

"A fundamental shift in lifestyle for hundreds of millions of employees worldwide is the only long term solution," he added.

Not only that, keeping workers fit is a good way to raise productivity, said Sarah Schubert, director of New Voice, a Singapore-based HR consultancy and training business.

"Employee wellness is no longer a management fad but actually a very sensible business practice," she said.

"Research has shown that keeping the body active and fit aids brain function and cognitive thinking, so giving staff the opportunity to participate in active exercise programs through the day and week will result in a more productive and engaged workforce."

Laing says Fitness-Buffet is learning fast from corporate clients, with HR directors demanding customized versions of the product which allows them to run weekly team-building activities.

Currently available in Bangkok, Singapore and Chicago, Fitness-Buffet will open in 25 more cities in the United States this year, as well as in several cities in Asia and Europe.

The company will also be rolling out a marketplace offering, which will target business travelers who wish to pick and choose one-off classes in Asia and beyond.

(Editing by Elaine Lies)

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