Welcome to a fresh post where we’re diving into a game-changer in China’s fitness scene. Now, if you’re picturing a gym, you might be thinking of a place where you’re tied down by annual memberships that seem more like a trap than a trampoline to your fitness goals. But, enter Lefit, a brand that’s flipping the script on fitness in China.

Lefit(乐刻健身), the unicorn of the gym world in China, has done more than just open over a thousand locations in six years; it’s redefined what a gym can be. Imagine walking into a gym on the 10th floor of an office building in Hangzhou, not exactly where you’d expect, but it’s buzzing because it’s broken even in just three months. How? Lefit ditched the long-term contracts for monthly ones and threw out the pushy sales tactics that had personal trainers hawking memberships more than health.

The brains behind the operation, founder Han Wei, views Lefit not just as a chain of gyms but as a blend of industrial and consumer internet—a platform that starts with physical locations but has a much grander vision. Think less traditional gym chain, more the Meituan or Shell of fitness, with a business model focused on “space logic” rather than “store logic”.

From its inception in 2015, Lefit has expanded to include a myriad of services: direct gyms, empowering other fitness brands (17 workouts), home fitness options with their LITTA brand, and even a fitness carnival that’s become a significant part of their identity.

What Sets Lefit Apart? Understanding the Lefit Model

Lefit stands out in the Chinese fitness industry not just for its size but for its innovative approach, particularly its use of the O2O (Online-to-Offline) model. This model, a cornerstone of Lefit’s operation, merges the convenience of online access with the tangibility of offline services.

In contrast to traditional Chinese gyms that often hinge on annual memberships, Lefit promotes monthly memberships, which reflect a more flexible and customer-oriented approach. Its gym sizes are typically smaller, ranging from 250 to 350 square meters, allowing for a more personalized and less intimidating environment. This compact size doesn’t hinder the experience, as Lefit’s digital integration offers intelligent gym systems and app-based user interfaces that maintain a 24-hour operation.

A non-salesy environment is another hallmark of the Lefit model. There’s a concerted effort to avoid the high-pressure sales tactics common in the industry. Instead, Lefit employs a strategy that focuses on providing value through its services and retaining customers through positive experiences rather than locking them into long-term contracts.

By 2018, with nearly 300 direct stores validated in cities of varying sizes, Lefit launched the “Store Partner” plan, embracing a partnership model over a straightforward chain expansion. This plan allows for a diversity of operation styles and fosters a community amongst the fitness ecosystem.

Furthermore, Lefit’s response to the pandemic showed resilience and adaptability. With operations heavily impacted during the initial stages, Lefit used this period as an opportunity to strengthen its online offerings and empower existing fitness clubs, thereby accelerating the digital aspect of its O2O model.

In essence, Lefit’s business model is not just about expanding the number of gyms but creating a comprehensive fitness platform that’s open and adaptable to the changing landscape of the fitness industry.

The Evolution of Lefit

Han Wei, Lefit’s founder and a former Alibaba tech whiz, saw fitness not just as a business but as a right for every Chinese citizen. With a vision to democratize fitness, making it accessible and affordable for everyone from university students to sanitation workers, Han launched Lefit in 2015 in Hangzhou. His initial ideas often met with skepticism, yet he persisted, and within three months, the first Lefit gym was profitable.

Han’s critique of traditional gyms’ unsustainable models—expensive annual memberships, luxurious decor, and high personnel costs—led him to establish a model that minimized these excesses. Lefit gyms were smaller, with around 300 square meters, and utilized a monthly membership model that drastically lowered the barriers to fitness.

Within seven years, Lefit’s network grew to over 1200 locations. This rapid expansion was driven by a philosophy deeply rooted in pragmatism and social equality, aiming to make fitness a staple in people’s lives, not a luxury. Lefit’s impact extended to personal trainers, who found dignity and career advancement opportunities through Lefit’s non-sales-focused, professional development-oriented approach. Han’s goal was clear: to scale up to 10,000 stores, making fitness accessible and habitual for the masses.

Lefit’s Growth in China Through the Years

Lefit’s trajectory in China has been nothing short of impressive, particularly in how it managed to carve out a competitive edge in a market fraught with challenges. Strategic investments and partnerships played a significant role, with heavyweights like Tencent and others like IDG, Gao Ling, and Alibaba’s fund backing its innovative approach​​.

The company’s disruptive monthly payment model and shared space concept quickly captivated a young fitness demographic, despite initial criticism from traditional gyms​​. Lefit’s growth is a testament to their customer-centric approach, eschewing hard sales for 24/7 accessibility, intelligent gym systems, and a no-pressure environment that increased operational efficiency and customer satisfaction​​.

Further, Lefit has expanded into “to gym”, “to home”, and “empowering existing gyms” services, showing a commitment to digital transformation that’s revolutionizing gym operations and customer experience​​. With a firm emphasis on technological advancements, Lefit has pioneered digital gym management and personalized coaching services, ensuring their growth in the fitness industry is as healthy and robust as the lifestyles they promote​​.

As we wrap up this deep dive into Lefit’s story, it’s clear that their impact on China’s fitness landscape has been profound. They’ve reshaped what it means to be a gym, prioritizing accessibility and affordability, and their rapid expansion reflects just how resonant that vision has become. Looking ahead, Lefit’s innovative model has the potential to influence the global fitness market, introducing more flexible, tech-driven, and customer-friendly approaches to gym culture worldwide.

For expats and travelers in China, Lefit stands out as a welcoming haven. Its 24-hour operations, convenience, and self-service options make it an ideal choice for foreigners seeking familiarity and ease in their fitness routines. As a chain, it offers a consistent, quality experience—one that might soon become a global phenomenon as Lefit continues to evolve and expand its horizons.

One last thing to mention: the price of Lefit is 168 yuan($23) per month, which is much cheaper than most gyms in China.