Why fitness centers in the U.S. are landing in malls

Landlords see boutique gyms as a way to drum up business at surrounding stores

January 07, 2020
The Washington Post / Contributor / Getty Images News

A proliferation of fitness centers across the U.S. are landing in shopping malls, a welcome move for landlords hunting for new tenants in the age of online shopping.

With healthy lifestyles becoming a priority for many Americans, the number of fitness centers in the U.S. has increased 24 percent since 2010 to 111,055 locations, according to IBISWorld data. The number is expected to rise to nearly 121,000 by 2024.

Many of these new gyms and studios are finding space in malls. Online shopping has transformed the retail world, pushing physical shopping centers to look for new ways to drive traffic.

“It’s a diversification of the retail product offering,” says Don Ziss, Vice President, JLL. “All landlords should now be focusing on their merchandising mix, and strongly diversifying their portfolio.”

As landlords look at their options, fitness studios are front and center, in part because they help drum up business at surrounding stores.

“People come more than once a week to take a class and end up hanging out, getting something to eat and doing some shopping,” says Keisha Virtue, Senior Research Analyst, Retail, JLL. “They are a way to drive traffic while plugging vacant spaces, and are part of the strategy of retail operators.”

Drawing a crowd

As part of the $250 million redevelopment of Manhattan Village, a retail and dining venue near Los Angeles that’s reopening in 2020, there will be a wing dedicated to fitness: an indoor cycling studio CycleBar, Pilates-based body sculpting program Coreology, and athletic-and-heated CorePower Yoga. 

“When you look at the new large developments or substantial remodels in the last four or five years, fitness is a component in every key property,” Ziss says.

Finding other tenants that fit in the wellness sphere can add to the benefits. The three new fitness concepts in Manhattan Village are likely to be surrounded by wellness-related offerings like juice bars and vegan eateries, says Ziss, who is also the senior general manager of the redevelopment. 

“There is a synergy between these options that creates a bit of a destination for consumers,” he says.

While large gym chains have been often anchored in shopping centers, today mall operators are increasingly targeting boutique studios that offer specialty classes such as boxing, barre, high intensity interval training, or private session.

“There’s a trend towards more boutique studios offering one or two super specialized types of fitness,” says Virtue. “Those kinds of fitness concepts are definitely popular among millennials and Generation Z.”

Looking forward

Specialty gyms are expected to continue spreading across the country, in both urban and surburban areas, Virtue says, adding that we are likely to see them more frequently incorporated into mixed use properties.

Prolific boutique chains like Orangetheory and F45 are planting themselves in malls, as are individually-owned one-off personal training studios.

“We’ll see an expansion of this trend at least for the next couple of years, as long as the interest in wellness continues,” she says. “We don’t expect that will change anytime soon.”