GAITHERSBURG, MD – Astana’s newest gym bucks the city’s spa and health centre trends to focus tightly on exercise – and on the city’s underserved middle class.
Founder Kevin Freake, a Canadian longtime resident of Kazakhstan, told The Astana Times on Jan. 21 that he opened Xpress Fitness “because I simply refuse to pay the obscene rates that fitness centres here are demanding. Back in Canada you can pay between $30 – $70 a month to exercise, so why not here, where the salaries are so much lower?”
With daily drop-in rates starting at 2,000 tenge ($10.85) and a variety of deals for monthly and yearly memberships, Xpress Fitness is hoping to lure Astana’s middle class, who can find themselves often priced out of the city’s expensive hotel-based fitness complexes. Freake also has his eye on police officers, restaurant staff and other shift workers, whose schedules might prevent them from using other fitness options, he said. Xpress Fitness is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
“We keep our costs low because we do not have saunas, massage, plunge pools or swimming pools,” Freake said. “We focus on exercise – meaning cardio, free and stationary weights and group fitness zones only.”
The fitness scene in Astana is still developing, the entrepreneur thinks. Luxury spa centres abound, but there did not seem to be low-cost options to sweat and go.
“I think that the focus has been on the social side, rather than the benefits of fitness,” Freake said of Astana’s current fitness scene. Xpress Fitness, on the other hand, takes a no-nonsense approach: it’s a place to get in, get out, and get healthy, he said, not a place to meet your future husband or wife.
Freake also points out that Kazakhstan does not have the obesity problem so many countries in the West do, and that mature adults can also be expected to be active and fit – though they may not be earning huge salaries. Xpress Fitness also has programmes geared toward the over-55 set. “We are hoping to attract the mature adults and those that want to live a healthy life, not just look good at the beach,” Freake said.
Freake, who is a resident of Kazakhstan and first came to the country in 2001, said it was “quite easy” to open a small business in Astana. It took about a week to get everything in order, he said – two hours to get a business identification number (BIN), another day for the required stamp and a few more days for the charter. All in all, the time from lighting on the idea of the gym and opening his premises took three months, he reported. “It compares favourably to the process in Canada. Most all can be done online.”
Freake has had experience in founding businesses in Kazakhstan: in 2005, he founded Kazanada, a company providing primary medical care and related services to the country’s oil, gas and mining sectors. He has also recently started another company, Esquire Male Grooming Salon and Spa, which he said he plans to open in April of this year. The entrepreneur, therefore, is not eschewing completely the wellness, spa and grooming business – just pulling it away from the fitness game.
And though the gym itself is concentrated on exercise, Freake’s vision is expansive: he hopes the Astana’s Xpress Fitness will be the first of many branches throughout the country, he said, offering “affordable, convenient, any time” fitness options.
Xpress Fitness opened officially in November 2014 and is located on the corner of Bauyrzhan Momyshuly and Levon Mirzoyan streets, a few blocks from the capital’s Eurasia Bazaar complex.