20 Feb 2019 Health Club Management Handbook

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Health Club Management Handbook - The age of independents

Project profiles

The age of independents

Combining a pioneering concept with a personal approach that champions the goals and achievements of each member lies at the heart of dynamic independents. Kath Hudson reports

Kath Hudson

Uptown Coach
Neon PT

Fledgling personal trainer brand Neon PT has jumped off the starting blocks this year with the launch of two sites: Cheshire and Essex. Targeting affluent people, the studios offer a premium personal trainer service which aims to give members unparalleled support in their decision to adopt a healthy lifestyle.

A team of five are behind the concept: entrepreneurial investors Joe and Nicole Sealey, along with three PTs: Drew Roberts, Matthew Cresey and Callum Manton.
The Neon PT concept offers a number of supporting services to exercise, including weekly walks to build the community, in-house food preparation, online meal plans and a home delivery detox package, as well as Pilates, massage, a laundry service for gym gear and car valeting.

“We want to transform the PT industry, by offering high-end facilities and services,” explains personal trainer Manton. 

“Our aim is to provide a 360-degree first class service to support clients during their transformation period and assist them in maintaining a new, well-balanced, healthy lifestyle.”

For those starting out on a new regime, a detox package is offered, which includes juices and group sessions. Manton says they’re seeing great results with this.

“As standard, all our new clients receive an in-depth health assessment, which looks at lean muscle, water retention and body fat, among other metrics,” he says. “Their progress is tracked and they have a progress report every six to eight weeks, which keeps them motivated.”

The 1,400sq ft (130sq m) studios offer state-of-the-art Precor equipment, including an Adaptive Motion Trainer, a Next-Generation Experience Series treadmill, a FTS Glide and a Batak Pro, which is specifically designed to improve reaction and hand-eye coordination as well as stamina. Customers can either buy blocks of 25 (£43 per session), 50 or 100 (£38). Or they can opt into a monthly package whereby two sessions a week every month costs £49 a session.


The five PTs offer weekly walks, in-house food prep and online meal plans

All new clients benefit from an in-depth health assessment

Cool & Edgy
The Club


The four co-founders are keen to support their fellow PTs

Launched in Glasgow in summer 2016, The Club is the result of a partnership between four friends who met while working as personal trainers at a budget gym operator and decided to self-finance The Club – already voted best fitness venue in Glasgow at the Glasgow Awards.

“We’d always dreamed of opening our own club,” says co-founder Simon Kennedy. “No one really speaks to each other in budget gyms, so we wanted to open a gym with a community and more personal feel.”

The 5,000sq ft (465sq m) gym has its own in-house DJ playing three nights a week and darker, atmospheric lighting.

“We wanted to create something cool and edgy,” says Kennedy. “We like Gymbox and what David Barton has done in New York, but we have done our own thing.”

The gym includes plate-loaded equipment from Exigo, cardio equipment from Life Fitness and free weights from Bodymax.

Membership costs £40 a month for a 12-month contract or £50 a month for no contract. If individuals pay up front for the year it costs £440, and day passes can be purchased through payasugym for £10.

“We all brought the majority of our PT clients with us and we have a massive age range, from 18 to 70 years old, with a 50/50 gender split,” adds Kennedy.

“We’re really proud of the community we’ve fostered, with the members chatting to one another and no one leaving without a hello or a goodbye. Also, we’ve broken down barriers with women weight training.”

Having come from a personal trainer background, the founding team has been keen to support fellow PTs. So PTs only have to work two paid shifts in order to operate out of the space and can keep 100 per cent of their takings.

“This makes it easier for PTs to get their business up and running, and from our point of view, if the PTs and staff are happy then they’ll keep the members happy and the retention will be good,” says Kennedy.

Going forward the team would like to open more clubs and is currently looking at a second club in Glasgow or branching out to a club in Edinburgh.

"We wanted a gym with a community and a more personal feel" - co-founder Simon Kennedy


The Club has its own in-house DJ and darker, atmospheric lighting to give it a cool and edgy feel, equipped by Exigo, Life Fitness and Bodymax

Millennial Combat
Solan Fitness


Rachelle Solan

Husband and wife team Rachelle and Josh Solan have developed a mainstream strength gym concept out of their internationally successful martial arts academy in Orpington.

“We were always looking for ways to give our competitors the edge, so we introduced strength training into their programmes,” says Rachelle.

“With the budget clubs at one end and the racquet clubs at the other, we saw the opportunity to provide a strength training gym aimed at the mainstream. Our aim is to provide something new in the middle market, as well as to get men into classes and women onto the gym floor.”

The first club opened in January 2013 and after spending four years tweaking the concept, the duo launched a second, £1.3m club in East Grinstead in February 2017.

With strength and combat at its core, the gym offers a mix of Cybex resistance equipment; a Jordan rig, with monkey bars, squatting stations and a battle rope; a functional zone with a 20 metre sprint track; and a HIIT circuit. There are also three studios, one of which is a combat zone, and the Fuel Bar, which sells protein shakes and supplements.

East Grinstead now has 700 members. There’s a joining fee of £39.99 and a 12-month contract costs £59.99 per month, or £599.99 for a year up front. Other more flexible options are available via PayAsUGym, including a day pass for £12.

The main target market is Millennials, who love the concept. “Most of them have started at a budget gym, but have plateaued and are looking for more sophisticated equipment and coaches to take them further,” says Josh. “Although we do have some beginners, we’re more of an intermediate to advanced facility.”

Having already won awards at the National Fitness Awards and received great member feedback and results, the duo have great belief in the concept and have launched a £30,000 franchise package.

“We want to open 100 clubs worldwide within the next three years,” explains Rachelle. “In the first fortnight alone, we received 50 enquiries.”

"Our aim is to get men into classes and women onto the gym floor" - co-founder Rachelle Solan


Solan Fitness is now available as a franchise package
Build That Body
Volt Gym

Owning a business was always the ambition of Lancashire-based brothers Cameron and Alisdair Mitchell, and they realised their dream in January 2017 when they opened the doors to their own club in a former car warehouse in Burscough, West Lancashire.

“It’s a body building gym for regular people,” says Cameron. “We‘ve created a high-quality environment, with good lighting and trendy décor which isn’t intimidating. We wanted to create an environment where members are passionate about training, gaining maximum enjoyment from the process and feeling empowered.”

State-of-the-art Life Fitness equipment has been installed, along with two Wattbikes, two Cybex SPARC trainers, two Concept 2 rowers and a large functional area, with kit from Rogue and Jigsaw Gym and a SYNRGY360.

The weights area includes Hammer Strength equipment, power racks, plate-loaded and pin-loaded weights, dumbbells and deadlift platforms.

“The gym is split into different zones: a strength and conditioning area, a functional area, a dumbbell area, and space for classes, including a ladies lifting class, yoga and spin, functional fit, and core conditioning.”

There’s no joining fee or contract. Membership options include: monthly at £29.99, corporate at £25, student at £20, or a week pass at £10 and a day pass at £5.

“Price wise we are mid-market, but the quality of the equipment is definitely higher. If we were in the south of England, we could charge more,” says Cameron.

So far they’re progressing well towards their target of 500 members in the first year, with 350 already signed up. Cameron explains that one of the biggest challenges facing them so far has been getting the message across to women that lifting weights won’t make them big and muscly.

“It’s hard to change the mindset, so we still have a bias towards male members.”

In the immediate future the Mitchell brothers will continue to improve on the gym, growing the membership and hopefully expanding it so they can run more classes and add a strong man area. Long term they hope to open more clubs in the north of England.


The biggest challenge is winning women over to do weight training

Volt Gym is progressing towards its target of 500 members in year one

co-founder Cameron Mitchell
Fighting Personality
Underground Gym

Former MMA fighter Sol Gilbert and business partner Alan McGuinness launched their second Underground Gym last July in Newhaven. This follows on from the success of their first club, which opened in Brighton in 2014.

Gilbert says the concept is a strength, functional and combat gym integrated into the mainstream fitness model.

“When I was a professional MMA fighter, I was travelling widely to meet my training needs, as there wasn’t a facility in Brighton which ticked all the boxes,” says Gilbert.

“I spotted a niche for a gym which provided combat training, as well as strength, conditioning and functional fitness. Programmes like boxercise skim the surface: I wanted to deliver something which was taught by pro-athletes, where it wasn’t just burning calories, but learning the craft.”

The gym is fitted out by Core Health and Fitness, the astro-turfed functional area uses equipment from The Physical Company and Jordans, and Carbon Claw provided the bags and mats in the combat zone. The mix has proved popular. Gilbert says the attrition rate is just three per cent and some members come two or three times a day. Newhaven reached the break even point of 700 members eight weeks after opening.

There’s a joining fee of £40 and the monthly membership costs £35 for gym only; £45 for fitness-based classes like HIIT, non-contact, boxing fitness and spinning; and £55 for the top tier membership, including Olympic lifting, MMA and calisthenics.

“It’s a premium offering for a mid-market price, as we wanted to make sure it’s affordable for local people,” adds Gilbert.

An entry offer of a 21-day challenge for those who are new to fitness is also offered, where Gilbert gives diet and nutritional advice, and weighs and measures them. 

“At the top and bottom end of the market, clubs are focused more on facilities and less on engagement, but we wanted to create a club with personality,” says Gilbert. “We celebrate achievements: a ‘member of the week’ is awarded a t-shirt, a shake and their picture posted on social media.”


The gym concept focuses on engagement and personality

The attrition rate is three per cent

co-founder Sol Gilbert

Originally published in Health Club Handbook 2018 issue 1

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