02 Dec 2021 HCM Handbook
 

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Health Club Management Handbook - The age of independents

Who's who

The age of independents


Outdoor areas, virtual memberships and concepts aimed at different markets – independent operators are keeping pace with the big boys. Kath Hudson reports

Kath Hudson

Forgotten Gen
Club W
Tony de Leede

Entrepreneur and industry veteran Tony de Leede is targeting what he describes as a forgotten generation, with huge potential – women over 50 – with his latest venture, Club W.

The first 400sq m (4,300sq ft) site launched in Sydney, Australia, in March 2018, and now boasts more members over 70 years than under 30. Targeting more mature women, who don’t want to train in the traditional sense but who want to remain in the best health possible, Club W is a place to make friends, be active, find new hobbies and learn how to stay well.

To make people feel at home, staff act like hosts, even accompanying nervous members to classes, while seasoned members are encouraged to buddy up with newbies in return for free memberships, which usually cost AUS$19.50 a week (€12m, $14m, £11).

"Club W aims to be a third space where women can immerse themselves in wellness, where they can recharge, restore and connect with others," says de Leede. "I refer to it as a second home based on community and activity, where you feel comfortable and safe."

"I wanted to create somewhere I could imagine my sister or my mum coming to Tony de Leede, entrepreneur"

There are four exercise studios and, to keep an intimate feel, each is limited to 12 people. They are equipped with virtual Wexer screens and LED lighting, while scents are diffused into the room. de Leede has put together a bespoke programme of classes, which vary in length from five to 20 minutes running on a continuous loop, so there are around 200 classes a day, including yoga, pilates, stretch, strength, dance, fight, cardio, meditation and barre.

Other facilities include an education room with treadmills and recumbent bikes, where educational programmes are played on a wide range of subjects, including health, nutrition, self, relationships, the menopause and children leaving home.

Around 200 classes a day, varying in length from just five to 20 minutes, are run on a continuous loop

There are also three consultation rooms, where specialists such as naturopaths or massage therapists can offer their services for free taster sessions. If they are popular, they can pay commission and take a regular slot.

Relaxation is high on the agenda so Club W also has a lounge area equipped with complimentary refreshments. There’s also O2CHAIRS, which encourage deep breathing, and climb-in pods for simply chilling out.

"I wanted to create somewhere I could imagine my sister or my mum coming to – a place which offers not only movement but also community and a range of clubs from hobby-based sessions to charity groups," explains Tony de Leede.

Seasoned members buddy up with newbies in return for free Club W gym memberships
One Big Community
Team Rees Gym
Richard Rees

"In an evening, when we have four classes going on at the same time, as well as people working out on the gym floor, there’s a massive buzz and it’s really rewarding to see," says Jon Rees – one of a trio of brothers behind a new club in Caerphilly, Wales.

"We set out to create an ultra modern, results-driven group training facility, involving high interaction with clients and a sense of community."

The 12,000sq ft (1,100sq m) gym has four areas for classes: the gym floor, a studio, a boxing studio and a state-of-the-art indoor cycling studio. There are 60 pieces of Hammer Strength & Life Fitness equipment and a SYNRGY rig.

"The best thing about having your own club is the freedom to go ahead with an idea" Richard Rees, co-founder

Unlimited use of the gym and classes is £35.99 a month (€41, $47).

All three brothers have strong sporting backgrounds: Martin in football, Richard in cycling and bodybuilding and Jon in rugby. Richard and Jon were PTs, but when they both became so busy that they couldn’t take on any more clients, they decided it was time to open their own facility.

They have established a Team Rees standard to guarantee every class and trainer gives the same quality experience. The team pride themselves on learning members’ names and giving them each a friendly welcome and goodbye. At the heart of its philosophy is community involvement and inclusivity. A kids’ fitness programme is offered, so children can do a class while their parents are working out.

"The best thing about having your own club is the freedom to go ahead with an idea: for example, if we want to run a bootcamp with spin bikes, we can," says Jon. Going forward he says the trio of brothers will continue to work together on honing the experience for their members: "We’re really proud of how far we have come in 10 months and we are really excited to work closely with Life Fitness in the future to continue to exceed our members’ expectations."

Team Rees prides itself on learning members’ names and giving them a friendly welcome and goodbye Photo: STEVE HUGHES - THREE WATERS PHOTOGRAPHY
Barnburner
Vision Fitness
Ollie Emsden, founder

A derelict farmyard barn, with a corrugated roof, conjured up all sorts of possibilities for former footballer turned PT Ollie Emsden. “It was a lovely big barn just used for storing a tractor and hay when I noticed it,” he says. “I thought it would be great to look out over the fields while running on a treadmill. So I approached the farmer, who eventually agreed.”

Inside, the high ceilings give an airy, spacious feel, while the beams add character and the big windows let in plenty of natural light. Financing the enterprise himself, with his dad giving some business guidance and his mum helping with the interiors, Emsden has created a distinctive gym which stands out from the local competition. The workout facilities are complemented by a juice bar, a beauty salon and a hairdressers.

"I thought it would be great to look out over the fields while running on a treadmill" - Ollie Emsden, founder

The 3,000sq ft (280sq m) space is kitted out with Life Fitness cardio and resistance equipment, Jordan-personalised dumbbells and an Ignite functional training rig, plus a group exercise studio.

One of the USPs is the floodlit outdoor training area which, as well as boasting a second rig, has a dead lifting platform, astro strip and a decking for yoga, Pilates and bootcamps. "This has really kept people who like exercising outdoors engaged over the summer," says Emsden. "It is still in regular use in October and we’re hoping the hardcore will use it over the winter."

A non-contract membership of £30 a month ($39, €34) is available, or pay as you go costs £7.50 per visit (€9, $10). The club is currently at around 70 per cent capacity.

One of the USPs is the floodlit outdoor training area

Most of Vision Fitness’s members come via word of mouth, as well as some social media and email marketing, and it was featured on a Channel 5 programme as part of a beach body in four weeks series.

"The best thing about launching the club is the sense of pride in creating it," says Emsden, who would like to open another facility at a later date.

Vision is a distinctive gym which stands out from local competition
Place in the Sun
FirstLight Cycle
Mark Anthony, founder

Watching the sunrise from the 34th floor of a Manhattan hotel gave Mark Anthony the brain wave of launching an exercise concept which incorporates the arc of the sun. Through the use of bespoke films and lighting, the sunrise and sunset has become the USP for FirstLight Cycle, a boutique indoor cycling studio in west London, which launched last October.

Anthony chose to base the club on indoor cycling, after a research trip to the US. He was very impressed with how Flywheel and SoulCycle were getting people to pay close to $50 per class (£39, €44).

A PT with a background in boutique clubs, Anthony explains: "I saw a shift in the market in around 2012. People were paying £100 an hour (€115, $129) for a good trainer, and I realised there was the opportunity to offer classes with rock star instructors to give people an equally effective workout, but for a quarter of the price."

"Most boutiques just go for the 26 to 34-year-olds, but we have four different markets," says Anthony. "We have the 26 to 35-year-olds; the mums after-school drop off; the 55 to 65-year-olds who are interested in being more healthy and living longer; and then we 're also aiming at young people, trying to engage them and move them away from their mobile devices."

Anthony chose indoor cycling after a research trip to the US

The cycling studio, which was kitted out by Schwinn bikes, was joined by two further studios in January 2019. Lightbox, a boxing studio incorporating the light element, and the Life studio, which will stream live classes, including yoga, strength training, barre, core, upper body and lower body.

Pay as you go classes cost £20 each (€23, $26), or blocks can be paid for via direct debit at a discounted rate: four a month costs £75 (€86, $97); the price of eight is £140 (€161, $180); and 12 cost £195 (€224, $252), while the online membership will cost £25 (€29, $32).

"Most boutiques just go for the 26 to 34-year-olds, but we have four different markets" - Mark Anthony, founder

Anthony isn't planning more clubs: "Our business plan is linked to live classes, which will be a business within a business."

The cycling studio is kitted out with Schwinn bikes
FirstLight’s business plan is linked to live classes – a business within a business
No Limits
V1be
Andy Tee, co-director

One of the first boutique clubs in Manchester, V1be launched last March, offering a treadmill-based HIIT studio, with music specially designed to fit the workouts.

The former director of Simply Gym, Andy Tee, is behind the project, along with co-director Gareth Evans and Kevin Scott, previously of the Harlands Group. The trio spent a whole year honing the concept and finding the right site.

"I got into budgets at the right time, and now I think it’s the right time for boutiques,” says Tee. "However, often I think boutique studios can be elitist and the workouts are too hard. We are aiming to be as inclusive as possible by using the MyZone fitness tracking belts, so people can measure their own performance and work at an appropriate level."

Another difference between V1be and other boutiques is that it is operating on a recurring payment model, rather than the usual pay as you go basis. Unlimited use per month costs £95 (€109, $123). This is a lot more than people are used to paying in Manchester, which initially provided a challenge and some re-education.

"Boutique is a sector which people are generally familiar with in London, but elsewhere it’s a relatively new concept,” says Tee. "With high-end pricing, the product and service have to be spot on. If people aren’t using and enjoying the experience – not to mention seeing some results – then their payment soon stops!"

"Boutique is a sector which people are generally familiar with in London, but elsewhere it’s a relatively new concept" - Andy Tee, co-director

The class-based studio runs six or seven times a day. The team plan to extend usage by offering free training and power yoga at quiet times. A second site will be built in Manchester and, longer term, the team hope to franchise the concept. "It has been set up with franchising in mind," says Tee.

"We also see potential for a club in club scenario. There are traditional clubs out there with spare space and capacity and we’ve already had outline conversations with one or two operators about potentially incorporating a V1BE in club.”

The boutique sector is a relatively new concept in north England

Originally published in HCM Handbook 2019 edition

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