A huge Covid friendly welcome to the very first Independent Gyms newsletter! I recall this story quite often, 2 years ago when started all this I wanted to sell a bit more kit, I thought we’d do well to get 300 gym owners who would be lapping up some bargains from a huge list of ex demo stock, within a year we’d raced past 500 members and as I type this on a late Sunday evening we sit at 1665 members and still growing! It’s now a strange feeling to be sat here creating what I hope will become a useful monthly communication to summarise the goings on of the group, the successes of independents and the industry as a whole! So lets get the obvious bits out the way, Covid has been a right c*nt!
Our industry has been torn apart and left in limbo all summer, the events industry aside (I feel for those guys) we were one of the last industries to reopen and have faced uncertainty ever since. Despite Boris Johnson declaring a war on obesity, we were kept waiting whilst the hospitality industry were flooded with ‘Eat Out to Help Out’ diners and a reduction in VAT. Fast forward just a matter of months though and the tightening of restrictions saw the same hospitality industry forced to close early each day, operate via table service and insist on track and trace in every venue, whilst the fitness industry initially remained unchanged, until the 3 tiers were introduced that is. We have proven that collectively #gymsaresafe with UK Active research showing just 78 case of Covid in 22 million gym visits for the early part of reopening. That did increase as Covid became more rampant, but we are still THE safest sector of any which is a testament to the incredible work and focus we are all putting in to remain Covid secure. Hopefully, this is the start of Boris and his mates taking note of the good work our industry does and treating us with the respect we are starting to demand! Now as we hit the start of November, we see a complete mixed bag for the UK Fitness Industry, England are days away from a complete lockdown for a month, Wales are days away from reopening after their circuit breaker lockdown, Scotland are currently open without group exercise but with the potential of higher restrictions, Northern Ireland are open as normal whilst other sectors are closed and Republic of Ireland have been shut for a few weeks already. It’s time to turn our attention to holding onto what we have through online workouts and supporting our members, before coming back stronger post lockdown 2.0. Luckily I’m only familiar with a couple (there may be more) of Independent Gyms that have permanently closed their doors through Covid – one through lifestyle choice and the other due to landlords refusing to help. Despite being closed for so long, the rest of you are still going and we need to make sure it stays that way!
GET TO KNOW: Ollie Emsden @ Vision Fitness
Q: Tell us about Vision Fitness and how the gym come about? I played football to high standard in both Cyprus and Scotland initially, returning to my home town to play semi pro football, at that time I was also PT’ing side. I’d find it frustrating when clients cancelled and I’d lose income, so it pushed me to consider opening my own gym instead of relying on PT revenue. I spent months driving around my local area looking at sites and eventually found a farmers barn that had sat derelict for a number years. Ironically he had already been approached to turn it into a fitness studio but I explained the business model behind Vision Fitness and how I could essentially deliver a higher rent for him along with a rough floor layout. The farmer then took the information, applied for planning and once successful he got started on the works. He took care of all the structural works and I then took out a loan for kit and flooring to finished the gym. It was about 18 months from start to finished with about 6 months being the building work and fit out. We’ve now been open almost 3 years.
We try to appeal to all a broad range of users with varied fitness aims/goals, whether that’s students mums, general gym goers, people with specific health conditions or performance athletes. Our location s surrounded by a number of villages so we appeal to those who don’t want to travel to the bigger towns. We have created a community focus that seem really appreciated, we’re essentially their local gym and a big part of the community. Because of this we wanted to provide a broad range of facilities and service so we have a wide range of kit in a main gym, Pilates and yoga studio, a dedicated outdoor training space and just recently we added an extension to the main gym and a spin studio for new classes. Alongside that we also have an onsite beautician, hairdresser and café/juice bar for members and guests.
Q: Are you members only gym or PAYG or both? We offer options for both, our membership is non contract and no joining fee but we also allow PAYG visitors as well to remain flexible and open to all, we include some classes but specialist classes are extra. Visitors then have the option of inhouse personal training and a program as well small group training schedule that is growing each month.
Q: How did you respond when lockdown first kicked in? Like a lot of facilities, we jumped straight into online classes and workouts, along with home workout plans to service our members. My PT Hub helped to create our members app and a digital platform to get us through the uncertainty and deliver th online sessions. We didn’t really go down the route of renting equipment but we did help a few loyal members, we didn’t really want to monetise this so we only really helped those who asked. We took full advantage of our outdoor area once the dust settled and the industry started to reopen. This was in place before Covid and included a functional rig and sled track but we added to it by moving some cardio and dumbbells outside and had wooden benches made which are still there now. Outdoor training has become a big part of our offering and weather dependent will be part of the club moving forward! Once we were able to reopen the indoor facilities, we applied the stringent Covid measures including sanitisation, distancing and a booking system for classes and indoor gym.
Q: How has reopening gone? It’s been a very busy time since reopening, initially we were nervous about the confidence our members would have to return, but we feel being an independent facility has not only enabled us to demonstrate to our members the safety measures we have put in place, but the community atmosphere has enabled them to feel safe and secure in their return. Revenue is almost back to normal, we hope to be back to pre Covid levels before the end of the year.
Q: Have you changed your business model during/since reopening? It wasn’t a conscious decision but the restrictions around capacity has led us to offer more small group training than previous. It was the first thing we reintroduced when we were able to offer outdoor training and its popularity has meant we will be pushing this more in a post Covid world . During lockdown we also introduced a brand new Spin Studio as part of a small extension. I wouldn’t say we particularly changed our model but we have added more services for our members.
Q: How do you see Digital platforms influencing the fitness industry in the coming years? Like most facilities, we found digital workouts to be hugely popular and a bit of a lifeline during lockdown, but since reopening our members have pretty much all transitioned back to in club training so for now we’ve stopped the digital service, we are keeping it in the background though as a backup, ready to launch should any further lockdowns come in or our members start asking for it.
Q: Favourite Part of Being a Gym Owner? Two things spring to mind, without doubt its looking back at what we have created, taking a derelict barn and turning it into a facility that has become a part of the community. On top of that, I have a genuine passion for helping real people.
Q: Least Favourite Part of Being a Gym Owner? This is bitter sweet, we all know the working hours of a gym owner can be long, but I genuinely love my job as a PT so I don’t mind being in the gym early mornings or late at night, this harder part is being able to switching off, which as a business owner I’m not sure you really can.
Q: Where do you see the fitness industry heading in the coming years? I think it’s going to be more important than ever, firstly in the fight against Covid but even after that, independent gyms have done amazing with keeping members safe since reopening and that is only going help encourage more people to get fit. I think there will be even more buy in from the general public and not just gym goers and we’ll see a bigger percentage of the UK population taking up memberships at gyms, studios and fitness facilities. Small group training will be even bigger than it is now as it provides a happy medium for those who want a social element to their training without the Covid risk from a larger class size. PT will keep growing too as more people seek the motivation from a trainer.
Q: What’s next for Vision Fitness? For now we are going to double down on what we are doing well, continue to encourage our members back and hopefully return to our pre Covid figures and progress from there. I do have some thoughts about a second site in a few years but that will depending on what happens with Covid in the short to long term.