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UNITING THE WORLD OF FITNESS
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Health Club Management

Health Club Management

features

People profile: Sol Gilbert

co-founder: Underground Gym

Published in Health Club Management 2019 issue 4
Sol Gilbert
Sol Gilbert
It’s our goal to launch two more self-funded clubs in the next three years. After that we’re open to anything: mergers or a private equity acquisition

What is your backstory?
I’m an ex-professional MMA fighter and have been in the industry since I was a teenager, first with a gym in Brighton, then Courtney’s in London and Dragons back in Brighton. After that, I went on to launch my own martial arts school.

In 2014, I teamed up with my business partner, Alan McGuinness and we expanded my gym, so members could do their strength and conditioning work with us. At the same time we rebranded to Underground Gym, so we would be perceived as less of a fight school – which was intimidating to some people – and attract a more diverse crowd.

What’s the Underground Gym brand all about?
We have three equal parts. Combat, comprising MMA, boxing, Brazilian Ju Jitsu and Muay Thai. Strength training with free weights and plate loaded equipment and power and Olympic lifting. Finally, we offer conditioning with disciplines like Parkour and calisthenics.

The mix of these three aspects means the gym floor is not as ‘alpha’ as bodybuilding gyms and our members train across a number of disciplines. Our USP is the community we create at each club, which is largely down to our staff, who are all former professional athletes – their personalities create the atmosphere and DNA of the brand.

Do all three sites offer the same?
Each site has been slightly bigger and more costly! Brighton, the original flagship site, offers the core facilities. Newhaven was the second site and is slightly larger, with a sauna and a group exercise studio. Tunbridge Wells is the largest site and has a Fit 3D body scanner, MMA Octagon, a Parkour area and Eat Naked restaurant.

What’s the membership model?
Gym membership is £39 a month, with a £20 joining fee which gets waived for certain groups, such as single parents or service personnel. Gym and fitness classes are £49 a month and gym and the more specific classes, such as Olympic lifting or Parkour, are £59 a month.

There’s also a pay-as-you-go option which costs £9.99. We’ve just developed a small group training package to help people to get better results without the expense of PT. This starts at £12.

Who are your members?
A large proportion are millennials who come before and after work. But we do have more 40-50-year-olds coming mid-morning and there’s about a 60/40 split between males and females.

What have been the main challenges with getting the brand up and running?
We’ve self-funded, so sometimes that’s been stressful. Finding the right sites and the right staff is a challenge.

As we now have multiple locations, the main goal has been to ensure we offer the same experience across all three and that they run efficiently, offering the same quality experience – even if Alan and I are only in the club once a week.

To do this, we’ve created a more formal staff structure, with managers and supervisors, to make sure everyone is singing from the same hymn sheet.

What do you look for in a site?
We look for industrial units in residential areas, with ample parking and supportive councils. Our aim is to own the south coast of the UK, so Tunbridge Wells was further north than we’d originally planned, but it was such a good location that we had to go for it.

Retailers like John Lewis and Marks & Spencer and showrooms for Bentley and BMW are within a kilometre of the club in Tunbridge Wells – it’s such an affluent area, we thought if we can’t make a gym work here, we might as well give up!

It’s an old gymnastics facility, so loads of the infrastructure was already in place, including a foam pit, which has allowed us to create a Parkour, street-running park.

We opened on 23rd November after a 30-day turnaround, adding a restaurant, widening the reception area and bringing in new kit from Core Health and Fitness, Carbon Claw and Xenios.

What are your future plans?
It’s our goal to launch two more self-funded clubs within the next three years and we’re looking for sites in Worthing and Eastbourne. After that, we’re open to anything: mergers with other chains or a private equity acquisition.

What are your predictions for the health and fitness industry?
More focus on boutiques and small group training. I also think people will get fed up of data and technology and want workouts to be more simple. There will be more cross training, but less club hopping – people will get bored of going to different places because they won’t build a community. So, I think we’ll see more ‘clubs within a club’, offering an interesting mix of facilities.

Alan McGuinness
Alan McGuinness
Gilbert and McGuinness look for industrial units in residential areas
Gilbert and McGuinness look for industrial units in residential areas
The Underground Gym offers a combination of combat, strength and Parkour/calisthenics
The Underground Gym offers a combination of combat, strength and Parkour/calisthenics
http://www.leisureopportunities.com/images/imagesX/156873_625136.jpg
Underground Gym's co-founder, Sol Gilbert, talks about breaking the rules with a new gym model
People
This isn’t a spin around the park: SUF Cycling requires participants to dig deep, which can push some people not used to HIIT out of their comfort zone
People
Parents often tell their children to become doctors or lawyers, but now they’ll encourage their children to become fitness pros. At $1,000 an hour, they’ll make more than the best Wall Street lawyers. Trainers are the new superstars
People
We watch trends closely at Stylist and we’ve seen a real growth in women strength training as a way of reclaiming a traditionally male space
Features
Member payments
It’s essential for clubs that the payment process is as easy to use as possible. HCM caught up with some of the leading member payment services to find out how they’re helping clubs
Features
ukactive
Following the ActiveLab Live! finale at the recent Active Uprising conference, we take a look at startups that are using technology to help people become healthier and more active
Features
Strength training
You may be able to help your members and customers avoid or reverse osteoporosis by encouraging weight bearing activities, as Liz Terry reports
Features
HCM Celeb
The boxing entrepreneur aims to help people ‘unleash the fighter within’ to better handle life’s challenges, with the slogan, ‘It’s not yours until you fight for it’
Features
Asia
Over 300 fitness executives gathered in Singapore recently for the World Fit Summit. HCM’s Steph Eaves attended to chat with CEO and founder Ross Campbell and find out more about the industry in Asia
Features
Flooring
With the increase in popularity of functional training, the floor is increasingly becoming a piece of equipment in itself. Kath Hudson investigates
Features
Retention
Are you optimising HIIT for your members, or are they put off by the pain? Abigail Harris looks at research into ways to better support members towards a positive outcome
Features
Statistics
The fitness market in Europe is entering a new phase of growth according to the European Health & Fitness Market Report 2019 by EuropeActive and Deloitte. HCM reports
Features
Retention
There’s no one thing that will fix your member retention, but clarity of mission, a strong culture and an eye for data will drive significant change. Kate Cracknell reports from this year’s Retention Convention
Features
HCM Celebs
In the name of work, Australian actor Chris Hemsworth has undergone impressive physical transformations for film roles such as Thor in The Avengers and Marvel films. Inspired by the public’s interest in his workouts, he’s now created a health and fitness app called Centr that utilises the expertise of his team of world-class experts
Features
Innovation
Silicon Valley hacker Dave Asprey used his tech skills to gather the latest fitness kit to create a bio hacking boutique. Kath Hudson investigates cusapero
Features
Promotional Feature
Promotional feature
EMS training is a great opportunity to differentiate your offering in a crowded fitness market. The kit requires very little space and the business model can be extremely lucrative - Phil Horton, miha bodytec
Latest News
Pure Gym has appointed Premier Global NASM as its exclusive UK fitness training provider. The ...
Latest News
Solent University has officially opened its new £28m sports and fitness centre. The centre houses ...
Latest News
David Lloyd Clubs (DLC) has revealed plans to become the first fitness operator to commit ...
Latest News
Fitness subscription platform ClassPass has appointed a UK general manager as it looks to grow ...
Latest News
Bannatyne Group has named Karen Wilkinson to the board of Bannatyne Fitness. The appointment comes ...
Latest News
UK children will be offered a greater opportunity to take part in 60 minutes of ...
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Regular exercise, a balanced diet, quitting smoking and cutting down on alcohol are the best ...
Latest News
The best class instructors earn the best salaries the market offers, bringing enhanced value to ...
Job search
POST YOUR JOB
Featured supplier news
Featured supplier: Crown overhaul changing rooms at Saunton Sands spa
Saunton Sands Hotel in Devon, UK, has completed a £2m expansion of its spa and wellness facilities.
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Featured supplier: Myzone vs. wrist trackers
According to ACSM’s Health and Fitness Journal, wearables trumped the top spot for trends in 2019. However, the question between Myzone or wrist trackers still stands.
Opinion
promotion
Member retention is a growing problem for long-established gym chains, who are battling the growing budget and boutique gym market.
Opinion: Are you trying to beat budget gyms at their own game?
Video Gallery
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DFC
DFC are a leading direct debit collection company, providing cash flow solutions to happy clients from all over the UK. Read more
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Company profiles
Company profile: Focus Training
Focus Training is a leading provider of Active IQ and YMCA Awards certified Personal Trainer ...
Company profiles
Company profile: Escape Fitness Limited
Founded in 1998, Escape Fitness has built a reputation for innovation, quality and design as ...
Catalogue Gallery
Click on a catalogue to view it online
Directory
Audio visual
Hutchison Technologies: Audio visual
Architects/designers
Zynk Design Consultants: Architects/designers
Whole body cryotherapy
Zimmer MedizinSysteme GmbH / icelab: Whole body cryotherapy
Management software
GymSales: Management software
Direct debit solutions
Debit Finance Collections: Direct debit solutions
Professional services
Deloitte UK: Professional services
Hydrotherapy / spa fragrances
Kemitron GmbH: Hydrotherapy / spa fragrances
Skincare
Comfort Zone - Davines S.p.A: Skincare
Governing body
EMD UK: Governing body
Flooring
Total Vibration Solutions Ltd: Flooring
Property & Tenders
Diary dates
23-25 Jul 2019
Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre, Melbourne, Australia
Diary dates
05-06 Sep 2019
TagusPark, Oeiras, Portugal
Diary dates

features

People profile: Sol Gilbert

co-founder: Underground Gym

Published in Health Club Management 2019 issue 4
Sol Gilbert
Sol Gilbert
It’s our goal to launch two more self-funded clubs in the next three years. After that we’re open to anything: mergers or a private equity acquisition

What is your backstory?
I’m an ex-professional MMA fighter and have been in the industry since I was a teenager, first with a gym in Brighton, then Courtney’s in London and Dragons back in Brighton. After that, I went on to launch my own martial arts school.

In 2014, I teamed up with my business partner, Alan McGuinness and we expanded my gym, so members could do their strength and conditioning work with us. At the same time we rebranded to Underground Gym, so we would be perceived as less of a fight school – which was intimidating to some people – and attract a more diverse crowd.

What’s the Underground Gym brand all about?
We have three equal parts. Combat, comprising MMA, boxing, Brazilian Ju Jitsu and Muay Thai. Strength training with free weights and plate loaded equipment and power and Olympic lifting. Finally, we offer conditioning with disciplines like Parkour and calisthenics.

The mix of these three aspects means the gym floor is not as ‘alpha’ as bodybuilding gyms and our members train across a number of disciplines. Our USP is the community we create at each club, which is largely down to our staff, who are all former professional athletes – their personalities create the atmosphere and DNA of the brand.

Do all three sites offer the same?
Each site has been slightly bigger and more costly! Brighton, the original flagship site, offers the core facilities. Newhaven was the second site and is slightly larger, with a sauna and a group exercise studio. Tunbridge Wells is the largest site and has a Fit 3D body scanner, MMA Octagon, a Parkour area and Eat Naked restaurant.

What’s the membership model?
Gym membership is £39 a month, with a £20 joining fee which gets waived for certain groups, such as single parents or service personnel. Gym and fitness classes are £49 a month and gym and the more specific classes, such as Olympic lifting or Parkour, are £59 a month.

There’s also a pay-as-you-go option which costs £9.99. We’ve just developed a small group training package to help people to get better results without the expense of PT. This starts at £12.

Who are your members?
A large proportion are millennials who come before and after work. But we do have more 40-50-year-olds coming mid-morning and there’s about a 60/40 split between males and females.

What have been the main challenges with getting the brand up and running?
We’ve self-funded, so sometimes that’s been stressful. Finding the right sites and the right staff is a challenge.

As we now have multiple locations, the main goal has been to ensure we offer the same experience across all three and that they run efficiently, offering the same quality experience – even if Alan and I are only in the club once a week.

To do this, we’ve created a more formal staff structure, with managers and supervisors, to make sure everyone is singing from the same hymn sheet.

What do you look for in a site?
We look for industrial units in residential areas, with ample parking and supportive councils. Our aim is to own the south coast of the UK, so Tunbridge Wells was further north than we’d originally planned, but it was such a good location that we had to go for it.

Retailers like John Lewis and Marks & Spencer and showrooms for Bentley and BMW are within a kilometre of the club in Tunbridge Wells – it’s such an affluent area, we thought if we can’t make a gym work here, we might as well give up!

It’s an old gymnastics facility, so loads of the infrastructure was already in place, including a foam pit, which has allowed us to create a Parkour, street-running park.

We opened on 23rd November after a 30-day turnaround, adding a restaurant, widening the reception area and bringing in new kit from Core Health and Fitness, Carbon Claw and Xenios.

What are your future plans?
It’s our goal to launch two more self-funded clubs within the next three years and we’re looking for sites in Worthing and Eastbourne. After that, we’re open to anything: mergers with other chains or a private equity acquisition.

What are your predictions for the health and fitness industry?
More focus on boutiques and small group training. I also think people will get fed up of data and technology and want workouts to be more simple. There will be more cross training, but less club hopping – people will get bored of going to different places because they won’t build a community. So, I think we’ll see more ‘clubs within a club’, offering an interesting mix of facilities.

Alan McGuinness
Alan McGuinness
Gilbert and McGuinness look for industrial units in residential areas
Gilbert and McGuinness look for industrial units in residential areas
The Underground Gym offers a combination of combat, strength and Parkour/calisthenics
The Underground Gym offers a combination of combat, strength and Parkour/calisthenics
http://www.leisureopportunities.com/images/imagesX/156873_625136.jpg
Underground Gym's co-founder, Sol Gilbert, talks about breaking the rules with a new gym model
Latest News
Pure Gym has appointed Premier Global NASM as its exclusive UK fitness training provider. The ...
Latest News
Solent University has officially opened its new £28m sports and fitness centre. The centre houses ...
Latest News
David Lloyd Clubs (DLC) has revealed plans to become the first fitness operator to commit ...
Latest News
Fitness subscription platform ClassPass has appointed a UK general manager as it looks to grow ...
Latest News
Bannatyne Group has named Karen Wilkinson to the board of Bannatyne Fitness. The appointment comes ...
Latest News
UK children will be offered a greater opportunity to take part in 60 minutes of ...
Latest News
Regular exercise, a balanced diet, quitting smoking and cutting down on alcohol are the best ...
Latest News
The best class instructors earn the best salaries the market offers, bringing enhanced value to ...
Latest News
Research from property experts at Colliers International suggests people are increasingly willing to pay more ...
Latest News
The Grade II listed, 17th century Grantley Hall hotel and wellness retreat will reopen today ...
Latest News
Boutique health and fitness operator Ten Health and Fitness plans to double the size of ...
Job search
POST YOUR JOB
Featured supplier news
Featured supplier: Crown overhaul changing rooms at Saunton Sands spa
Saunton Sands Hotel in Devon, UK, has completed a £2m expansion of its spa and wellness facilities.
Featured supplier news
Featured supplier: Myzone vs. wrist trackers
According to ACSM’s Health and Fitness Journal, wearables trumped the top spot for trends in 2019. However, the question between Myzone or wrist trackers still stands.
Opinion
promotion
Member retention is a growing problem for long-established gym chains, who are battling the growing budget and boutique gym market.
Opinion: Are you trying to beat budget gyms at their own game?
Video Gallery
DFC: We do more...
DFC
DFC are a leading direct debit collection company, providing cash flow solutions to happy clients from all over the UK. Read more
More videos:
Company profiles
Company profile: Focus Training
Focus Training is a leading provider of Active IQ and YMCA Awards certified Personal Trainer ...
Company profiles
Company profile: Escape Fitness Limited
Founded in 1998, Escape Fitness has built a reputation for innovation, quality and design as ...
Catalogue Gallery
Click on a catalogue to view it online
Directory
Audio visual
Hutchison Technologies: Audio visual
Architects/designers
Zynk Design Consultants: Architects/designers
Whole body cryotherapy
Zimmer MedizinSysteme GmbH / icelab: Whole body cryotherapy
Management software
GymSales: Management software
Direct debit solutions
Debit Finance Collections: Direct debit solutions
Professional services
Deloitte UK: Professional services
Hydrotherapy / spa fragrances
Kemitron GmbH: Hydrotherapy / spa fragrances
Skincare
Comfort Zone - Davines S.p.A: Skincare
Governing body
EMD UK: Governing body
Flooring
Total Vibration Solutions Ltd: Flooring
Property & Tenders
Diary dates
23-25 Jul 2019
Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre, Melbourne, Australia
Diary dates
05-06 Sep 2019
TagusPark, Oeiras, Portugal
Diary dates
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