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Health Club Management

Health Club Management

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Global: Saudi Arabia's women-only health club

Kate Cracknell talks to the Saudi Princess behind NuYu, the women-only health club chain in Saudi Arabia that aims to spread happiness through fitness

By Kate Cracknell, Health Club Management | Published in Health Club Management 2017 issue 7
Clubs are designed to be homely, with lots of modern soft furnishings
Clubs are designed to be homely, with lots of modern soft furnishings
Ultimately my focus is on getting as many Saudi Arabian women as active as I possibly can

Why did you create NuYu?
In Saudi Arabia, 33.5 per cent of women are obese. That figure was published by the International Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It made me realise there was a huge need for an accessible, affordable fitness offering in the Kingdom; at that time, in 2011, fitness centres were perceived very much as a luxury, priced at US$250–300 a month and therefore inaccessible to most women. I wanted to change that.

Is this a personal mission for you?
I grew up as an overweight child and in my teens tried various diets. My weight yo-yoed for many years, but nothing seemed to work over the long term. I realised that if I wanted to have a healthy relationship with food, exercise was key.

When I started exercising, I realised how happy it made me. It took my focus away from how my body looked – it just made me feel good in myself and became an important part of my routine.

What’s your background?
I did a marketing degree in the UK, and at the same time I did my personal training qualification, as well as courses in things like TRX, kettlebells and functional therapy.

When I came back to Saudi, I wanted to find a way to serve my country in an area I was passionate about, so I decided to combine my marketing background with my physical education. That’s when I came up with the idea for NuYu.

What’s the philosophy?
NuYu focuses not only on how women look – on their size or shape – but also on how they feel. It’s all about happiness. That psychological and emotional aspect of fitness is very important for women.
NuYu’s values centre around being innovative, trustworthy and, very importantly, welcoming. We also aim to be accessible to Saudis and expats alike.

We set out to create a non-intimidating environment away from fitness facilities in cliquey boutique hotels or hospitals. Our clubs are designed to be homely, with soft furnishings, nice lighting and each feeling slightly different.

NuYu is affordable, priced at US$110 a month – but our clubs are still state of the art, with five-star service.

How has the response been?
Women in Saudi were just waiting for something like NuYu: a stylish, modern environment that is worth every penny and where they’re looked after.

There had never been anything like it in the market before. In fact, the Saudi fitness market was stuck in the 80s: lots of step aerobics and that sort of thing, with no real thought put into it, no goals set, no journey to get members there. That’s what I wanted to change.

I set out wanting to open one club where I could bring my vision to life. I wasn’t worried about making money – I just wanted to get women active.

Who funded the developments?
NuYu has been all my own investment and we simply aim to cover the costs of the business, with all profits given to charity. That’s part of my social responsibility as a member of the Royal Family – it’s how I want to contribute to society.

NuYu has also designed and funded the creation of leisure facilities at two local schools.

How has the business grown since it launched in 2011?
It has ended up being far more successful than I imagined. We now have six clubs – five in Riyadh and one in Al Khobar – each around 1,800–2,000sq m and catering for approximately 1,200 members.
In the six years NuYu has been in business, we’ve brought 10,000 women into activity.

They might be current or former members – they might even have joined another gym – but we’ve had 10,000 women in total come through our doors. That’s 10,000 women being active who might otherwise not have had the chance to be. I’d go so far as to say that achievement has been the highlight of my life so far.

We could have opened more clubs, but I’ve chosen instead to focus on our existing clubs, making sure the offering is always evolving and that a real sense of community is established for the members.

How has the culture developed?
I believe community is vitally important. If you plough ahead with opening new health clubs without establishing a community in each club as you go, they start to feel robotic – they don’t have the right energy to keep the members happy.

A focus on community is especially important in Saudi Arabia, because going to the gym is often the only outing for our members each week and it gives them a chance to meet and develop friendships with other like-minded women.

Crucially, we’ve put movement at the heart of all the socialising we offer – groups of women will come and do a class, or perhaps a ‘pay and play’ to do a small group training session: this means that they get to socialise and it’s fun, but they also – importantly – keep moving.

That’s important, because in Saudi, socialising is generally done around food. This means we can’t put cafés or juice bars in our clubs – only healthy vending – because otherwise that space would become the hub of the club and nobody would do any exercise.

Migrating socialising away from the food culture and towards a more active culture is a big challenge, but it’s central to what we do at NuYu.

Do your members need a lot of guidance?
They do, and that’s why it’s compulsory for every single member to have an orientation session when they join NuYu. These are led by our highly qualified international trainers, who discuss their goals and help them understand their bodies, so they appreciate their risk factors.

We’ve also set out our own activity guidelines, because the Saudi government is yet to issue any. We have a lot of members who haven’t exercised before and they often come in, go crazy for a month and then don’t come back. We wanted to set realistic, sustainable guidelines for them, so we settled on being active twice a week for 12 weeks.

What are your aims now?
We’ll review our plans at the end of this year: there may be opportunities to create satellites or pop-ups, for example, or a modified version of NuYu. Ultimately my focus is on getting as many Saudi women active as I possibly can.

We’re in discussions about some form of NuYu offering for girls. Legally we can’t cater for anyone under the age of 16 in our clubs, but girls get no PE at school and I’d like to be able to offer some sort of activity options for them.

I’d also like to do more to attract older women, as most of our members are aged 25–35. We’re going to run a more traditional media campaign, rather than the social media we usually use, to reach this audience.

However, my main focus at the moment is on consulting. I want to empower individuals who are looking to come into the fitness sector – people with new ideas to get the population active – and give them the support they need to bring their ideas to life.

Now is a great time for this, because there are so many opportunities for the fitness sector in Saudi at the moment. The government’s new 2030 Vision [a new strategy to get 40 per cent of the population active by 2030] has opened the door to a multitude of new fitness possibilities – and that includes opportunities for women and children. For that, we have Princess Reema bint Bandar Al Saud to thank – vice president of women’s affairs at the GSA (General Sports Authority). She’s been unrelenting in her commitment to getting approval for women’s fitness centre licensing in the Kingdom.

My dreams are always big. I never know where the future will take me, but wherever there’s an opportunity I’ll tap into it – whether it’s with NuYu or a new venture. Whatever I do, though, it will be in Saudi Arabia. This is my country and it’s where I want to serve.

NuYu set out to create a female health and fitness environment that’s welcoming and non-intimidating for both Saudi and expat women alike

Going to the gym is often the only
outing for members each week / photo: shutterstock.com
Going to the gym is often the only outing for members each week / photo: shutterstock.com

NUYU fAST FACTS

• Membership: US$110/month
• Number of clubs: 6
• Number of members: 1,200
• Number of women active: 10,000
• 33K Instagram followers
• 13K Facebook followers

NUYU at home

NuYu encourages women to continue to exercise at home, with a series of workout charts and advice available on its website, including:

• Looking after yourself during Ramadan
• Healthy back workout
• Healthy home workouts
• Stretching with NuYu
• Tummy toner

Find out more: toptips.nuyu-ksa.com

Supporting investors

In addition to creating and running the NuYu business, Princess Sara bint Mohammed bin Naif is also involved in consulting and through this work is actively supporting people who are interested in entering the fitness sector in Saudi Arabia if they have ideas to get the population more active.

Talking to Health Club Management, the princess said: “Now is a great time for this, because there are so many opportunities for the fitness sector in Saudi at the moment. The government’s new 2030 Vision [a new strategy to get 40 per cent of the population active by 2030] has opened the door to a multitude of new fitness possibilities – and that includes opportunities for women and children.”

Find out more: community@nuyu-ksa.com? (+966) 920007576

The activity strategy: SAUDI ARABIA’S 2030 Vision

Princess Reema is driving Saudi’s 2030 Vision
Princess Reema is driving Saudi’s 2030 Vision

The strategy document, Saudi Arabia’s 2030 Vision, published in 2016, is a blueprint for social change and economic development for the Kingdom.

The vision covers everything from education and economic development to ambitions around the provision of leisure, entertainment and exercise for the population.

The aim is to increase the percentage of people exercising at least once a week from 13 per cent of the population to 40 per cent by 2030.

In the chapter, ‘Living healthy, being healthy’ it says: “A healthy and balanced lifestyle is an essential mainstay of a high quality of life. Yet opportunities for the regular practice of sports and exercise [in Saudi Arabia] have often been limited.

“This will change. We intend to encourage widespread and regular participation in sports and athletic activities, working in partnership with the private sector to establish additional dedicated facilities and programmes. This will enable citizens and residents to engage in a wide variety of sports and leisure pursuits.

“We aspire to excel and be among the leaders in selected sports regionally and globally.”

Driving this initiative is Princess Reema bint Bandar Al-Saud, who became the vice president for women’s affairs of the General Sports Authority in Saudi Arabia in 2016, the first such division in the history of the country.

At the time, she told Time: “I’m very honoured to have been offered this position and hope to be able to have a positive impact.

“Our message of inspiration is that as Saudi women we’re expanding the opportunities to engage and participate in our world. Opportunities are being created, and, if you work hard, anything is possible.”

"NuYu’s Princess Sara says Princess Reema has been “Unrelenting in her commitment to getting approval for women’s fitness centre licensing in the Kingdom”

Each club has a slightly different look
Each club has a slightly different look
Each club has a slightly different look
Each club has a slightly different look
Members can also access home workouts / photo: shutterstock.com
Members can also access home workouts / photo: shutterstock.com
Since opening, NuYu has seen 10,000 women come through its doors. The clubs offer not only an extensive range of workout options, but also a safe and comfortable place for women to socialise
Since opening, NuYu has seen 10,000 women come through its doors. The clubs offer not only an extensive range of workout options, but also a safe and comfortable place for women to socialise
Since opening, NuYu has seen 10,000 women come through its doors. The clubs offer not only an extensive range of workout options, but also a safe and comfortable place for women to socialise
Since opening, NuYu has seen 10,000 women come through its doors. The clubs offer not only an extensive range of workout options, but also a safe and comfortable place for women to socialise
Since opening, NuYu has seen 10,000 women come through its doors. The clubs offer not only an extensive range of workout options, but also a safe and comfortable place for women to socialise
Since opening, NuYu has seen 10,000 women come through its doors. The clubs offer not only an extensive range of workout options, but also a safe and comfortable place for women to socialise
NuYu membership is priced at $110 per month, with a five-star service on offer
NuYu membership is priced at $110 per month, with a five-star service on offer
NuYu has now grown to six clubs, with five sites located in Riyadh and one in Al Khobar
NuYu has now grown to six clubs, with five sites located in Riyadh and one in Al Khobar
NuYu membership is priced at $110 per month, with a five-star service on offer
NuYu membership is priced at $110 per month, with a five-star service on offer
While most NuYu members are in the 25-35 age group, the aim is also to attract more older women to the clubs in future
While most NuYu members are in the 25-35 age group, the aim is also to attract more older women to the clubs in future
While most NuYu members are in the 25-35 age group, the aim is also to attract more older women to the clubs in future / photo: shutterstock.com
While most NuYu members are in the 25-35 age group, the aim is also to attract more older women to the clubs in future / photo: shutterstock.com
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"My focus in on getting as many Saudi Arabian women active as I possibly can." Meet the princess behind Saudi Arabia's new women-only health club chain
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