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Health Club Management

Health Club Management

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People profile: Tim Benjamin, Fitness Space

Fitness Space: Founder and CEO

Published in Health Club Management 2018 issue 2
Benjamin represented Great Britain in athletics at World Championship and Olympic level before retiring in 2009
Benjamin represented Great Britain in athletics at World Championship and Olympic level before retiring in 2009
I often see clubs guaranteeing specific results for members, despite having little knowledge about their members’ goals or current levels of health and fitness. I wanted to avoid falling into this trap

You’re best known as an Olympic athlete, what led you to start a gym chain?
I had a good career as a 400m athlete and when I finally hung up my spikes in 2009 I knew I wanted to stay in a related field. I took a closer look at the state of the fitness industry, in terms of market positioning, and I noticed that the budget clubs were prevailing and effectively cannibalising the middle market, while lifestyle clubs, like David Lloyd and Virgin Active, were enjoying continued success. However, what I couldn’t see was a truly results-based service within the industry. That sparked the Fitness Space idea.

How did you bring Fitness Space to life?
Regardless of where you go in the UK, gym users are largely left to their own devices, so I set about trying to find a model that addressed that need. I wanted to speak to the 30 per cent of the population that, according to a Virgin Active survey, avoids going to the gym because of uncertainty about how to use the equipment and/or a feeling of being unsupported by the gym’s staff.

At the same time, I could see the boutique offering rising within the sector and I really wanted to enter that marketplace by creating an intimately-sized high-end club that leveraged the power of technology to create a results-based environment for its members.

How central is technology to the success of Fitness Space?
Our partnership with Technogym has been a huge part of our success. We’ve worked together from day one and they’ve given us the support we needed to grow: from providing the cutting-edge equipment we have in our studios and the bespoke tech offerings we offer our clients, to supporting the training and development of our staff and franchisees.

Tell us more about Fitness Space’s USP
Because we’re focused on helping our clients achieve real results, our model is based on coaching members rather than just telling them what to do. To achieve this, we allocate a fitness coach to every single member and offer all members a training session with their coach every single month. They can also contact their coach and/or access their progress information between those sessions via our comprehensive smartphone app.

Another key Fitness Space offering is DNA and blood testing. This was really important to me because I often see clubs guaranteeing specific results for members, despite having little knowledge about their members’ goals or current levels of health and fitness. I wanted to avoid falling into this trap, so at Fitness Space all of our members receive body composition and fitness testing as part of their coaching. This allows them to truly see and understand their progress.

I inadvertently learned a lot about the impact of this type of testing on performance during my athletics career and I wanted to take those lessons and apply them to the leisure industry.

What was the transition from athletics to business like?
It’s been an interesting transition. As an athlete, my strength was my ability to apply myself, but my weakness was my analytical side – I would question everything, when I often just needed to go with the flow.

Fortunately, both my strength and weakness seem to serve me well in business: I can apply my ambition, passion, knowledge and analytical mind to the industry and see the results more readily.

How has Fitness Space evolved since you launched?
The first Fitness Space studio opened in Ascot in 2010 and we now have 22 of them – three are company-owned and the rest are franchised operations. I didn’t initially plan on going down the franchise route, but I wanted to expand across the UK and knew that as a very profitable concept that required a small 3,000 sq ft site, Fitness Space would be an attractive proposition to franchisees.

We decided to test the waters with a pilot franchise studio and saw great success by the end of the first year. We knew at that point that we had an offering that was franchisable and formally adopted this model in 2016.

What’s next for you?
We’re still quite a young franchising operation and we’re learning all the time from our franchisees. The ultimate goal is to expand internationally. It’s going to take a lot of work to understand the best areas to expand into, but we’ve started that process by signing an area development agreement in Ireland.

We’re starting to make international moves, but I very much want to ensure we haven’t left any stone unturned before moving forward with global expansion.

High-tech equipment is central to the Fitness Space experience
High-tech equipment is central to the Fitness Space experience
http://www.leisureopportunities.com/images/995586_746594.jpg
'I often see clubs guaranteeing specific results for members, despite have little knowledge about their goals or current levels of fitness. I wanted to avoid falling into this trap' – Tim Benjamin, Fitness Space
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