GET HCM
magazine
Sign up for the FREE digital edition of HCM magazine and also get the HCM ezine and breaking news email alerts.
Not right now, thanksclose this window
FIBO Exhibition
FIBO Exhibition
FIBO Exhibition
Follow Health Club Management on Twitter Like Health Club Management on Facebook Join the discussion with Health Club Management on LinkedIn Follow Health Club Management on Instagram
UNITING THE WORLD OF FITNESS
Health Club Management

Health Club Management

features

Interview: James Balfour

Not content with expanding its dynamic brand of fitness across London, boutique operator 1Rebel also has its eyes set on expansion into Australia. Its co-founder talks to Kate Cracknell

By Kate Cracknell | Published in Health Club Management 2018 issue 11
James Balfour, co-founder, 1Rebel
James Balfour, co-founder, 1Rebel
When someone comes to a 1Rebel club for the first time and finds chilled, eucalyptus-infused towels in a fridge, that experience is wonderful. but by the 100th visit, there’s a demand for new experiences

The term ‘millennial’ is more about an attitude than a demographic,” says James Balfour, co-founder of boutique fitness operator 1Rebel. “When a business says it’s targeting millennials, actually what it’s saying is it’s taking part in the experience economy. This is a group of people who will buy experiences over things, so you have to work very, very hard to make sure you constantly have a story to tell.”

He continues: “When someone comes to a 1Rebel club for the first time and finds chilled, eucalyptus-infused towels in a fridge, that experience is wonderful. It still is on the second and third visits – but by the 100th visit, there’s a demand for new experiences. That’s why we host live music events and free Prosecco Fridays, why we take customers on adventures and challenges. This is a sensitive and demanding audience and you need to respond to that.

“You also have to continually work and re-invest to stay relevant. We see 1Rebel as more of a retailer than a big box membership club, and if you think about bars and nightclubs in London, they typically have a five-year life span before they have to spend money on re-inventing the experience.

“Anyone looking into the boutique market thinking it’s going to cost them X needs to double that figure. If you’re in the Experience Economy, it isn’t enough just to give your club a new lick of paint and new flooring every 10 years. Your business will need continuous reinvestment to stay relevant, particularly as new entrants come into the market.”

Building an amphitheatre
1Rebel has certainly put its money where its mouth is in terms of creating experiences, not least at its latest club – the fifth 1Rebel, which opened at the end of June in the Nova building in Victoria.
While 1Rebel’s first four clubs offer two of its three class formats – cycling concept Ride, bootcamp-based Reshape, and boxing-focused Rumble – Victoria is a standalone Ride studio and is, says Balfour, “the largest cycling studio in London, if not the world, with 83 Technogym bikes”.

He continues: “At 6,500sq ft, 1Rebel Victoria is a good size: our five clubs range from 4,500sq ft to 8,500sq ft. However, the space in Victoria lent itself to the creation of an amazing cycling studio, so we opted to make it our first single discipline club – and I believe what we’ve created has set a new bar for the sector.

“The building has amazing ceiling heights, so we were able to put horseshoe balconies into the studio; the riders above look down on the activity below. We hadn’t seen it done anywhere before and it was a big risk. We weren’t sure how it would work with Ride choreography – would people like being up on a balcony, looking down on the instructor? Right up to the last minute of the huge £2m fit-out project, we weren’t sure if we were going to do it. But we did and it works brilliantly, creating the sense of a cycling amphitheatre.

“We also have a 3D sound and AV system that’s currently only used in one other place in the world: the Sydney Opera House. We have laser shows, smoke machines, a huge LED screen, a sensory shower system that creates incredible special effects and lighting, and a remote-controlled scissor lift that raises and lowers the instructor platform throughout the class. It really is an incredible experience.

“Crucially, we also have amazing instructors who bring the whole thing to life. We don’t want to rely on tech to motivate riders in our clubs, we believe the words that are spoken to you in class are as important as anything else. With our best instructors, the performance is akin to that of a rock star onstage at Glastonbury.”

And just a few months in, the formula is already working well, says Balfour. “We currently run around 25 Ride classes a week at 1Rebel Victoria – we always start lower and build up the timetable in response to occupancy – and our peak classes are already full. I believe this will be our most profitable club.”

Adapting the model
With a £6.6m investment from venture capital fund Codex Capital under its belt, 1Rebel now has its sights on taking similarly powerful experiences to even more locations in London – and beyond. “We’ve certainly got to a point where the model is right for rollout,” confirms Balfour.

Having opened three new clubs in London in 2018 – Southbank in February, Bayswater in March and Victoria in June – to join its original two in the City of London, 1Rebel already has three sites in the pipeline for 2019. More are not ruled out.

“All three of these locations will be single discipline, this time either Reshape or Rumble,” says Balfour. “The only reason we haven’t expanded Rumble so far – it’s only available at our Broadgate club at the moment – is because you need space for, say, 40 swinging punchbags, unencumbered in view and not restricted by head height.

“All sites are not created equal, especially in London with its lack of new builds: you’ll generally have issues with things like ceiling height, access, pillars and so on. We look at each individual site and decide what will work best, both in that location and in that specific building.”

He continues: “We also want ground floor retail frontage in iconic locations for 1Rebel, with great landlords. This further limits our real estate options, but we aren’t willing to compromise because it will compromise our brand.

“Luckily Studio C102, the architect we use across all our clubs, is great at adapting to the space and the location of each club – not only in terms of the offering, but also the design, the colours and the materials we use. For example, 1Rebel Southbank takes its inspiration from the Tate Modern, while 1Rebel Victoria takes its inspiration from the theatres that surround it – the whole design of the club is very dramatic. It’s quickly gained the nickname of ‘The Spaceship’ thanks to its modern design: its reflective reception desk, galvanised steel staircase, wall of light and exposed white lacquered brickwork.”

Heading Down Under
But it isn’t only London expansion that 1Rebel has up its sleeve. It has also appointed a CEO and management team in Australia and plans to open its first club in either Sydney or Melbourne in the first half of 2019.

“There’s lots of opportunity in Australia and we know people too, from the days when Australia was the jewel of the Fitness First crown,” says Balfour. “I have to wheel the old man [Mike Balfour, founder of Fitness First and James’ father] out occasionally!

“We’ve used our network in Australia to put a great team in place – a team we implicitly trust to execute the plan. For me, it’s arrogance to think international expansion is possible without this.”

He continues: “I know some of our competitors are looking at places like Manchester, but we believe there’s a lot to go for in London, so our focus for the next couple of years will be London – and Australia!

“That sounds ridiculous I know, but the reason we like Australia is that, behind America, it’s the biggest market – and the Americans are already very good at boutiques. The market in the US is quite saturated too, plus, actually, they do things a bit differently. I think they’re best left alone.”

He adds: “Incidentally, that difference in approach is also why I don’t think the American boutiques – the likes of SoulCycle – will come to London, in spite of lots of talk about it. I don’t think the way they do things translates: their classes are more akin to a therapy session, which I think Brits are a bit too pessimistic to deal with! Their model isn’t quite right for London either: in New York they’ll have maybe two showers; in Victoria, we have 15 women’s showers alone.

“I think it’s best we leave them to it, and hopefully they’ll leave us to it as well.”

Expansion plans
Balfour hopes to be up to 15 clubs in London and eight or more in Australia within the next five years, but he’s quick to admit it hasn’t all been plain sailing.

“I’m not ashamed to say there were challenges in our first year of operation,” he says. “We were among the first boutique operators in London, so we had to educate a market and we made mistakes. We also had to really work out what our price should be, our cost base, what we needed to do in terms of delivering the experience. We lost money in our first year.

“But the thing I’m very proud of is that we learnt from our mistakes and we’re now in a very happy place. Our first two clubs – St Mary Axe and Broadgate – will each make in excess of £800,000 EBITDA this year, and the third and fourth clubs have broken even within four months.”

Any other stats he’d like to share, I ask? “We have over 80,000 registered customers,” he says, “and 50,000 social media followers. I believe that’s the highest of any fitness brand in the UK.”

He continues: “We spend essentially nothing on actual advertising or marketing. Everything is done in-house through social media, with Instagram by far our most powerful channel.

“We try to make our social media posts both fun and relevant – relevant to our customers, but also culturally relevant. That could mean a play on a Love Island quote or something like we did when Donald Trump said: ‘Grab them by the pussy’. Our message at that point was: ‘Pussy Grabs Back’.

“These things resonate with a customer base that’s essentially rebellious at heart. We take a few risks, but it’s authentic to our brand, it opts for entertainment over sales messages – that’s key on social media – and it appeals to the tone of voice of our customers.”

PT versus boutiques
Looking to the broader market, what are Balfour’s views? If 1Rebel were starting from scratch now, would he still take the leap into the London market?

“Yes, I would. You have to believe in what you’re doing, and I also believe that – even as the market gets more crowded – people will always seek out great experiences.

“Where I think people are getting it wrong is that they’re trying to do boutiques on a shoestring. The most important thing is, of course, having the best instructors, but if one studio has the best instructors but only two showers, while another has a fantastic ancillary experience: multiple showers, cold towels, that beautiful vanity unit… I think in the long-term that’s the one that’s going to be more sustainable.

“We’ve already seen quite a few boutique brands fail in London, and I think we’ll see more competitors fall out of the market over the coming years – and then maybe some consolidation too. In maybe five years’ time, I’d expect there to be perhaps two or three dominant operators.

“I wouldn’t be surprised to see the bigger big boxes making acquisitions and running them as separate businesses too, in the same way Equinox has bought into SoulCycle and Rumble but let them continue as individual businesses.

“I don’t see the big box operators having any real success in operating their own boutiques though: you just need to operate in a totally different mindset.”

He continues: “I also think – for big box gyms and the market in general – one of the biggest, most rapid declines will be in personal training, as people are now starting to favour boutiques.

“I’ve always felt uncomfortable with the idea that membership of a full-service club might cost £60 a month, but a personal trainer will watch you do press-ups for an hour and also charge £60. One of those two numbers is wrong and I think the boutique industry will expose that.

“Even if you pay the top whack at 1Rebel – £20 for a one-off class – you’ll find you’ll get the results of personal training but in a much more fun environment. I genuinely believe personal training is at risk as boutiques continue to grow.”

Sign up here to get HCM's weekly ezine and every issue of HCM magazine free on digital.
Balfour says 1Rebel has a clear understanding of its members
Balfour says 1Rebel has a clear understanding of its members
Balfour says the club experience must be reinvented regularly
Balfour says the club experience must be reinvented regularly
1Rebel clubs each offer one or two of three class formats: Ride, Reshape and Rumble
1Rebel clubs each offer one or two of three class formats: Ride, Reshape and Rumble
1Rebel clubs each offer one or two of three class formats: Ride, Reshape and Rumble
1Rebel clubs each offer one or two of three class formats: Ride, Reshape and Rumble
1Rebel clubs each offer one or two of three class formats: Ride, Reshape and Rumble / PHOTO: GARETH GARDNER
1Rebel clubs each offer one or two of three class formats: Ride, Reshape and Rumble / PHOTO: GARETH GARDNER
Rumble, the brand’s boxing fitness class, is currently only available at Broadgate, where the studio houses 40 swinging punching bags
Rumble, the brand’s boxing fitness class, is currently only available at Broadgate, where the studio houses 40 swinging punching bags
We have over 80,000 
registered customers &
50,000 social media followers.
We have over 80,000 registered customers & 50,000 social media followers.
Balfour plans to open eight clubs in Australia
Balfour plans to open eight clubs in Australia
Cycling concept Ride is popular, with 25 classes a week taking place at the new Victoria club
Cycling concept Ride is popular, with 25 classes a week taking place at the new Victoria club
Balfour says a successful boutique should have amazing instructors, but also an amazing ancillary experience
Balfour says a successful boutique should have amazing instructors, but also an amazing ancillary experience
Balfour says a successful boutique should have amazing instructors, but also an amazing ancillary experience
Balfour says a successful boutique should have amazing instructors, but also an amazing ancillary experience
https://www.leisureopportunities.co.uk/images/imagesX/635869_216283.jpg
Boutique operator 1Rebel is planning an expansion into the Australian market. Co-founder James Balfour tells us all about it
James Balfour, 1Rebel Kate Cracknell, Journalist,James Balfour, Boutique operator, 1Rebel, London, Australian market,
HCM magazine
The Gym Group has taken its digital hybrid strategy full circle, piloting in-gym workout pods and studios with its home workout delivery partner, Fiit. HCM talks to the team driving the project
HCM magazine
How have consumers responded to the end of lockdowns? Cesar Carvalho shares some bounceback numbers with HCM
HCM magazine
Generations rarely have the opportunity to reset public opinion and effect behaviour change for good, but post-pandemic two unequal movements with a lot in common will be the focus of governments, says David Minton
HCM Magazine
Sponsored
Andy Janes and Jamie Whisken explain the vision behind R1SE Bournemouth, and why Technogym was their choice of partner in delivering their unique fusion boutique
HCM Magazine
Tokyo Olympics
GLL is best known for running leisure facilities on behalf of local authorities across the UK, but a lesser-known part of its remit is its GLL Sport Foundation which supports Olympic hopefuls. Liz Terry finds out more
HCM Magazine
Letters
Fuel the debate about issues and opportunities across the industry. We’d love to hear from you – [email protected]
HCM Magazine
Sponsored
Billed as the ‘2021 Experience Tour’, Egym has taken its connected gym floor experience on the road around the UK
HCM Magazine
Insight
Dr Davina Deniszczyc talks us through the findings of the first Nuffield Healthier Nation Index, which has benchmarked activity levels and attitudes to exercise among the UK population
HCM Magazine
Sponsored
Active IQ is launching courses to upskill fitness professionals to work in social prescribing, extending the reach of the industry
HCM Magazine
Editor's letter
The appetite for health clubs is strong among consumers and investors – to take advantage of this, operators must figure out how to meet key challenges in operationally sustainable ways
HCM Magazine
Latest News
Peloton has completed the merging of its commercial operations with Precor, the equipment brand it ...
Latest News
Half of UK adults aren't happy with their physical fitness levels, according to a study ...
Latest News
Temporary measures brought in to support businesses in the UK from insolvency during the pandemic ...
Latest News
Nadine Dorries has replaced Oliver Dowden as the Secretary of State for Digital, Media, Culture ...
Latest News
In a major move against the gym market, Apple has revealed a number of upgrades ...
Latest News
Physical activity professionals in England will soon be able to access free, one-to-one learning with ...
Latest News
Fitness equipment giant Nautilus has acquired VAY, a firm specialising in AI and motion technology. ...
Latest News
An award celebrating outstanding individuals in the fitness sector is to be named in honour ...
Featured supplier news
Featured supplier news: Uptivo: Individual and group heart rate tracking
Uptivo is an all-in-one digital solution for fitness clubs, fitness boutique studios and personal trainers that provides powerful tools to schedule activities, manage member payments, and monitor heart rate both for remote and on-site classes.
Featured supplier news
Featured supplier news: Surge integrates Fisikal with HubSpot to drive business efficiencies and grow revenue
As Surge expands its offer with the launch of a third dedicated Electronic Muscle Stimulation (EMS) studio this summer – this time in Fleet Street, London – the brand reflects on the vital role of its estate wide digital ecosystem, created in partnership with Fisikal, designed to drive business efficiencies and commercial success.
Featured operator news
Featured operator news: Everyone Active bolsters Everyone on Demand and enters second year with five new partnerships
Everyone Active has signed a number of new deals which will see the operator strengthen its digital product offering, Everyone on Demand.
Featured operator news
Featured operator news: Everyone Active generates £342m in social value
Award-winning leisure operator Everyone Active generated £342million in social value at its sites across the country in 2019/20.
Company profiles
Company profile: Xn Leisure Systems Ltd
Xn Leisure is a provider of cutting-edge health and fitness software, offering an exceptional service ...
Company profiles
Company profile: REGUPOL BSW GmbH
REGUPOL is one of the leading suppliers of sports and safety flooring, anti-slip mats for ...
Catalogue Gallery
Click on a catalogue to view it online
Directory
Skincare
Comfort Zone - Davines S.p.A: Skincare
Independent service & maintenance
Servicesport UK Limited: Independent service & maintenance
Red Light Therapy
 Red Light Rising: Red Light Therapy
Flooring
Total Vibration Solutions / TVS Sports Surfaces: Flooring
Exercise equipment
Matrix Fitness: Exercise equipment
Wearable technology solutions
MyZone: Wearable technology solutions
Salt therapy products
Saltability: Salt therapy products
Uniforms
Service Sport: Uniforms
Whole body cryotherapy
Art of Cryo: Whole body cryotherapy
Architects/designers
Zynk Design Consultants: Architects/designers
Property & Tenders
Welwyn Garden City
Welwyn Hatfield Borough Council
Property & Tenders
Newport, Shropshire
Lilleshall Sports Academy
Property & Tenders
Diary dates
21-24 Sep 2021
Messe Stuttgart, Germany
Diary dates
13-14 Oct 2021
Online,
Diary dates
01-03 Feb 2022
Coventry Building Society Arena, Coventry, United Kingdom
Diary dates
07-10 Apr 2022
Exhibition Centre , Cologne, Germany
Diary dates
15-16 Jun 2022
ExCeL London, London, United Kingdom
Diary dates
01-07 Dec 2022
tbc, Dunedin, New Zealand
Diary dates

features

Interview: James Balfour

Not content with expanding its dynamic brand of fitness across London, boutique operator 1Rebel also has its eyes set on expansion into Australia. Its co-founder talks to Kate Cracknell

By Kate Cracknell | Published in Health Club Management 2018 issue 11
James Balfour, co-founder, 1Rebel
James Balfour, co-founder, 1Rebel
When someone comes to a 1Rebel club for the first time and finds chilled, eucalyptus-infused towels in a fridge, that experience is wonderful. but by the 100th visit, there’s a demand for new experiences

The term ‘millennial’ is more about an attitude than a demographic,” says James Balfour, co-founder of boutique fitness operator 1Rebel. “When a business says it’s targeting millennials, actually what it’s saying is it’s taking part in the experience economy. This is a group of people who will buy experiences over things, so you have to work very, very hard to make sure you constantly have a story to tell.”

He continues: “When someone comes to a 1Rebel club for the first time and finds chilled, eucalyptus-infused towels in a fridge, that experience is wonderful. It still is on the second and third visits – but by the 100th visit, there’s a demand for new experiences. That’s why we host live music events and free Prosecco Fridays, why we take customers on adventures and challenges. This is a sensitive and demanding audience and you need to respond to that.

“You also have to continually work and re-invest to stay relevant. We see 1Rebel as more of a retailer than a big box membership club, and if you think about bars and nightclubs in London, they typically have a five-year life span before they have to spend money on re-inventing the experience.

“Anyone looking into the boutique market thinking it’s going to cost them X needs to double that figure. If you’re in the Experience Economy, it isn’t enough just to give your club a new lick of paint and new flooring every 10 years. Your business will need continuous reinvestment to stay relevant, particularly as new entrants come into the market.”

Building an amphitheatre
1Rebel has certainly put its money where its mouth is in terms of creating experiences, not least at its latest club – the fifth 1Rebel, which opened at the end of June in the Nova building in Victoria.
While 1Rebel’s first four clubs offer two of its three class formats – cycling concept Ride, bootcamp-based Reshape, and boxing-focused Rumble – Victoria is a standalone Ride studio and is, says Balfour, “the largest cycling studio in London, if not the world, with 83 Technogym bikes”.

He continues: “At 6,500sq ft, 1Rebel Victoria is a good size: our five clubs range from 4,500sq ft to 8,500sq ft. However, the space in Victoria lent itself to the creation of an amazing cycling studio, so we opted to make it our first single discipline club – and I believe what we’ve created has set a new bar for the sector.

“The building has amazing ceiling heights, so we were able to put horseshoe balconies into the studio; the riders above look down on the activity below. We hadn’t seen it done anywhere before and it was a big risk. We weren’t sure how it would work with Ride choreography – would people like being up on a balcony, looking down on the instructor? Right up to the last minute of the huge £2m fit-out project, we weren’t sure if we were going to do it. But we did and it works brilliantly, creating the sense of a cycling amphitheatre.

“We also have a 3D sound and AV system that’s currently only used in one other place in the world: the Sydney Opera House. We have laser shows, smoke machines, a huge LED screen, a sensory shower system that creates incredible special effects and lighting, and a remote-controlled scissor lift that raises and lowers the instructor platform throughout the class. It really is an incredible experience.

“Crucially, we also have amazing instructors who bring the whole thing to life. We don’t want to rely on tech to motivate riders in our clubs, we believe the words that are spoken to you in class are as important as anything else. With our best instructors, the performance is akin to that of a rock star onstage at Glastonbury.”

And just a few months in, the formula is already working well, says Balfour. “We currently run around 25 Ride classes a week at 1Rebel Victoria – we always start lower and build up the timetable in response to occupancy – and our peak classes are already full. I believe this will be our most profitable club.”

Adapting the model
With a £6.6m investment from venture capital fund Codex Capital under its belt, 1Rebel now has its sights on taking similarly powerful experiences to even more locations in London – and beyond. “We’ve certainly got to a point where the model is right for rollout,” confirms Balfour.

Having opened three new clubs in London in 2018 – Southbank in February, Bayswater in March and Victoria in June – to join its original two in the City of London, 1Rebel already has three sites in the pipeline for 2019. More are not ruled out.

“All three of these locations will be single discipline, this time either Reshape or Rumble,” says Balfour. “The only reason we haven’t expanded Rumble so far – it’s only available at our Broadgate club at the moment – is because you need space for, say, 40 swinging punchbags, unencumbered in view and not restricted by head height.

“All sites are not created equal, especially in London with its lack of new builds: you’ll generally have issues with things like ceiling height, access, pillars and so on. We look at each individual site and decide what will work best, both in that location and in that specific building.”

He continues: “We also want ground floor retail frontage in iconic locations for 1Rebel, with great landlords. This further limits our real estate options, but we aren’t willing to compromise because it will compromise our brand.

“Luckily Studio C102, the architect we use across all our clubs, is great at adapting to the space and the location of each club – not only in terms of the offering, but also the design, the colours and the materials we use. For example, 1Rebel Southbank takes its inspiration from the Tate Modern, while 1Rebel Victoria takes its inspiration from the theatres that surround it – the whole design of the club is very dramatic. It’s quickly gained the nickname of ‘The Spaceship’ thanks to its modern design: its reflective reception desk, galvanised steel staircase, wall of light and exposed white lacquered brickwork.”

Heading Down Under
But it isn’t only London expansion that 1Rebel has up its sleeve. It has also appointed a CEO and management team in Australia and plans to open its first club in either Sydney or Melbourne in the first half of 2019.

“There’s lots of opportunity in Australia and we know people too, from the days when Australia was the jewel of the Fitness First crown,” says Balfour. “I have to wheel the old man [Mike Balfour, founder of Fitness First and James’ father] out occasionally!

“We’ve used our network in Australia to put a great team in place – a team we implicitly trust to execute the plan. For me, it’s arrogance to think international expansion is possible without this.”

He continues: “I know some of our competitors are looking at places like Manchester, but we believe there’s a lot to go for in London, so our focus for the next couple of years will be London – and Australia!

“That sounds ridiculous I know, but the reason we like Australia is that, behind America, it’s the biggest market – and the Americans are already very good at boutiques. The market in the US is quite saturated too, plus, actually, they do things a bit differently. I think they’re best left alone.”

He adds: “Incidentally, that difference in approach is also why I don’t think the American boutiques – the likes of SoulCycle – will come to London, in spite of lots of talk about it. I don’t think the way they do things translates: their classes are more akin to a therapy session, which I think Brits are a bit too pessimistic to deal with! Their model isn’t quite right for London either: in New York they’ll have maybe two showers; in Victoria, we have 15 women’s showers alone.

“I think it’s best we leave them to it, and hopefully they’ll leave us to it as well.”

Expansion plans
Balfour hopes to be up to 15 clubs in London and eight or more in Australia within the next five years, but he’s quick to admit it hasn’t all been plain sailing.

“I’m not ashamed to say there were challenges in our first year of operation,” he says. “We were among the first boutique operators in London, so we had to educate a market and we made mistakes. We also had to really work out what our price should be, our cost base, what we needed to do in terms of delivering the experience. We lost money in our first year.

“But the thing I’m very proud of is that we learnt from our mistakes and we’re now in a very happy place. Our first two clubs – St Mary Axe and Broadgate – will each make in excess of £800,000 EBITDA this year, and the third and fourth clubs have broken even within four months.”

Any other stats he’d like to share, I ask? “We have over 80,000 registered customers,” he says, “and 50,000 social media followers. I believe that’s the highest of any fitness brand in the UK.”

He continues: “We spend essentially nothing on actual advertising or marketing. Everything is done in-house through social media, with Instagram by far our most powerful channel.

“We try to make our social media posts both fun and relevant – relevant to our customers, but also culturally relevant. That could mean a play on a Love Island quote or something like we did when Donald Trump said: ‘Grab them by the pussy’. Our message at that point was: ‘Pussy Grabs Back’.

“These things resonate with a customer base that’s essentially rebellious at heart. We take a few risks, but it’s authentic to our brand, it opts for entertainment over sales messages – that’s key on social media – and it appeals to the tone of voice of our customers.”

PT versus boutiques
Looking to the broader market, what are Balfour’s views? If 1Rebel were starting from scratch now, would he still take the leap into the London market?

“Yes, I would. You have to believe in what you’re doing, and I also believe that – even as the market gets more crowded – people will always seek out great experiences.

“Where I think people are getting it wrong is that they’re trying to do boutiques on a shoestring. The most important thing is, of course, having the best instructors, but if one studio has the best instructors but only two showers, while another has a fantastic ancillary experience: multiple showers, cold towels, that beautiful vanity unit… I think in the long-term that’s the one that’s going to be more sustainable.

“We’ve already seen quite a few boutique brands fail in London, and I think we’ll see more competitors fall out of the market over the coming years – and then maybe some consolidation too. In maybe five years’ time, I’d expect there to be perhaps two or three dominant operators.

“I wouldn’t be surprised to see the bigger big boxes making acquisitions and running them as separate businesses too, in the same way Equinox has bought into SoulCycle and Rumble but let them continue as individual businesses.

“I don’t see the big box operators having any real success in operating their own boutiques though: you just need to operate in a totally different mindset.”

He continues: “I also think – for big box gyms and the market in general – one of the biggest, most rapid declines will be in personal training, as people are now starting to favour boutiques.

“I’ve always felt uncomfortable with the idea that membership of a full-service club might cost £60 a month, but a personal trainer will watch you do press-ups for an hour and also charge £60. One of those two numbers is wrong and I think the boutique industry will expose that.

“Even if you pay the top whack at 1Rebel – £20 for a one-off class – you’ll find you’ll get the results of personal training but in a much more fun environment. I genuinely believe personal training is at risk as boutiques continue to grow.”

Sign up here to get HCM's weekly ezine and every issue of HCM magazine free on digital.
Balfour says 1Rebel has a clear understanding of its members
Balfour says 1Rebel has a clear understanding of its members
Balfour says the club experience must be reinvented regularly
Balfour says the club experience must be reinvented regularly
1Rebel clubs each offer one or two of three class formats: Ride, Reshape and Rumble
1Rebel clubs each offer one or two of three class formats: Ride, Reshape and Rumble
1Rebel clubs each offer one or two of three class formats: Ride, Reshape and Rumble
1Rebel clubs each offer one or two of three class formats: Ride, Reshape and Rumble
1Rebel clubs each offer one or two of three class formats: Ride, Reshape and Rumble / PHOTO: GARETH GARDNER
1Rebel clubs each offer one or two of three class formats: Ride, Reshape and Rumble / PHOTO: GARETH GARDNER
Rumble, the brand’s boxing fitness class, is currently only available at Broadgate, where the studio houses 40 swinging punching bags
Rumble, the brand’s boxing fitness class, is currently only available at Broadgate, where the studio houses 40 swinging punching bags
We have over 80,000 
registered customers &
50,000 social media followers.
We have over 80,000 registered customers & 50,000 social media followers.
Balfour plans to open eight clubs in Australia
Balfour plans to open eight clubs in Australia
Cycling concept Ride is popular, with 25 classes a week taking place at the new Victoria club
Cycling concept Ride is popular, with 25 classes a week taking place at the new Victoria club
Balfour says a successful boutique should have amazing instructors, but also an amazing ancillary experience
Balfour says a successful boutique should have amazing instructors, but also an amazing ancillary experience
Balfour says a successful boutique should have amazing instructors, but also an amazing ancillary experience
Balfour says a successful boutique should have amazing instructors, but also an amazing ancillary experience
https://www.leisureopportunities.co.uk/images/imagesX/635869_216283.jpg
Boutique operator 1Rebel is planning an expansion into the Australian market. Co-founder James Balfour tells us all about it
James Balfour, 1Rebel Kate Cracknell, Journalist,James Balfour, Boutique operator, 1Rebel, London, Australian market,
Latest News
Peloton has completed the merging of its commercial operations with Precor, the equipment brand it ...
Latest News
Half of UK adults aren't happy with their physical fitness levels, according to a study ...
Latest News
Temporary measures brought in to support businesses in the UK from insolvency during the pandemic ...
Latest News
Nadine Dorries has replaced Oliver Dowden as the Secretary of State for Digital, Media, Culture ...
Latest News
In a major move against the gym market, Apple has revealed a number of upgrades ...
Latest News
Physical activity professionals in England will soon be able to access free, one-to-one learning with ...
Latest News
Fitness equipment giant Nautilus has acquired VAY, a firm specialising in AI and motion technology. ...
Latest News
An award celebrating outstanding individuals in the fitness sector is to be named in honour ...
Latest News
David Lloyd Leisure (DLL) has reorganised its top team in order to expand its estate ...
Latest News
Downtown Miami’s upcoming mixed-use development Legacy Hotel & Residences has signed a joint venture deal ...
Latest News
Colin Waggett has revealed that the recent deal, which saw KSL Capital Partners acquire a ...
Featured supplier news
Featured supplier news: Uptivo: Individual and group heart rate tracking
Uptivo is an all-in-one digital solution for fitness clubs, fitness boutique studios and personal trainers that provides powerful tools to schedule activities, manage member payments, and monitor heart rate both for remote and on-site classes.
Featured supplier news
Featured supplier news: Surge integrates Fisikal with HubSpot to drive business efficiencies and grow revenue
As Surge expands its offer with the launch of a third dedicated Electronic Muscle Stimulation (EMS) studio this summer – this time in Fleet Street, London – the brand reflects on the vital role of its estate wide digital ecosystem, created in partnership with Fisikal, designed to drive business efficiencies and commercial success.
Featured operator news
Featured operator news: Everyone Active bolsters Everyone on Demand and enters second year with five new partnerships
Everyone Active has signed a number of new deals which will see the operator strengthen its digital product offering, Everyone on Demand.
Featured operator news
Featured operator news: Everyone Active generates £342m in social value
Award-winning leisure operator Everyone Active generated £342million in social value at its sites across the country in 2019/20.
Company profiles
Company profile: Xn Leisure Systems Ltd
Xn Leisure is a provider of cutting-edge health and fitness software, offering an exceptional service ...
Company profiles
Company profile: REGUPOL BSW GmbH
REGUPOL is one of the leading suppliers of sports and safety flooring, anti-slip mats for ...
Catalogue Gallery
Click on a catalogue to view it online
Directory
Skincare
Comfort Zone - Davines S.p.A: Skincare
Independent service & maintenance
Servicesport UK Limited: Independent service & maintenance
Red Light Therapy
 Red Light Rising: Red Light Therapy
Flooring
Total Vibration Solutions / TVS Sports Surfaces: Flooring
Exercise equipment
Matrix Fitness: Exercise equipment
Wearable technology solutions
MyZone: Wearable technology solutions
Salt therapy products
Saltability: Salt therapy products
Uniforms
Service Sport: Uniforms
Whole body cryotherapy
Art of Cryo: Whole body cryotherapy
Architects/designers
Zynk Design Consultants: Architects/designers
Property & Tenders
Welwyn Garden City
Welwyn Hatfield Borough Council
Property & Tenders
Newport, Shropshire
Lilleshall Sports Academy
Property & Tenders
Diary dates
21-24 Sep 2021
Messe Stuttgart, Germany
Diary dates
13-14 Oct 2021
Online,
Diary dates
01-03 Feb 2022
Coventry Building Society Arena, Coventry, United Kingdom
Diary dates
07-10 Apr 2022
Exhibition Centre , Cologne, Germany
Diary dates
15-16 Jun 2022
ExCeL London, London, United Kingdom
Diary dates
01-07 Dec 2022
tbc, Dunedin, New Zealand
Diary dates
Search news, features & products:
Find a supplier:
FIBO Exhibition
FIBO Exhibition