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FITNESS, HEALTH, WELLNESS

features

Interview: Justin Musgrove

Core Life, billed as the world’s most exclusive lifestyle company, has ambitions to expand to affluent cities around the globe. Its CEO speaks to Kate Cracknell

Published in Health Club Management 2023 issue 1
Justin Musgrove, Core Life CEO / Photo: Core Life/Kun Investment Holdings
Justin Musgrove, Core Life CEO / Photo: Core Life/Kun Investment Holdings
We’re focused on moving Core Life into the most affluent cities globally: London, Paris, New York, Los Angeles, Dubai, Singapore and Tokyo

What drew you to Saudi Arabia in 2019?
Before the move I’d spent five years as CEO of The Bannatyne Group, overseeing a £50m refresh of its estate, to great effect.

I was keen to finish the job we’d started, but in 2019 Duncan [Bannatyne] decided to rein in the investment. Meanwhile, I’d been headhunted by Leejam Sports Company, the largest health club operator in the Middle East, so I went out to visit them, got the red carpet treatment and found Saudi to be an intriguing, exciting place.

The planned transformation programme for the Kingdom – called Vision 2030 – meant there was already a colossal amount of investment and development going on, with so-called ‘giga’ projects such as Neom (www.neom.com) coming to fruition that are truly like something out of science fiction.

That was really exciting to see, as was the fact that one of the main pillars of the Vision 2030 strategy relates to getting the nation fit, healthy and productive. Saudi has one of the worst diabetes and obesity records in the world, but already the direction of travel for the nation was changing in so many ways.

And yet the gym industry, led at the time by Leejam with its 140-plus locations, was still very much in its infancy. Moving to Saudi felt like a great opportunity to experience a different culture and at the same time bring some of my experience to the Middle East, running the first and only listed gym business in MENA.

And so it proved: my two years in charge of the Fitness Time brand for Leejam were both enjoyable and a great learning experience, particularly in respect of working with the investment community and the market and steering the business through COVID – which, I have to say, Saudi handled incredibly well – and coming out strongly on the other side.

What’s the fitness market like in Saudi now?
It’s changed massively in just a few years.

When I arrived in 2019, in some ways it reminded me of the UK in the 80s and 90s, with the explosion in gym memberships and high subscriptions. There were fewer than 500 chain gyms across the Kingdom at that time and the market was dominated by a small number of operators, notably Fitness Time and Bodymasters. The focus was on bodybuilding – functional training was nonexistent – and there was no music in the gyms. Men and women were generally segregated, although the first women’s gym had opened in 2017.

Now there’s music in most gyms, training styles have evolved, and I’d estimate the number of gyms to have at least doubled, including the entry of High-Value-Low-Price (HVLP) brands such as Pure Gym, Activ, Fitness Time Xpress, Gym Nation, Be Fit (from Armah Sports) and B-IT – the sister brand of Core, the exclusive lifestyle brand I’ve led as CEO since June 2021.

Meanwhile, although big box has dominated for 10–15 years, Saudi now has boutiques too: 1Rebel and Orangetheory Fitness, for example, are both in Saudi, each with separate outlets for men and for women.

Fitness Time is still market leader, although it’s now having its heels nibbled by competitor brands arriving in the market, but I don’t see cannibalisation happening. It’s all incremental growth.

Where do you see it heading?
In the next two to three years, I fully expect the number of clubs to quadruple compared to 2019, with membership getting up to 10 per cent of the population – around 2.5 to 3 million members – by the end of 2030.

There are a few important factors shaping the fitness sector here, the first being that approximately 60 per cent of the Saudi population is under 34 years-of-age, and nearly 80 per cent is under 44. Even at our exclusive clubs, members are in their 30s and 40s, which makes having a family offering very important.

The second, with the number of clubs still fairly small, is the relative importance of location over factors such as price. Price points remain inflated compared to other markets – monthly fees in the HVLP sector sit at around £40–55 a month, for example – but what people are really looking for is a gym at the end of their road. That said, it’s in the Saudi culture to look for a good deal, so it’s very promotion-led over here.

The third difference is really interesting and something I haven’t seen anywhere else, even in the UAE. Saudis like space, so you have to look carefully at club density. In the UK, a low-cost gym measuring 1,500sq m might cater for 4,000–6,000 members. In Saudi, hit 2,500 members and you’ll be getting complaints. They really don’t like to be in each other’s laps in the gym.

So you’re now CEO of Core...
Core Investment is owned by Kun Investment Holding. Its consumer-facing brand – which I head up – is Core Life. Founded in 2020, it’s the vision of Sheikh Abdullah Kamel and has a mission to improve quality of life for high achievers and high net worth individuals.

Core Life spans a number of verticals, the first being Core Social Wellness Clubs of which we have four: two in Saudi and two slightly smaller clubs in Egypt. We also have two Encore restaurants, while our third vertical – operating under the Core Residences pillar – is hotels and retreats. We’ll open Core Beach in April 2023 – a resort with 20+ villas, a beach club, restaurant, gym and spa – with a mountain sanctuary called Core Retreat next in the pipeline.

The fourth vertical is Core Adventure and Excursions, with a beautiful motor yacht that people can hire for a day, a week, a month, and which we’ve used to host things such as yoga retreats and an Elemis ‘ladies’ day’.

We’re also looking at piloting a new medical pillar and are still defining exactly what that might look like, but we’re talking about things such as gene testing, drawing heavily on the latest science. And finally, Core activewear is also in development; we have a co-branded partnership with Lululemon already but wanted to go one stage further and create our own range.

Tell us more about Core Social Wellness Clubs.
There are still no official mixed gyms in Saudi, but at Core we’ve been allowed to create the country’s first mixed communities: one in Riyadh’s diplomatic quarter – a secure and highly international zone within the city – and one in a highly affluent area of Jeddah. Our customer base is a fairly equal balance of men and women.

In terms of the facilities themselves, let’s take Riyadh as the latest evolution, having opened in December 2021. There’s 13,500sq m of social wellness club, a huge, opulent space with luxurious fixtures and fittings, as well as stunning art that’s drawn from the personal gallery of our chair.

In the gym, we’ve hand-picked what we believe to be best-in-class products – Woodway treadmills, Watson benches and dumbbells and anti-gravity treadmills from Woodway, for example. The focus is on delivering one-to-one, in-person contact rather than connecting with apps and technology. I still believe this to be the key in our sector, with people and programming supported by, not replacing, technology.

We also have two private gyms with dedicated parking, reception areas and an access elevator for members who require privacy and exclusivity.

A beautifully designed spa offers 4,500sq m of luxury with a mix of holistic and tech-based treatments. This includes a number of Oriental therapies, for example, and also cryotherapy chambers, oxygen treatments and a Lympha Press (pneumatic compression pumps and garments), as well as hydrotherapy and contrast therapies. There’s also an exquisite tea lounge for spa guests to use before and after treatments..

Our Encore restaurant serves Eurasian cuisine and is open to non-members. Two boardrooms are available for our Platinum members to use at their leisure. There’s also an olive grove courtyard and a cigar lounge. Also within the parameters of the club are 10 luxury villas.

We have a kids’ club, called Core Kids, because as I mentioned earlier, family life is very important for our members. At the weekends and in school holidays especially, we have cooking classes where we teach the kids to cook things such as really healthy cupcakes. We also offer swimming lessons and classes in the studios. We focus on fun while also getting the kids fit and inspiring a healthy lifestyle.

All our members benefit from valet parking and a concierge service, with our personal guest relations team members each looking after just 10 members.

International visitors who are members of the top clubs in their countries tell us they’ve never seen anything like Core. It’s a very special product that’s been beautifully designed and executed.

Can you explain the social element?
At Core, it isn’t just about the facilities. The social element is also incredibly important… the people, the events, the trips, the yacht.

For example, we recently did a hiking excursion in the Taif mountains, taking 50 members and 15 of our fitness trainers and spa staff. We hiked for two hours and found a plateau in the mountains where we created a 20-station yoga class. When we got back down, our chefs had organised a barbecue.

We do cycling excursions, too, once again accompanied by our team of fitness guides, and we’re hoping to introduce celebrity guest speakers – people such as Jay Shetty, author of Think Like a Monk (www.thinklikeamonkbook.com) – to talk about topics such as mindfulness. We’re not afraid to invest in bringing some of the world’s top speakers in to inspire our members and help them improve their lives.

We’re also looking to hand-curate trips for members to visit special places such as Tuscany and Ibiza, with itineraries that blend fitness with relaxation – things to stimulate the mind – and with fine dining in highly exclusive locations and with the finest chefs.

How do you approach wellness at Core?
We have three grounding pillars – mind, body and soul – which I know everyone says. The difference at Core is not only that each element of the offering is world-class, but also that they’re all connected. It’s about the whole experience.

‘Mind’ centres on our spas, where we use techniques such as biohacking to enhance recovery and complement the fitness journey.

Moving onto ‘Body’, it’s about fitness, which is the backbone of our business. But the way we do it is important, because many of our clients already have their own trainers at home, their own home gyms, their own chefs. So they come to Core for the exceptional talent we employ: the world-class trainers, the experts in biomechanics, the specialists in rehabilitation and recovery. We set the bar very high when it comes to recruitment and pay for the best.

Most members have personal training as part of their membership. Go onto the gym floor and the majority of people will be under instruction.

Moving onto ‘Soul’, it’s about healthy, enjoyable cuisine. It isn’t about dieting, but about doing things that subtly improve your habits, so you’re more successful in achieving your goals. It’s about having somebody – like our in-house nutritionists – to help you enjoy good food.

As you can imagine, our members are high achievers with their own businesses and they’re often already fit and eating well. But they still have aspirations for improvements, even if sometimes it’s marginal gains. That’s their mindset: they want to perfect all aspects of their lives. We’re here to support that.

How do you connect the three pillars?
Our Core Connect programme draws together fitness, spa and nutrition in an integrated way to improve quality of life. I went through the programme myself recently and was amazed by the results.

I wanted to improve my sleep quality, reduce belly fat and improve digestion, build my stamina and also my muscles a bit. I sat down with a fitness specialist, nutritionist and spa manager and they formulated a programme for me.

Nutrition-wise it was subtle but technical, tweaking what I was eating without putting me on a diet or counting calories. Fitness, we identified my weak points and worked on those while I got my body fat down to be able to build muscle. And then in the spa, they designed a few treatments to complement what I was doing in the gym.

All the way through, I had to report back on various measures, with the experts sharing notes to fine-tune things and keep me progressing. And after three months, my body fat was below 15 per cent, I was more muscular and I was sleeping well. My quality of life box was well and truly ticked; we’re hearing the same from most people who do the programme.

It’s exciting to be able to measure the impact we’re having on people’s quality of life and we’ll continue to develop this programme. We want to enhance the technology we use to track progress and liaise as a team, for example, and we’re also keen to introduce some sort of holistic lifestyle gatekeeper – a coach who has oversight of nutrition, fitness and spa and who overlays an element of mindfulness to improve the headspace of our busy members.

Ultimately, Core Connect is about improving quality of life, focus and productivity. Our members view us as a sanctuary, but they also want the time they spend with us to be productive.

Tell us about membership fees
Our highest tier is Platinum, which costs 115,000 riyals – around US$30,000 – a year. In Jeddah, 40 per cent of members are on this tier, giving them unlimited personal training, a couple of spa treatments a week, a couple of barber services or hair appointments a month and access to some preferential services such as VIP parking, use of the boardroom and use of the private gym and studios. They’re also allowed to bring their partner to share these benefits.

Gold membership costs 55,000 riyals a year (£12,000) and gives you four personal training sessions a week, plus two spa services and a hair or barber appointment each month. And then Silver – 40,000 riyals (£8,700) in Jeddah and 30,000 in Riyadh (£6,500) – is access only. You have to pay extra for personal training, spa and so on.

Importantly, though, ours is an exclusive community and it’s really important that we protect that, so we have a selection committee that approves applications to join our clubs. It isn’t necessarily about your wealth but about being the right fit: we want our members to have a positive influence on the community at large.

We will also limit numbers to retain a sense of exclusivity. When we first launched our Riyadh club, for example, we had an aspiration of having 1,000 members. We now feel capacity may be lower than that to protect the exclusivity of the club.

We currently have just 700 members across our two Saudi clubs, including their partners where relevant. However, it’s important to recognise that these are highly influential people within the Kingdom: their decision to adopt a healthy lifestyle will potentially influence millions of Saudis and ex-pats.

What are your growth plans for Core?
In spite of the huge investment, after just one year of operation, the concept is being proven and we’re close to breaking even in Riyadh. Once we also have our standard operating procedures fine-tuned, we’ll move ahead with our growth plans.

We’re primarily focused on moving Core into the most affluent cities globally: London, Paris, New York, Los Angeles, Dubai, Singapore and Tokyo. Each city will have just one Core Social Wellness Club, with a total of around 10 globally.

We were hoping to secure a location in London recently, but it didn’t happen so we’re once again searching for the right real estate, looking at areas such as Mayfair, Chelsea and Knightsbridge where some of our members have property.

Each club will be tailored to the location and type of real estate you find in each city, but the whole Core concept is designed for an international audience: 80–90 per cent of it will simply be lifted and placed in each new location. I hope to have launched in three more cities in the next two years and in most of the places on our list within the next five.

You mentioned B-IT as a sister company?
Alongside Core, Kun Investment Holdings also owns HVLP fitness operation B-IT, which operates as a sister company to Core under separate management. Launched in 2021, it’s in the high-value-low-price segment in Saudi, with 24 clubs already open, another eight under construction, a further 40 to open in 2023 and 40 more in 2024. At that point, Kun Investment Holdings has ambitions to list the company.

It’s one of the fastest-growing gym chains globally: assuming it stays on its planned growth trajectory, it will be the second largest in the Kingdom by mid-2023, overtaking Bodymasters.

Interestingly, the B-IT management team has plans to take what we’ve learned with Core Connect and translate this for the HVLP segment. Kun believes connecting the dots between fitness, wellness and nutrition can be done through technology and partnerships: fitness through In Body analysis, nutrition through an app, wellness through a partnership with a local spa. There would then need to be some sort of augmented reality to ascertain the member’s quality of life aspirations and track their progress towards them, as well as collating results across the membership to prove the big picture impact of the programme.

I think that’s aspirational and innovative for a low-cost gym chain that charges around £55 a month and will be a strong retention tool in a market where members tend to stay for three months before going off to try the newest competitor.

What are your plans personally?
I ultimately see myself returning to the UK, although there’s no particular timeframe at the moment. At that point, I’d like to give something back in the shape of more non-exec work; I’m already working in an advisory role with Stance Fitness, a tech start-up with hardware and software that measures strength and weight training and recently won support from Techstars.

I also believe we still have work to do as a sector to persuade governments and world organisations of the role our industry can play in the future of every country. It’s why I’ve been an active member of the Global Health and Fitness Alliance (GHFA) – a group of industry leaders who’ve been working tirelessly since the start of the pandemic to powerfully and materially highlight the value of the fitness industry to society at large, including producing a report in collaboration with Deloitte China, called Economic Health and Societal Wellbeing: Quantifying the Impact of the Global Health and Fitness Sector.

I believe we’ve already made huge strides in reducing the cost of access to fitness: US$10 a month at Planet Fitness in the US, for example, and £15 a month for some budget gyms in the UK… it’s now so accessible. I know Saudi is still pricey, but even here prices will come down as access rises.

And that’s why we need a seat at the table, and why I believe we’re now worthy of it. Because we’re givers. We contribute to society. But in return, we need government incentives and preferential terms. We need support.

More: www.corelife.fit

New clubs will open in major cities around the world / Photo: Core Life/Kun Investment Holdings
New clubs will open in major cities around the world / Photo: Core Life/Kun Investment Holdings
The team chose Woodway, Watson and Life Fitness for the Core Fit gym / Photo: Core Life/Kun Investment Holdings
The team chose Woodway, Watson and Life Fitness for the Core Fit gym / Photo: Core Life/Kun Investment Holdings
Core welcomes guests to experience a total wellness offering / Photo: Core Life/Kun Investment Holdings
Core welcomes guests to experience a total wellness offering / Photo: Core Life/Kun Investment Holdings
Core has some of the only mixed-sex clubs in Saudi Arabia / Photo: Core Life/Kun Investment Holdings
Core has some of the only mixed-sex clubs in Saudi Arabia / Photo: Core Life/Kun Investment Holdings
Outdoor facilities enable athletic and cross training workouts / Photo: Core Life/Kun Investment Holdings
Outdoor facilities enable athletic and cross training workouts / Photo: Core Life/Kun Investment Holdings
/ Photo: Core Life/Kun Investment Holdings
Customers expect low densities and won’t tolerate crowds / Photo: Core Life/Kun Investment Holdings
Customers expect low densities and won’t tolerate crowds / Photo: Core Life/Kun Investment Holdings
Most people work out with PTs, while private gyms are also available / Photo: Core Life/Kun Investment Holdings
Most people work out with PTs, while private gyms are also available / Photo: Core Life/Kun Investment Holdings
Core Residences allow members to live on-site and embrace the wellness lifestyle / Photo: Core Life/Kun Investment Holdings
Core Residences allow members to live on-site and embrace the wellness lifestyle / Photo: Core Life/Kun Investment Holdings
Luxury designer finishes have been used in all areas of the club / Photo: Core Life/Kun Investment Holdings
Luxury designer finishes have been used in all areas of the club / Photo: Core Life/Kun Investment Holdings
The Core Connect programme helps members perfect their regime / Photo: Core Life/Kun Investment Holdings
The Core Connect programme helps members perfect their regime / Photo: Core Life/Kun Investment Holdings
In addition to the spa, Core also offers mind/body classes such as Pilates / Photo: Core Life/Kun Investment Holdings
In addition to the spa, Core also offers mind/body classes such as Pilates / Photo: Core Life/Kun Investment Holdings
Biologique Recherche is among the brands on offer at Core Spa / Photo: Core Life/Kun Investment Holdings
Biologique Recherche is among the brands on offer at Core Spa / Photo: Core Life/Kun Investment Holdings
/ Photo: Core Life/Kun Investment Holdings
Core Spa offers treatments, lifestyle interventions and relaxation facilities / Photo: Core Life/Kun Investment Holdings
Core Spa offers treatments, lifestyle interventions and relaxation facilities / Photo: Core Life/Kun Investment Holdings
Core Courtyard sits between the spa, gym and restaurant / Photo: Core Life/Kun Investment Holdings
Core Courtyard sits between the spa, gym and restaurant / Photo: Core Life/Kun Investment Holdings
The Encore Restaurant and Encore Tea Lounge deliver the F&B offering / Photo: Core Life/Kun Investment Holdings
The Encore Restaurant and Encore Tea Lounge deliver the F&B offering / Photo: Core Life/Kun Investment Holdings
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features

Interview: Justin Musgrove

Core Life, billed as the world’s most exclusive lifestyle company, has ambitions to expand to affluent cities around the globe. Its CEO speaks to Kate Cracknell

Published in Health Club Management 2023 issue 1
Justin Musgrove, Core Life CEO / Photo: Core Life/Kun Investment Holdings
Justin Musgrove, Core Life CEO / Photo: Core Life/Kun Investment Holdings
We’re focused on moving Core Life into the most affluent cities globally: London, Paris, New York, Los Angeles, Dubai, Singapore and Tokyo

What drew you to Saudi Arabia in 2019?
Before the move I’d spent five years as CEO of The Bannatyne Group, overseeing a £50m refresh of its estate, to great effect.

I was keen to finish the job we’d started, but in 2019 Duncan [Bannatyne] decided to rein in the investment. Meanwhile, I’d been headhunted by Leejam Sports Company, the largest health club operator in the Middle East, so I went out to visit them, got the red carpet treatment and found Saudi to be an intriguing, exciting place.

The planned transformation programme for the Kingdom – called Vision 2030 – meant there was already a colossal amount of investment and development going on, with so-called ‘giga’ projects such as Neom (www.neom.com) coming to fruition that are truly like something out of science fiction.

That was really exciting to see, as was the fact that one of the main pillars of the Vision 2030 strategy relates to getting the nation fit, healthy and productive. Saudi has one of the worst diabetes and obesity records in the world, but already the direction of travel for the nation was changing in so many ways.

And yet the gym industry, led at the time by Leejam with its 140-plus locations, was still very much in its infancy. Moving to Saudi felt like a great opportunity to experience a different culture and at the same time bring some of my experience to the Middle East, running the first and only listed gym business in MENA.

And so it proved: my two years in charge of the Fitness Time brand for Leejam were both enjoyable and a great learning experience, particularly in respect of working with the investment community and the market and steering the business through COVID – which, I have to say, Saudi handled incredibly well – and coming out strongly on the other side.

What’s the fitness market like in Saudi now?
It’s changed massively in just a few years.

When I arrived in 2019, in some ways it reminded me of the UK in the 80s and 90s, with the explosion in gym memberships and high subscriptions. There were fewer than 500 chain gyms across the Kingdom at that time and the market was dominated by a small number of operators, notably Fitness Time and Bodymasters. The focus was on bodybuilding – functional training was nonexistent – and there was no music in the gyms. Men and women were generally segregated, although the first women’s gym had opened in 2017.

Now there’s music in most gyms, training styles have evolved, and I’d estimate the number of gyms to have at least doubled, including the entry of High-Value-Low-Price (HVLP) brands such as Pure Gym, Activ, Fitness Time Xpress, Gym Nation, Be Fit (from Armah Sports) and B-IT – the sister brand of Core, the exclusive lifestyle brand I’ve led as CEO since June 2021.

Meanwhile, although big box has dominated for 10–15 years, Saudi now has boutiques too: 1Rebel and Orangetheory Fitness, for example, are both in Saudi, each with separate outlets for men and for women.

Fitness Time is still market leader, although it’s now having its heels nibbled by competitor brands arriving in the market, but I don’t see cannibalisation happening. It’s all incremental growth.

Where do you see it heading?
In the next two to three years, I fully expect the number of clubs to quadruple compared to 2019, with membership getting up to 10 per cent of the population – around 2.5 to 3 million members – by the end of 2030.

There are a few important factors shaping the fitness sector here, the first being that approximately 60 per cent of the Saudi population is under 34 years-of-age, and nearly 80 per cent is under 44. Even at our exclusive clubs, members are in their 30s and 40s, which makes having a family offering very important.

The second, with the number of clubs still fairly small, is the relative importance of location over factors such as price. Price points remain inflated compared to other markets – monthly fees in the HVLP sector sit at around £40–55 a month, for example – but what people are really looking for is a gym at the end of their road. That said, it’s in the Saudi culture to look for a good deal, so it’s very promotion-led over here.

The third difference is really interesting and something I haven’t seen anywhere else, even in the UAE. Saudis like space, so you have to look carefully at club density. In the UK, a low-cost gym measuring 1,500sq m might cater for 4,000–6,000 members. In Saudi, hit 2,500 members and you’ll be getting complaints. They really don’t like to be in each other’s laps in the gym.

So you’re now CEO of Core...
Core Investment is owned by Kun Investment Holding. Its consumer-facing brand – which I head up – is Core Life. Founded in 2020, it’s the vision of Sheikh Abdullah Kamel and has a mission to improve quality of life for high achievers and high net worth individuals.

Core Life spans a number of verticals, the first being Core Social Wellness Clubs of which we have four: two in Saudi and two slightly smaller clubs in Egypt. We also have two Encore restaurants, while our third vertical – operating under the Core Residences pillar – is hotels and retreats. We’ll open Core Beach in April 2023 – a resort with 20+ villas, a beach club, restaurant, gym and spa – with a mountain sanctuary called Core Retreat next in the pipeline.

The fourth vertical is Core Adventure and Excursions, with a beautiful motor yacht that people can hire for a day, a week, a month, and which we’ve used to host things such as yoga retreats and an Elemis ‘ladies’ day’.

We’re also looking at piloting a new medical pillar and are still defining exactly what that might look like, but we’re talking about things such as gene testing, drawing heavily on the latest science. And finally, Core activewear is also in development; we have a co-branded partnership with Lululemon already but wanted to go one stage further and create our own range.

Tell us more about Core Social Wellness Clubs.
There are still no official mixed gyms in Saudi, but at Core we’ve been allowed to create the country’s first mixed communities: one in Riyadh’s diplomatic quarter – a secure and highly international zone within the city – and one in a highly affluent area of Jeddah. Our customer base is a fairly equal balance of men and women.

In terms of the facilities themselves, let’s take Riyadh as the latest evolution, having opened in December 2021. There’s 13,500sq m of social wellness club, a huge, opulent space with luxurious fixtures and fittings, as well as stunning art that’s drawn from the personal gallery of our chair.

In the gym, we’ve hand-picked what we believe to be best-in-class products – Woodway treadmills, Watson benches and dumbbells and anti-gravity treadmills from Woodway, for example. The focus is on delivering one-to-one, in-person contact rather than connecting with apps and technology. I still believe this to be the key in our sector, with people and programming supported by, not replacing, technology.

We also have two private gyms with dedicated parking, reception areas and an access elevator for members who require privacy and exclusivity.

A beautifully designed spa offers 4,500sq m of luxury with a mix of holistic and tech-based treatments. This includes a number of Oriental therapies, for example, and also cryotherapy chambers, oxygen treatments and a Lympha Press (pneumatic compression pumps and garments), as well as hydrotherapy and contrast therapies. There’s also an exquisite tea lounge for spa guests to use before and after treatments..

Our Encore restaurant serves Eurasian cuisine and is open to non-members. Two boardrooms are available for our Platinum members to use at their leisure. There’s also an olive grove courtyard and a cigar lounge. Also within the parameters of the club are 10 luxury villas.

We have a kids’ club, called Core Kids, because as I mentioned earlier, family life is very important for our members. At the weekends and in school holidays especially, we have cooking classes where we teach the kids to cook things such as really healthy cupcakes. We also offer swimming lessons and classes in the studios. We focus on fun while also getting the kids fit and inspiring a healthy lifestyle.

All our members benefit from valet parking and a concierge service, with our personal guest relations team members each looking after just 10 members.

International visitors who are members of the top clubs in their countries tell us they’ve never seen anything like Core. It’s a very special product that’s been beautifully designed and executed.

Can you explain the social element?
At Core, it isn’t just about the facilities. The social element is also incredibly important… the people, the events, the trips, the yacht.

For example, we recently did a hiking excursion in the Taif mountains, taking 50 members and 15 of our fitness trainers and spa staff. We hiked for two hours and found a plateau in the mountains where we created a 20-station yoga class. When we got back down, our chefs had organised a barbecue.

We do cycling excursions, too, once again accompanied by our team of fitness guides, and we’re hoping to introduce celebrity guest speakers – people such as Jay Shetty, author of Think Like a Monk (www.thinklikeamonkbook.com) – to talk about topics such as mindfulness. We’re not afraid to invest in bringing some of the world’s top speakers in to inspire our members and help them improve their lives.

We’re also looking to hand-curate trips for members to visit special places such as Tuscany and Ibiza, with itineraries that blend fitness with relaxation – things to stimulate the mind – and with fine dining in highly exclusive locations and with the finest chefs.

How do you approach wellness at Core?
We have three grounding pillars – mind, body and soul – which I know everyone says. The difference at Core is not only that each element of the offering is world-class, but also that they’re all connected. It’s about the whole experience.

‘Mind’ centres on our spas, where we use techniques such as biohacking to enhance recovery and complement the fitness journey.

Moving onto ‘Body’, it’s about fitness, which is the backbone of our business. But the way we do it is important, because many of our clients already have their own trainers at home, their own home gyms, their own chefs. So they come to Core for the exceptional talent we employ: the world-class trainers, the experts in biomechanics, the specialists in rehabilitation and recovery. We set the bar very high when it comes to recruitment and pay for the best.

Most members have personal training as part of their membership. Go onto the gym floor and the majority of people will be under instruction.

Moving onto ‘Soul’, it’s about healthy, enjoyable cuisine. It isn’t about dieting, but about doing things that subtly improve your habits, so you’re more successful in achieving your goals. It’s about having somebody – like our in-house nutritionists – to help you enjoy good food.

As you can imagine, our members are high achievers with their own businesses and they’re often already fit and eating well. But they still have aspirations for improvements, even if sometimes it’s marginal gains. That’s their mindset: they want to perfect all aspects of their lives. We’re here to support that.

How do you connect the three pillars?
Our Core Connect programme draws together fitness, spa and nutrition in an integrated way to improve quality of life. I went through the programme myself recently and was amazed by the results.

I wanted to improve my sleep quality, reduce belly fat and improve digestion, build my stamina and also my muscles a bit. I sat down with a fitness specialist, nutritionist and spa manager and they formulated a programme for me.

Nutrition-wise it was subtle but technical, tweaking what I was eating without putting me on a diet or counting calories. Fitness, we identified my weak points and worked on those while I got my body fat down to be able to build muscle. And then in the spa, they designed a few treatments to complement what I was doing in the gym.

All the way through, I had to report back on various measures, with the experts sharing notes to fine-tune things and keep me progressing. And after three months, my body fat was below 15 per cent, I was more muscular and I was sleeping well. My quality of life box was well and truly ticked; we’re hearing the same from most people who do the programme.

It’s exciting to be able to measure the impact we’re having on people’s quality of life and we’ll continue to develop this programme. We want to enhance the technology we use to track progress and liaise as a team, for example, and we’re also keen to introduce some sort of holistic lifestyle gatekeeper – a coach who has oversight of nutrition, fitness and spa and who overlays an element of mindfulness to improve the headspace of our busy members.

Ultimately, Core Connect is about improving quality of life, focus and productivity. Our members view us as a sanctuary, but they also want the time they spend with us to be productive.

Tell us about membership fees
Our highest tier is Platinum, which costs 115,000 riyals – around US$30,000 – a year. In Jeddah, 40 per cent of members are on this tier, giving them unlimited personal training, a couple of spa treatments a week, a couple of barber services or hair appointments a month and access to some preferential services such as VIP parking, use of the boardroom and use of the private gym and studios. They’re also allowed to bring their partner to share these benefits.

Gold membership costs 55,000 riyals a year (£12,000) and gives you four personal training sessions a week, plus two spa services and a hair or barber appointment each month. And then Silver – 40,000 riyals (£8,700) in Jeddah and 30,000 in Riyadh (£6,500) – is access only. You have to pay extra for personal training, spa and so on.

Importantly, though, ours is an exclusive community and it’s really important that we protect that, so we have a selection committee that approves applications to join our clubs. It isn’t necessarily about your wealth but about being the right fit: we want our members to have a positive influence on the community at large.

We will also limit numbers to retain a sense of exclusivity. When we first launched our Riyadh club, for example, we had an aspiration of having 1,000 members. We now feel capacity may be lower than that to protect the exclusivity of the club.

We currently have just 700 members across our two Saudi clubs, including their partners where relevant. However, it’s important to recognise that these are highly influential people within the Kingdom: their decision to adopt a healthy lifestyle will potentially influence millions of Saudis and ex-pats.

What are your growth plans for Core?
In spite of the huge investment, after just one year of operation, the concept is being proven and we’re close to breaking even in Riyadh. Once we also have our standard operating procedures fine-tuned, we’ll move ahead with our growth plans.

We’re primarily focused on moving Core into the most affluent cities globally: London, Paris, New York, Los Angeles, Dubai, Singapore and Tokyo. Each city will have just one Core Social Wellness Club, with a total of around 10 globally.

We were hoping to secure a location in London recently, but it didn’t happen so we’re once again searching for the right real estate, looking at areas such as Mayfair, Chelsea and Knightsbridge where some of our members have property.

Each club will be tailored to the location and type of real estate you find in each city, but the whole Core concept is designed for an international audience: 80–90 per cent of it will simply be lifted and placed in each new location. I hope to have launched in three more cities in the next two years and in most of the places on our list within the next five.

You mentioned B-IT as a sister company?
Alongside Core, Kun Investment Holdings also owns HVLP fitness operation B-IT, which operates as a sister company to Core under separate management. Launched in 2021, it’s in the high-value-low-price segment in Saudi, with 24 clubs already open, another eight under construction, a further 40 to open in 2023 and 40 more in 2024. At that point, Kun Investment Holdings has ambitions to list the company.

It’s one of the fastest-growing gym chains globally: assuming it stays on its planned growth trajectory, it will be the second largest in the Kingdom by mid-2023, overtaking Bodymasters.

Interestingly, the B-IT management team has plans to take what we’ve learned with Core Connect and translate this for the HVLP segment. Kun believes connecting the dots between fitness, wellness and nutrition can be done through technology and partnerships: fitness through In Body analysis, nutrition through an app, wellness through a partnership with a local spa. There would then need to be some sort of augmented reality to ascertain the member’s quality of life aspirations and track their progress towards them, as well as collating results across the membership to prove the big picture impact of the programme.

I think that’s aspirational and innovative for a low-cost gym chain that charges around £55 a month and will be a strong retention tool in a market where members tend to stay for three months before going off to try the newest competitor.

What are your plans personally?
I ultimately see myself returning to the UK, although there’s no particular timeframe at the moment. At that point, I’d like to give something back in the shape of more non-exec work; I’m already working in an advisory role with Stance Fitness, a tech start-up with hardware and software that measures strength and weight training and recently won support from Techstars.

I also believe we still have work to do as a sector to persuade governments and world organisations of the role our industry can play in the future of every country. It’s why I’ve been an active member of the Global Health and Fitness Alliance (GHFA) – a group of industry leaders who’ve been working tirelessly since the start of the pandemic to powerfully and materially highlight the value of the fitness industry to society at large, including producing a report in collaboration with Deloitte China, called Economic Health and Societal Wellbeing: Quantifying the Impact of the Global Health and Fitness Sector.

I believe we’ve already made huge strides in reducing the cost of access to fitness: US$10 a month at Planet Fitness in the US, for example, and £15 a month for some budget gyms in the UK… it’s now so accessible. I know Saudi is still pricey, but even here prices will come down as access rises.

And that’s why we need a seat at the table, and why I believe we’re now worthy of it. Because we’re givers. We contribute to society. But in return, we need government incentives and preferential terms. We need support.

More: www.corelife.fit

New clubs will open in major cities around the world / Photo: Core Life/Kun Investment Holdings
New clubs will open in major cities around the world / Photo: Core Life/Kun Investment Holdings
The team chose Woodway, Watson and Life Fitness for the Core Fit gym / Photo: Core Life/Kun Investment Holdings
The team chose Woodway, Watson and Life Fitness for the Core Fit gym / Photo: Core Life/Kun Investment Holdings
Core welcomes guests to experience a total wellness offering / Photo: Core Life/Kun Investment Holdings
Core welcomes guests to experience a total wellness offering / Photo: Core Life/Kun Investment Holdings
Core has some of the only mixed-sex clubs in Saudi Arabia / Photo: Core Life/Kun Investment Holdings
Core has some of the only mixed-sex clubs in Saudi Arabia / Photo: Core Life/Kun Investment Holdings
Outdoor facilities enable athletic and cross training workouts / Photo: Core Life/Kun Investment Holdings
Outdoor facilities enable athletic and cross training workouts / Photo: Core Life/Kun Investment Holdings
/ Photo: Core Life/Kun Investment Holdings
Customers expect low densities and won’t tolerate crowds / Photo: Core Life/Kun Investment Holdings
Customers expect low densities and won’t tolerate crowds / Photo: Core Life/Kun Investment Holdings
Most people work out with PTs, while private gyms are also available / Photo: Core Life/Kun Investment Holdings
Most people work out with PTs, while private gyms are also available / Photo: Core Life/Kun Investment Holdings
Core Residences allow members to live on-site and embrace the wellness lifestyle / Photo: Core Life/Kun Investment Holdings
Core Residences allow members to live on-site and embrace the wellness lifestyle / Photo: Core Life/Kun Investment Holdings
Luxury designer finishes have been used in all areas of the club / Photo: Core Life/Kun Investment Holdings
Luxury designer finishes have been used in all areas of the club / Photo: Core Life/Kun Investment Holdings
The Core Connect programme helps members perfect their regime / Photo: Core Life/Kun Investment Holdings
The Core Connect programme helps members perfect their regime / Photo: Core Life/Kun Investment Holdings
In addition to the spa, Core also offers mind/body classes such as Pilates / Photo: Core Life/Kun Investment Holdings
In addition to the spa, Core also offers mind/body classes such as Pilates / Photo: Core Life/Kun Investment Holdings
Biologique Recherche is among the brands on offer at Core Spa / Photo: Core Life/Kun Investment Holdings
Biologique Recherche is among the brands on offer at Core Spa / Photo: Core Life/Kun Investment Holdings
/ Photo: Core Life/Kun Investment Holdings
Core Spa offers treatments, lifestyle interventions and relaxation facilities / Photo: Core Life/Kun Investment Holdings
Core Spa offers treatments, lifestyle interventions and relaxation facilities / Photo: Core Life/Kun Investment Holdings
Core Courtyard sits between the spa, gym and restaurant / Photo: Core Life/Kun Investment Holdings
Core Courtyard sits between the spa, gym and restaurant / Photo: Core Life/Kun Investment Holdings
The Encore Restaurant and Encore Tea Lounge deliver the F&B offering / Photo: Core Life/Kun Investment Holdings
The Encore Restaurant and Encore Tea Lounge deliver the F&B offering / Photo: Core Life/Kun Investment Holdings
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The industry veteran has opened Core Life in Saudi Arabia for Kun Investment Holdings, with plans to take the concept to the world’s major cities, as Kate Cracknell discovers
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