Latest
issue
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 I've already subscribed!
The Leisure Media Company Ltd
The Leisure Media Company Ltd
The Leisure Media Company Ltd
Follow Health Club Management on Twitter Like Health Club Management on Facebook Join the discussion with Health Club Management on LinkedIn
FITNESS, HEALTH, WELLNESS

features

Interview: Nick Coutts

From market disruptor to becoming the one to beat – or buy. The CEO of Portuguese market leader Fitness Hut talks to Kate Cracknell about all the ways in which the trailblazing brand has done things differently

By Kate Cracknell | Published in Health Club Management 2017 issue 9
Coutts is one of the co-founders of Fitness Hut
Coutts is one of the co-founders of Fitness Hut
We very deliberately set out to be destructive – to go against the market and create something completely new

People often ask me why, in a competitive market like fitness, I’m so open when I talk about our business and how we do things,” says Nick Coutts, CEO and co-founder of Fitness Hut in Portugal. “There are two reasons. One is simply that this is the way I am – I like to share and like to hope others will be honest and open with me in return.

“But I also believe that, if people appreciate how well we’re doing, it might put them off trying to come into the market to compete with us.

“If we’re open about what we do, they’ll realise it’s not easy to get it right. It might sound somewhat counter-intuitive, but I believe that sharing is actually a way to help protect ourselves from the competition.”

Breaking the mould
And ‘doing well’ is certainly a box that Fitness Hut ticks. ‘Doing things differently’ is another – and it’s as true now as when the first club opened in Lisbon in 2011.

Back then, the business was a disruptive force in the sector. “I came up with the term ‘premium low-cost’ for what we were doing,” says Coutts. “Someone else may have coined the term – I don’t know. It certainly wasn’t a label that I’d seen or heard anyone use before, but it absolutely reflected what we were trying to do.

“When we came up with the idea for Fitness Hut, my co-founders – Andre Groen and JP Carvalho – and I were running Holmes Place Iberia. We’d come to the conclusion that, post-economic crisis, a premium model was no longer going to work in Portugal, so we started to look at the low-cost phenomenon.

“We’d done our research – visiting low-cost clubs in the UK, Germany and the Netherlands – and we felt the low-cost product, at that point, was essentially cheap, clean, with lots of equipment, some technology to control entry and exit – and nothing else. There was no group fitness, no personal training, no focus on the environment, no attention paid to creating an atmosphere or a club feel. We felt we could do better.”

Coutts continues: “We knew low-cost would be right for the Portuguese market, but group fitness is incredibly popular in Portugal so we decided to invest in large group fitness studios. Personal training is also huge, so it was important to focus on that as well. Then, on a personal note, Andre and I were really keen on CrossFit and functional training, so we wanted to create large functional training areas.

“And then, lastly, we wanted to offer lots of gym-based classes – not studio classes, but smaller group exercise classes on the gym floor.

“Those were the four key points of differentiation between what we’d seen and what we wanted to do. Interestingly, many of the low-cost operators have since gone down the same route, but that wasn’t the case back in 2011 when we opened our first club.

“We very deliberately set out to be destructive – to go against the market and create something completely new.”

Refining the concept
He continues: “Having worked together for many years at Holmes Place, the three of us also wanted to learn from our shared experiences – to learn from the mistakes we’d made along the way and to identify the major causes of headaches, building our new model in such a way that we could avoid them.”

This thought was at the heart of the team’s thinking as they refined the Fitness Hut concept, starting with group exercise. “We were one of the first companies to write our own software that allowed members to book classes online,” says Coutts. “Plenty of companies do it now – although we’re still the only one in Portugal – but when we launched in 2011 there was nobody doing it anywhere. And it really did transform what was always a huge headache in traditional clubs.

“Another major headache in traditional clubs revolves around the flexibility of the contract. Unlike some low-cost clubs, Fitness Hut offers two options – a 12-month contract costs €6.60 a week, or you can have no commitment to us and that costs €7.70 a week. However, the key difference is how we react if somebody defaults on their contract. Irrespective of whether or not they’ve asked to stop paying, we don’t send threatening emails, we don’t pass the debt to a debt collection agency, and we do forgive debt and provide amnesty.

“Of course we follow up with anyone who defaults. We’ll send them an email explaining: ‘You’ve enjoyed this price because you committed to 12 months. Now you’ve left after eight, so arguably you should repay the difference between what you would have paid and what you’ve paid.’ And about 50 per cent of people do actually pay.

“But even when they don’t, we don’t turn it into something nasty or aggressive. We could never be accused of chasing people for cash.

“And the result? When we look at our joiners’ statistics each month, on average 25 per cent are re-joining us – they’re former members who cancelled for whatever reason and have then decided to come back to us.

“I think that’s testament to the goodwill we show when people leave us – they don’t feel threatened or chased and they view us positively.”

A flexible PT model
“One other key point of differentiation is the way we approach personal training,” says Coutts. “At Holmes Place, we built up a massive personal training business where the PTs were employed by us and the company kept 65 per cent of the revenue. PTs who were very good at selling would do well, even keeping just 35 per cent of their revenue; the average PT would do just about OK.

“It was a great model for Holmes Place when everyone was cash rich, but what had been a significant source of revenue started to be squeezed when the downturn came and we had fewer members, with fewer among them wanting PT. Our mistake was that we then put more and more pressure on certain trainers who continued to deliver their targets, and they soon became disillusioned – feeling over-worked and under-valued, and inevitably, being on the front line, they were transmitting how they were feeling to members.

“It was a bad situation, so at Fitness Hut we opted for a rental model. We now have more than 400 personal trainers across our 26 clubs, on average paying around €400 a month in rent. It’s a business that’s heading towards £1.4–£1.5m this year for us, and that’s pure profit.

“We’ve also avoided the headache of having to manage the personal trainers, because under this arrangement, they’re independent – they can work when they want, for however many hours they want, as long as they’re paying their fees.

“We don’t decide the pricing either: PTs decide how much they want to charge based on how confident they are, what time of year it is, who they’re training.

“The average personal trainer charges around €35 an hour, but there are some who charge €50 and some who charge just €20. There’s something to suit every member’s budget, and as a result 10 to 15 per cent of members have a PT.

“It works well for our PTs too. Our top trainers make over €6,000 a month for themselves, so they’re all happy. They’re here because they want to be, nobody tells them they need to work harder, and they can earn a lot of money if they want to.”

Creating a buzz
I go back to Coutts’ point that most budget clubs don’t – or at least didn’t – tend to focus on creating a great atmosphere. How did Fitness Hut approach this challenge?

He explains: “We have big screens in the club showing extreme sports and we have a DJ once or twice a week. But for me, the atmosphere really comes from two things.

“One of them is the layout of the gym: we keep the space as open as possible, including what we call an ‘open studio’. This is one of three studios in each club, but whereas our cycling and traditional aerobics studios are separate rooms, our open studio is on the gym floor.

“The second big contributor to the atmosphere in our clubs are our small group classes. In addition to our PTs and our club managers, we have what we call our ‘gym service’ team. For 20 minutes in every hour they walk around helping members, but their main job is to deliver four 10-minute gym floor classes an hour: an abs class, a functional training class, a stretching class and a HIIT class, which they do on the cardio equipment. It’s all about maximising the number of members who are exposed to these dynamic individuals.”

Multi-tasking managers
At peak times, these gym classes will see 20 or 30 members taking part, which is good by any standard – so how has Fitness Hut made such a success of it?

“Partly it’s down to the fact that 50 per cent of our members are new to exercise,” says Coutts. “They view these classes as taster sessions.

“But most of all it’s because we have staff who really champion these exercise classes. That’s driven by the fact that we aim to train and promote our people, so our team members grow up in this environment and they really believe in it.”

Coutts continues: “In fact, to that point, every one of our club managers is also a personal trainer and a group exercise instructor. Our managers walk the talk and lead by example.

“It probably isn’t very PC to say, but I’m always annoyed when I see overweight, lazy club managers – people who have been pulled in from sectors like retail. They might have better processes, but they have no affinity for fitness.

“We’ve therefore created a model where we only pay our club managers €1,000 a month for their management role, but they’re all group fitness instructors too. They all teach an average of two classes a day as part of their hours and we pay them the same fee per class as we pay other group instructors, so they earn an additional €20 to €50 for each day.

“They’re also all PTs, and they don’t even pay us a fee, so everything they earn is theirs. On average, our club managers teach two or three PT sessions a day.”

He continues: “The other thing we do is we give them as little as possible to think about in terms of data and numbers. We want them to focus on the things our members care about.

“Purchasing is done centrally, as is budgeting and managing sales and EBITDA. The only data we ask them to be all over is group fitness, managing usage, making sure the timetable is balanced and the right teachers are in.

New model & new markets
So what are Coutts’ plans for Fitness Hut moving forward? “We’ll probably finish this year with 33 clubs – all of which are funded – and we could get to 45 in Portugal. It would probably be stretching it to go beyond that though, so we’ve looked at two other routes for expansion.

“One is creating a smaller model where we invest 50 per cent less than we do at our larger clubs and still get a minimum 25 per cent return. That makes us viable in cities with a smaller population. We’re planning to start rolling that out next year.

“We’ve also had discussions about going to Spain, so that’s quite likely. The low-cost sector in Spain is concentrated around Madrid and Barcelona, and maybe one or two other cities, so there’s still opportunity for companies like us.”

And looking further ahead? “I’d hope that five or 10 years from now, Fitness Hut will still exist as a brand, in Portugal and maybe in a couple of other markets too.”

Coutts adds: “I’m realistic. There’s going to be continued consolidation over the next couple of years, and I imagine we’ll be part of that. But even if we’re acquired, it would be great if the Fitness Hut brand could live on and be grown rather than be rebranded.”

Fitness Hut in numbers

4,300 members Average per club

33 Clubs December 2017 target

44% Aged under 30 years

€6.60/week Contract

€7.70/week No contract

50% New to exercise

26 Clubs June 2017

Fitness Hut: Giving more for less

Coutts drives innovation at Fitness Hut
Coutts drives innovation at Fitness Hut

“In August 2016, we launched a nutrition programme in partnership with a company called Body Concept,” says Fitness Hut CEO Nick Coutts. “At no cost to the member, we provide every one of them with access to a quarterly, professional, one-hour, in-person nutritional consultation – for which we pay.

“So how, as a low-cost operator, can we afford to fund that? It’s because in Portugal, the VAT rate is 23 per cent for fitness – but zero for nutrition. We allocate a percentage of our membership income to nutrition so it becomes VAT-free, and it’s enough to finance our nutrition programme. It doesn’t cost us anything, but it adds real value to our members.

“Not everyone will do it, but if it adds value to a reasonable proportion of members, it’s worth it.

“That’s also our view on our Wexer virtual classes. We have around 80 live classes per week per club, but we supplement that with 60–70 virtual classes. Depending on the club, time of day and the class, there might be just one or two people in a virtual class. But sometimes I see 20 people in there. Why wouldn’t you do it?”

Sign up here to get HCM's weekly ezine and every issue of HCM magazine free on digital.
As well as the latest kit, Fitness Hut offers a community feel
As well as the latest kit, Fitness Hut offers a community feel
Fitness Hut was conceived as a premium low-cost chain
Fitness Hut was conceived as a premium low-cost chain
There are 400 personal trainers across the 26 clubs
There are 400 personal trainers across the 26 clubs
Fitness Hut clubs have large functional training areas
Fitness Hut clubs have large functional training areas
Coutts says the company is flexible with its contracts
Coutts says the company is flexible with its contracts
Fitness Hut’s Braga club fits the premium-low cost model
Fitness Hut’s Braga club fits the premium-low cost model
Around 50 per cent of Fitness Hut members are new to exercise
Around 50 per cent of Fitness Hut members are new to exercise
Every manager at Fitness Hut is also 
an active PT
Every manager at Fitness Hut is also an active PT
https://www.leisureopportunities.co.uk/images/436268_403021.jpg
"People often ask me why, in a competitive market like fitness, I'm so open when I talk about our business and how we do things," – Nick Coutts, CEO and co-founder of Fitness Hut shares his secrets for success...
Nick Coutts, CEO, Fitness Hut,Nick Coutts, Fitness Hut, Portuguese fitness,
HCM magazine
When retailer, the €11 billion-a-year Colruyt Group, decided to get into the health club market, the plan was to fully integrate its entire business using customer insight data. The results are remarkable
HCM magazine
Fuel the debate about issues across the industry and share your ideas and experiences. We’d love to hear from you: [email protected]
HCM magazine
HCM People

Mark Tweedie

Associate, Miova
I’d love to see a national wellness service working hand in glove with NHS primary care
HCM magazine
Appointed president of Xponential Fitness when she was only 34, Sarah Luna attributes her career success to the grit, determination and stamina she honed as a dancer by day and Pilates teacher by night. She talks to Kath Hudson about how owning her choices has given her the resilience to take on one of the top jobs in the US fitness industry, while also raising a family
HCM magazine
HCM People

Mariah Rooney

Founder, Trauma Informed Weight Lifting
When people experience early life trauma it impacts their bodies and nervous systems. I became curious about how lifting weights could help them have the experience of strength
HCM promotional features
Sponsored
Teca StandUp is an exciting line, bringing something genuinely new to gyms
HCM promotional features
Sponsored
A major refurbishment of Sport Ireland Fitness by Technogym has created a world-class public gym at the home of Irish sport
HCM promotional features
Sponsored
At the heart of the Sydney Swans new headquarters in Australia is an elite player-focused training facility by strength equipment specialist BLK BOX
HCM promotional features
Sponsored
Sustainability in the fitness industry is coming on in leaps and bounds as more operators refurbish their gym equipment to save money and the planet
HCM promotional features
Sponsored
Life Fitness has reimagined cardio with the launch of its Symbio line which has been designed with advanced biomechanics and offers deep levels of customisation
HCM promotional features
Sponsored
Coaching workshops from Keith Smith and Adam Daniel have been designed to empower your team and transform your service
HCM promotional features
Sponsored
Operators, prepare to revolutionise the way members connect with personal trainers in your club, with the ground-breaking Brawn platform.
HCM promotional features
Sponsored
University of Sheffield Sport has opened the doors of its flagship Goodwin Sports Centre following a major refurbishment
HCM promotional features
Sponsored
The New Keiser M3i Studio Bike brings ride data to life to engage and delight members
HCM promotional features
Latest News
According to a number of recent studies, semaglutide weight-loss drugs can be effective in treating ...
Latest News
German health and fitness operator, LifeFit Group, has found a new investor – Waterland Private ...
Latest News
More than 200 organisations and athletes in the UK have signed an open letter to ...
Latest News
Diversity, equity and inclusion in the European fitness industry is examined in a new report ...
Latest News
Following the success of its first site in Whitefield, Total Fitness is launching a purpose-built ...
Latest News
David Beckham and F45 Training have finally settled the breach-of-contract lawsuit around Beckham’s ambassadorial agreement ...
Latest News
Apple has previewed the upcoming watchOS 11, which has more health and fitness insights and ...
Latest News
With just a few weeks until the General Election, CIMSPA – the organisation that represents people ...
Featured supplier news
Featured supplier news: Explosion of passion for fitness at RiminiWellness 2024 and record success for Panatta
The passion for fitness and bodybuilding reached new heights at the Panatta stands during RiminiWellness (30 May – 2 June 20204) – the largest fitness event in Italy – which this year exceeded the 100,000 visitor mark.
Featured supplier news
Featured supplier news: Elevate announces new aquatics and active kids theatres for 2024 event
The Royal Life Saving Society UK (RLSS UK), the Swimming Teachers Association (STA), and Swim England have teamed up to sponsor an aquatic theatre at Elevate 2024.
Company profiles
Company profile: Life Fitness
The Life Fitness family of brands offers an unrivalled product portfolio, providing customers with access ...
Company profiles
Company profile: Matrix Fitness
Preferred by some of the world’s finest hotels and resorts, Matrix offers an array of ...
Supplier Showcases
Supplier showcase - Matrix: Futureproofing
Supplier Showcases
Supplier showcase - Jon Williams
Catalogue Gallery
Click on a catalogue to view it online
Featured press releases
GymKit UK press release: Peak Pilates UK earns 10 CIMSPA CPD points for FitCore™ group reformer speciality education programme
Peak Pilates, a leader in high-quality Pilates education and equipment, is proud to announce that their FitCore™ Education Programme has received the CIMSPA endorsement in the UK, earning a perfect 10 Continuing Professional Development (CPD) points.
Featured press releases
Greenwich Leisure Limited press release: London's first ever LGBTQ+ Sports Festival a resounding success
More than 500 visitors took part in a host of sports and leisure activities on Sunday 16th June as part of London Pride’s inaugural 2024 Out for Sport Festival at the iconic Crystal Palace National Sports Centre.
Directory
Snowroom
TechnoAlpin SpA: Snowroom
Cryotherapy
Art of Cryo: Cryotherapy
Flooring
Total Vibration Solutions / TVS Sports Surfaces: Flooring
Salt therapy products
Himalayan Source: Salt therapy products
Lockers
Crown Sports Lockers: Lockers
Spa software
SpaBooker: Spa software
Property & Tenders
Cleveland Lakes, Wiltshire and Gloucestershire
Cotswold Lakes Trust
Property & Tenders
Loughton, IG10
Knight Frank
Property & Tenders
Diary dates
03-05 Sep 2024
IMPACT Exhibition Center, Bangkok, Thailand
Diary dates
08-10 Sep 2024
Wyndham® Lake Buena Vista Disney Springs™ Resort, Lake Buena Vista, United States
Diary dates
19-19 Sep 2024
The Salil Hotel Riverside - Bangkok, Bangkok 10120, Thailand
Diary dates
20-22 Sep 2024
Locations worldwide,
Diary dates
01-04 Oct 2024
REVĪVŌ Wellness Resort Nusa Dua Bali, Kabupaten Badung, Indonesia
Diary dates
09-13 Oct 2024
Soneva Fushi, Maldives
Diary dates
10 Oct 2024
QEII Conference Centre, London,
Diary dates
22-25 Oct 2024
Messe Stuttgart, Germany
Diary dates
24-24 Oct 2024
QEII Conference Centre, London, United Kingdom
Diary dates
04-07 Nov 2024
In person, St Andrews, United Kingdom
Diary dates
04-06 Feb 2025
Coventry Building Society Arena, Coventry, United Kingdom
Diary dates
11-13 Feb 2025
Fairmont Riyadh , Saudi Arabia
Diary dates
10-13 Apr 2025
Exhibition Centre , Cologne, Germany
Diary dates
07-07 Jun 2025
Worldwide, Various,
Diary dates
28-31 Oct 2025
Koelnmesse, Cologne, Germany
Diary dates

features

Interview: Nick Coutts

From market disruptor to becoming the one to beat – or buy. The CEO of Portuguese market leader Fitness Hut talks to Kate Cracknell about all the ways in which the trailblazing brand has done things differently

By Kate Cracknell | Published in Health Club Management 2017 issue 9
Coutts is one of the co-founders of Fitness Hut
Coutts is one of the co-founders of Fitness Hut
We very deliberately set out to be destructive – to go against the market and create something completely new

People often ask me why, in a competitive market like fitness, I’m so open when I talk about our business and how we do things,” says Nick Coutts, CEO and co-founder of Fitness Hut in Portugal. “There are two reasons. One is simply that this is the way I am – I like to share and like to hope others will be honest and open with me in return.

“But I also believe that, if people appreciate how well we’re doing, it might put them off trying to come into the market to compete with us.

“If we’re open about what we do, they’ll realise it’s not easy to get it right. It might sound somewhat counter-intuitive, but I believe that sharing is actually a way to help protect ourselves from the competition.”

Breaking the mould
And ‘doing well’ is certainly a box that Fitness Hut ticks. ‘Doing things differently’ is another – and it’s as true now as when the first club opened in Lisbon in 2011.

Back then, the business was a disruptive force in the sector. “I came up with the term ‘premium low-cost’ for what we were doing,” says Coutts. “Someone else may have coined the term – I don’t know. It certainly wasn’t a label that I’d seen or heard anyone use before, but it absolutely reflected what we were trying to do.

“When we came up with the idea for Fitness Hut, my co-founders – Andre Groen and JP Carvalho – and I were running Holmes Place Iberia. We’d come to the conclusion that, post-economic crisis, a premium model was no longer going to work in Portugal, so we started to look at the low-cost phenomenon.

“We’d done our research – visiting low-cost clubs in the UK, Germany and the Netherlands – and we felt the low-cost product, at that point, was essentially cheap, clean, with lots of equipment, some technology to control entry and exit – and nothing else. There was no group fitness, no personal training, no focus on the environment, no attention paid to creating an atmosphere or a club feel. We felt we could do better.”

Coutts continues: “We knew low-cost would be right for the Portuguese market, but group fitness is incredibly popular in Portugal so we decided to invest in large group fitness studios. Personal training is also huge, so it was important to focus on that as well. Then, on a personal note, Andre and I were really keen on CrossFit and functional training, so we wanted to create large functional training areas.

“And then, lastly, we wanted to offer lots of gym-based classes – not studio classes, but smaller group exercise classes on the gym floor.

“Those were the four key points of differentiation between what we’d seen and what we wanted to do. Interestingly, many of the low-cost operators have since gone down the same route, but that wasn’t the case back in 2011 when we opened our first club.

“We very deliberately set out to be destructive – to go against the market and create something completely new.”

Refining the concept
He continues: “Having worked together for many years at Holmes Place, the three of us also wanted to learn from our shared experiences – to learn from the mistakes we’d made along the way and to identify the major causes of headaches, building our new model in such a way that we could avoid them.”

This thought was at the heart of the team’s thinking as they refined the Fitness Hut concept, starting with group exercise. “We were one of the first companies to write our own software that allowed members to book classes online,” says Coutts. “Plenty of companies do it now – although we’re still the only one in Portugal – but when we launched in 2011 there was nobody doing it anywhere. And it really did transform what was always a huge headache in traditional clubs.

“Another major headache in traditional clubs revolves around the flexibility of the contract. Unlike some low-cost clubs, Fitness Hut offers two options – a 12-month contract costs €6.60 a week, or you can have no commitment to us and that costs €7.70 a week. However, the key difference is how we react if somebody defaults on their contract. Irrespective of whether or not they’ve asked to stop paying, we don’t send threatening emails, we don’t pass the debt to a debt collection agency, and we do forgive debt and provide amnesty.

“Of course we follow up with anyone who defaults. We’ll send them an email explaining: ‘You’ve enjoyed this price because you committed to 12 months. Now you’ve left after eight, so arguably you should repay the difference between what you would have paid and what you’ve paid.’ And about 50 per cent of people do actually pay.

“But even when they don’t, we don’t turn it into something nasty or aggressive. We could never be accused of chasing people for cash.

“And the result? When we look at our joiners’ statistics each month, on average 25 per cent are re-joining us – they’re former members who cancelled for whatever reason and have then decided to come back to us.

“I think that’s testament to the goodwill we show when people leave us – they don’t feel threatened or chased and they view us positively.”

A flexible PT model
“One other key point of differentiation is the way we approach personal training,” says Coutts. “At Holmes Place, we built up a massive personal training business where the PTs were employed by us and the company kept 65 per cent of the revenue. PTs who were very good at selling would do well, even keeping just 35 per cent of their revenue; the average PT would do just about OK.

“It was a great model for Holmes Place when everyone was cash rich, but what had been a significant source of revenue started to be squeezed when the downturn came and we had fewer members, with fewer among them wanting PT. Our mistake was that we then put more and more pressure on certain trainers who continued to deliver their targets, and they soon became disillusioned – feeling over-worked and under-valued, and inevitably, being on the front line, they were transmitting how they were feeling to members.

“It was a bad situation, so at Fitness Hut we opted for a rental model. We now have more than 400 personal trainers across our 26 clubs, on average paying around €400 a month in rent. It’s a business that’s heading towards £1.4–£1.5m this year for us, and that’s pure profit.

“We’ve also avoided the headache of having to manage the personal trainers, because under this arrangement, they’re independent – they can work when they want, for however many hours they want, as long as they’re paying their fees.

“We don’t decide the pricing either: PTs decide how much they want to charge based on how confident they are, what time of year it is, who they’re training.

“The average personal trainer charges around €35 an hour, but there are some who charge €50 and some who charge just €20. There’s something to suit every member’s budget, and as a result 10 to 15 per cent of members have a PT.

“It works well for our PTs too. Our top trainers make over €6,000 a month for themselves, so they’re all happy. They’re here because they want to be, nobody tells them they need to work harder, and they can earn a lot of money if they want to.”

Creating a buzz
I go back to Coutts’ point that most budget clubs don’t – or at least didn’t – tend to focus on creating a great atmosphere. How did Fitness Hut approach this challenge?

He explains: “We have big screens in the club showing extreme sports and we have a DJ once or twice a week. But for me, the atmosphere really comes from two things.

“One of them is the layout of the gym: we keep the space as open as possible, including what we call an ‘open studio’. This is one of three studios in each club, but whereas our cycling and traditional aerobics studios are separate rooms, our open studio is on the gym floor.

“The second big contributor to the atmosphere in our clubs are our small group classes. In addition to our PTs and our club managers, we have what we call our ‘gym service’ team. For 20 minutes in every hour they walk around helping members, but their main job is to deliver four 10-minute gym floor classes an hour: an abs class, a functional training class, a stretching class and a HIIT class, which they do on the cardio equipment. It’s all about maximising the number of members who are exposed to these dynamic individuals.”

Multi-tasking managers
At peak times, these gym classes will see 20 or 30 members taking part, which is good by any standard – so how has Fitness Hut made such a success of it?

“Partly it’s down to the fact that 50 per cent of our members are new to exercise,” says Coutts. “They view these classes as taster sessions.

“But most of all it’s because we have staff who really champion these exercise classes. That’s driven by the fact that we aim to train and promote our people, so our team members grow up in this environment and they really believe in it.”

Coutts continues: “In fact, to that point, every one of our club managers is also a personal trainer and a group exercise instructor. Our managers walk the talk and lead by example.

“It probably isn’t very PC to say, but I’m always annoyed when I see overweight, lazy club managers – people who have been pulled in from sectors like retail. They might have better processes, but they have no affinity for fitness.

“We’ve therefore created a model where we only pay our club managers €1,000 a month for their management role, but they’re all group fitness instructors too. They all teach an average of two classes a day as part of their hours and we pay them the same fee per class as we pay other group instructors, so they earn an additional €20 to €50 for each day.

“They’re also all PTs, and they don’t even pay us a fee, so everything they earn is theirs. On average, our club managers teach two or three PT sessions a day.”

He continues: “The other thing we do is we give them as little as possible to think about in terms of data and numbers. We want them to focus on the things our members care about.

“Purchasing is done centrally, as is budgeting and managing sales and EBITDA. The only data we ask them to be all over is group fitness, managing usage, making sure the timetable is balanced and the right teachers are in.

New model & new markets
So what are Coutts’ plans for Fitness Hut moving forward? “We’ll probably finish this year with 33 clubs – all of which are funded – and we could get to 45 in Portugal. It would probably be stretching it to go beyond that though, so we’ve looked at two other routes for expansion.

“One is creating a smaller model where we invest 50 per cent less than we do at our larger clubs and still get a minimum 25 per cent return. That makes us viable in cities with a smaller population. We’re planning to start rolling that out next year.

“We’ve also had discussions about going to Spain, so that’s quite likely. The low-cost sector in Spain is concentrated around Madrid and Barcelona, and maybe one or two other cities, so there’s still opportunity for companies like us.”

And looking further ahead? “I’d hope that five or 10 years from now, Fitness Hut will still exist as a brand, in Portugal and maybe in a couple of other markets too.”

Coutts adds: “I’m realistic. There’s going to be continued consolidation over the next couple of years, and I imagine we’ll be part of that. But even if we’re acquired, it would be great if the Fitness Hut brand could live on and be grown rather than be rebranded.”

Fitness Hut in numbers

4,300 members Average per club

33 Clubs December 2017 target

44% Aged under 30 years

€6.60/week Contract

€7.70/week No contract

50% New to exercise

26 Clubs June 2017

Fitness Hut: Giving more for less

Coutts drives innovation at Fitness Hut
Coutts drives innovation at Fitness Hut

“In August 2016, we launched a nutrition programme in partnership with a company called Body Concept,” says Fitness Hut CEO Nick Coutts. “At no cost to the member, we provide every one of them with access to a quarterly, professional, one-hour, in-person nutritional consultation – for which we pay.

“So how, as a low-cost operator, can we afford to fund that? It’s because in Portugal, the VAT rate is 23 per cent for fitness – but zero for nutrition. We allocate a percentage of our membership income to nutrition so it becomes VAT-free, and it’s enough to finance our nutrition programme. It doesn’t cost us anything, but it adds real value to our members.

“Not everyone will do it, but if it adds value to a reasonable proportion of members, it’s worth it.

“That’s also our view on our Wexer virtual classes. We have around 80 live classes per week per club, but we supplement that with 60–70 virtual classes. Depending on the club, time of day and the class, there might be just one or two people in a virtual class. But sometimes I see 20 people in there. Why wouldn’t you do it?”

Sign up here to get HCM's weekly ezine and every issue of HCM magazine free on digital.
As well as the latest kit, Fitness Hut offers a community feel
As well as the latest kit, Fitness Hut offers a community feel
Fitness Hut was conceived as a premium low-cost chain
Fitness Hut was conceived as a premium low-cost chain
There are 400 personal trainers across the 26 clubs
There are 400 personal trainers across the 26 clubs
Fitness Hut clubs have large functional training areas
Fitness Hut clubs have large functional training areas
Coutts says the company is flexible with its contracts
Coutts says the company is flexible with its contracts
Fitness Hut’s Braga club fits the premium-low cost model
Fitness Hut’s Braga club fits the premium-low cost model
Around 50 per cent of Fitness Hut members are new to exercise
Around 50 per cent of Fitness Hut members are new to exercise
Every manager at Fitness Hut is also 
an active PT
Every manager at Fitness Hut is also an active PT
https://www.leisureopportunities.co.uk/images/436268_403021.jpg
"People often ask me why, in a competitive market like fitness, I'm so open when I talk about our business and how we do things," – Nick Coutts, CEO and co-founder of Fitness Hut shares his secrets for success...
Nick Coutts, CEO, Fitness Hut,Nick Coutts, Fitness Hut, Portuguese fitness,
Latest News
According to a number of recent studies, semaglutide weight-loss drugs can be effective in treating ...
Latest News
German health and fitness operator, LifeFit Group, has found a new investor – Waterland Private ...
Latest News
More than 200 organisations and athletes in the UK have signed an open letter to ...
Latest News
Diversity, equity and inclusion in the European fitness industry is examined in a new report ...
Latest News
Following the success of its first site in Whitefield, Total Fitness is launching a purpose-built ...
Latest News
David Beckham and F45 Training have finally settled the breach-of-contract lawsuit around Beckham’s ambassadorial agreement ...
Latest News
Apple has previewed the upcoming watchOS 11, which has more health and fitness insights and ...
Latest News
With just a few weeks until the General Election, CIMSPA – the organisation that represents people ...
Latest News
Co-founders of specialist gym and fitness wear company, WIT Fitness, have returned to the brand ...
Latest News
Basic-Fit has signed an agreement to sell five Holmes Place clubs it acquired as part ...
Latest News
The UK health and fitness is performing well, especially the private sector, with member numbers, ...
Featured supplier news
Featured supplier news: Explosion of passion for fitness at RiminiWellness 2024 and record success for Panatta
The passion for fitness and bodybuilding reached new heights at the Panatta stands during RiminiWellness (30 May – 2 June 20204) – the largest fitness event in Italy – which this year exceeded the 100,000 visitor mark.
Featured supplier news
Featured supplier news: Elevate announces new aquatics and active kids theatres for 2024 event
The Royal Life Saving Society UK (RLSS UK), the Swimming Teachers Association (STA), and Swim England have teamed up to sponsor an aquatic theatre at Elevate 2024.
Company profiles
Company profile: Life Fitness
The Life Fitness family of brands offers an unrivalled product portfolio, providing customers with access ...
Company profiles
Company profile: Matrix Fitness
Preferred by some of the world’s finest hotels and resorts, Matrix offers an array of ...
Supplier Showcases
Supplier showcase - Matrix: Futureproofing
Supplier Showcases
Supplier showcase - Jon Williams
Catalogue Gallery
Click on a catalogue to view it online
Featured press releases
GymKit UK press release: Peak Pilates UK earns 10 CIMSPA CPD points for FitCore™ group reformer speciality education programme
Peak Pilates, a leader in high-quality Pilates education and equipment, is proud to announce that their FitCore™ Education Programme has received the CIMSPA endorsement in the UK, earning a perfect 10 Continuing Professional Development (CPD) points.
Featured press releases
Greenwich Leisure Limited press release: London's first ever LGBTQ+ Sports Festival a resounding success
More than 500 visitors took part in a host of sports and leisure activities on Sunday 16th June as part of London Pride’s inaugural 2024 Out for Sport Festival at the iconic Crystal Palace National Sports Centre.
Directory
Snowroom
TechnoAlpin SpA: Snowroom
Cryotherapy
Art of Cryo: Cryotherapy
Flooring
Total Vibration Solutions / TVS Sports Surfaces: Flooring
Salt therapy products
Himalayan Source: Salt therapy products
Lockers
Crown Sports Lockers: Lockers
Spa software
SpaBooker: Spa software
Property & Tenders
Cleveland Lakes, Wiltshire and Gloucestershire
Cotswold Lakes Trust
Property & Tenders
Loughton, IG10
Knight Frank
Property & Tenders
Diary dates
03-05 Sep 2024
IMPACT Exhibition Center, Bangkok, Thailand
Diary dates
08-10 Sep 2024
Wyndham® Lake Buena Vista Disney Springs™ Resort, Lake Buena Vista, United States
Diary dates
19-19 Sep 2024
The Salil Hotel Riverside - Bangkok, Bangkok 10120, Thailand
Diary dates
20-22 Sep 2024
Locations worldwide,
Diary dates
01-04 Oct 2024
REVĪVŌ Wellness Resort Nusa Dua Bali, Kabupaten Badung, Indonesia
Diary dates
09-13 Oct 2024
Soneva Fushi, Maldives
Diary dates
10 Oct 2024
QEII Conference Centre, London,
Diary dates
22-25 Oct 2024
Messe Stuttgart, Germany
Diary dates
24-24 Oct 2024
QEII Conference Centre, London, United Kingdom
Diary dates
04-07 Nov 2024
In person, St Andrews, United Kingdom
Diary dates
04-06 Feb 2025
Coventry Building Society Arena, Coventry, United Kingdom
Diary dates
11-13 Feb 2025
Fairmont Riyadh , Saudi Arabia
Diary dates
10-13 Apr 2025
Exhibition Centre , Cologne, Germany
Diary dates
07-07 Jun 2025
Worldwide, Various,
Diary dates
28-31 Oct 2025
Koelnmesse, Cologne, Germany
Diary dates
Search news, features & products:
Find a supplier:
The Leisure Media Company Ltd
The Leisure Media Company Ltd
Partner sites