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UNITING THE WORLD OF FITNESS
Health Club Management

Health Club Management

features

Top Team: The énergie group

We talk to the key people in the fitness franchise group’s management team

Published in Health Club Management 2017 issue 11
The team is based at the Milton Keynes head office
The team is based at the Milton Keynes head office

Griff Short ,

Head of operations (franchise division),

Griff Short
Griff Short

How did you get involved with the énergie group?
I’ve been with the énergie group twice. My latest stint has been from 2014 to now, but I was also with the company from 2004 to 2009. The first time around I joined the operations team, fresh from LA Fitness and stayed for five years. During this time I helped to build the processes, systems, manuals and ultimately the network. I left énergie to return to LA Fitness, but re-joined in 2014, and I’ve been here ever since.

How has the company changed since 2004?
Back in 2004, there wasn’t really a budget sector, so gym memberships were £35 and upwards. When the budget sector came in, it was relatively disruptive to the industry. I think we’re now at a point where things will start to change again. Not that I’m saying that the budget market has run its course, but people are looking for something different within the industry.

What’s the most exciting about being in this industry, with énergie, at this moment in time?
Budget operators are now looking for ways to increase yield per member because they can’t keep charging £16 per member and survive. It’s interesting because it looks like the budget sector might start to morph back into a mid-sector. There’s also a great opportunity to integrate boutique-style offerings into the value sector and create a unique sector within the industry. That’s what we’re doing with The Yard. At present we’re putting it into clubs as a space, but we’ll make it a stand-alone unit from the start of the next financial year.

The Yard is the new group functional fitness concept from the company’s boutique division
The Yard is the new group functional fitness concept from the company’s boutique division

Simon Hayes ,

Head of operations (equity division),

Simon Hayes
Simon Hayes

Tell us about the equity division
It was formed in October 2016, primarily to manage the transition of sites being brought back into énergie ownership before being put back into the general population. Some franchisees have gotten to the end of their business plan and they want to sell a club that’s performing well. We work with the franchisee to resell it. Then there’s the other side of my role, which involves working with franchisees that aren’t performing to plan. My team and I work to bring the franchise back in line with the operating systems and back on plan.

What was your background prior to joining énergie?
I started in the industry working for Esporta – now Virgin Active – as a regional sales director. I was then given the opportunity to run Holmes Place’s Czech Republic division. I did that for two years and then the founder of Fitness First, Mike Balfour, asked me if I would go and join him to actually fix countries that weren’t performing well. I went in, fixed them and then moved on to the next country. I covered 12 different countries in just under six years.

How did that prepare you for your current role?
Having worked in clubs in so many countries, I’ve developed confidence in an approach that works exactly the same in every single country. This means that I can walk in and know what’s wrong with a club straight away, and that’s invaluable in my current role.

Ian Rushbury ,

Head of training, fitness & innovation,

Ian Rushbury
Ian Rushbury

What attracted you to your role?
The last two companies I’ve worked at over my 13 years in the industry – Virgin Active and 1Life – prepared me immensely for my current role. One of the more recent projects I oversaw while at Virgin Active was building an academy for the fitness coaches and PTs. On completion, énergie asked if I could do something similar for them and that brought me here. My current role as head of fitness is both challenging and interesting as I’m learning all about the franchise side of the industry, while still using my fitness background. I’ve always liked to attach myself to exciting brands and there’s a lot you can do with the énergie group brand.

What does your role involve?
Once a franchise agreement is signed, my team and I look after the franchisee’s journey to getting into business. On the fitness side, we look at the proposition offered to members at club level, from how they’re engaged when they join, to how the gym floor is laid out.

We’re very aware that entering a gym can be quite intimidating, so we want to break down that barrier by making sure the layout is recognisable when a person walks in. We’ve also been looking at the innovative products we can create to make the member journey seamless.

What exciting projects are you currently working on as part of the énergie rebrand?
In terms of training, we’re rolling out something called ‘Take The Stage’, which is a staff engagement programme. My team is delivering four-hour in-club training sessions on our culture, service promise and member interaction. That training is already well on its way to completion and by the time the rebrand is finished, all clubs will be delivering the customer experience in a more unified way.

Small group functional training is taking off in the US, and énergie predicts such facilities will grow in the UK
Small group functional training is taking off in the US, and énergie predicts such facilities will grow in the UK

Stephen Rought Whitta ,

Head of property,

Stephen Rought Whitta
Stephen Rought Whitta

What makes a good site for an énergie club?
Several things, but largely a visible and convenient location – close to facilities such as a commuter railway station, big supermarket and free car parks if possible. Parking is a big problem – especially in major cities – but people expect to be able to park their car nearby when they go to the gym.

The type of building is also important. It needs to look appealing, have decent signage and a floor loading that’s strong enough for weights and heavy machinery. It also needs a reasonable ceiling height, and if it’s in a multi-occupied building, you’ve got to be careful about soundproofing.

Tell us about how you ended up at the énergie group?
I’ve been in the property business for over 30 years, doing acquisitions largely for retailers, including Blacks Outdoor Retail, Prêt á Manger and B&M Retail. I was then approached by Pure Gym and worked for them for a couple of years before joining Anytime Fitness, where I worked for nearly three years. I joined énergie several months ago. I like the business and enjoy working with Jan.

What are your predictions for the industry over the next five years?
I think the boutique sector will continue to grow. I was in the States last year, listening to a talk by a guy who runs a small group, functional training facility, and I think this is a direction the boutique space will go in. It’s really taking off in the States and I think that although the UK is behind in terms of trends, it’ll catch on here. I also think the discount market is just going to continue to grow, as long as we can provide a good level of service.

ABOUT STEVE PHILPOTT

Steve Philpott
Steve Philpott
Steve Philpott,

Non-executive director,


The énergie group co-founder now serves as a non-executive director. He says “I helped Jan to start énergie, back in 2003, and then about a year into that I did a private equity-backed deal to buy DC Leisure – now Places for People. Three months after I started that role I left énergie, but remained a shareholder. We’ve stayed close over the years and I re-joined the group last year.”

Recalling the birth of the company he says: “Jan and a couple of us got together in his dining room and said: ‘Hey, there must be something new we can be doing in the sector’. That evolved into applying franchising to gyms and énergie was born. We then bought a few clubs, set them up, made sure they were running well and off the back of that started selling franchises.”

Philpott’s other roles include chairman at the personalised swimming tuition group Swimming Nature, non executive director at the trampoline park group Oxygen Freejumping, and chairman at Mosaic Spa and Health Clubs.

Explaining what led him to take up these roles at the same moment in time, he says: “I feel very lucky that I had 12 years or so running a sizeable business – DC Leisure. I’ve been in the fitness sector for so long that I’m in a really lucky position of being able to choose who I work with and what I do. Obviously they’ve got to choose me as well! But my basic philosophy is that I want to work in a business where I like the people, can be an investor and can make a difference – that’s what I find exciting about all of the businesses I’m in.”

Robin Cundell ,

Finance director,

Robin Cundell
Robin Cundell

What was your background before joining the énergie group?
I had mainly worked as an industry qualified accountant in corporate roles. I started at Gregg’s – the food retailers – and then moved to Hilton Hotels’ international division. More recently I headed up the finance department of Costa Coffee in China. In 2016 I moved to manage the finances for Costa business units spread across Europe, the Middle East and South-East Asia. I left Costa in October 2016 and joined énergie a few months later.

Given your non-fitness background, what are your thoughts on the industry at present?
I would say that the industry feels quite new and far from having reached its potential. It’s still massively changing and there’s lots of innovation coming through. The popularity of health and wellbeing is growing rapidly at the moment, and that presents a huge opportunity for those of us in the industry.

What are you most excited about?
We’ve got a big rebrand in progress that’s centred on communicating that we’re a place or a space where everybody is welcome. I’m not someone who goes to the gym all the time, so I understand it’s quite daunting when you go into a gym and you see ripped people standing in front of the mirror while doing complicated exercises. We’re focused on creating a functional space where you can get together with other people and do a sport or exercise, where your skill level doesn’t matter.

Peter Croney ,

Head of franchise recruitment,

Peter Croney
Peter Croney

What does your role involve?
The key role is marketing and identifying prospective franchisees. We get enquiries from more than 300 prospective franchisees every month. We have a process that eliminates those that aren’t a good fit and then we screen further in person – which is both in their interests and ours.

It’s very important that franchisees understand exactly what it takes to be successful. Franchising stacks the cards in their favour but we still have to make it clear that running a franchise is much more than paying a fee, sitting back and waiting for the money to roll in.

Tell us about the road to your current role.
I used to work for an insurance company and saw the opportunity to buy my own insurance brokers. A colleague and I raised £11.5m to buy it. We were able to increase the profits from £800,000 to just under £5m before we sold it five years later for £23.5m. I then had my own health club, which I started for my son, but then I met Jan and he was able to give me some incredible insights on how to run that club better. As a result of that, I became an énergie franchisee and then invested in the main business.

You’ve been with the énergie group for 10 years. How has the industry changed over that time?
Franchising has expanded enormously. In the early days, we would get about 20 enquiries a month and we now get more than 300. Franchisees are also much more educated about fitness, franchising and business in general. In terms of the fitness industry as a whole, there’s a great deal more competition today than 10 years ago. As the budget and fitness franchise sector have grown, we’ve had to adjust our position within that market in order to stand out and offer something recognisably different to our consumers.

énergie receives 300 enquiries about franchising per month
énergie receives 300 enquiries about franchising per month
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The energie group is bringing its low-cost and mid-market offerings under one umbrella. We meet the team behind the big rebrand and find out the secret to their success!
Peter Croney, Head of franchise recruitment Robin Cundell, Finance director Steve Philpott, no executive director Stephen Rought Whitta, Head of property Ian Rushbury, Head of training, fitness & innovation Simon Hayes, Head of operations (equity division) Griff Short, Head of operations (franchise division),énergie team, fitness franchise group, Griff Short, Simon Hayes, Ian Rushbury, Stephen Rought Whitta, Steve Philpott, Robin Cundell, Peter Croney
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