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FITNESS, HEALTH, WELLNESS

features

Life lessons: Colin WaggettCEO, Third Space Third Space

At Fitness First, we were too inwardly focused. I’ve learned to be outward-looking and to operate with confidence, but also with a degree of paranoia about where the customer might go

Published in Health Club Management 2023 issue 3
Colin Waggett / Third Space
Colin Waggett / Third Space
I thought about leaving the industry, but when I started looking for jobs elsewhere I realised how much I wanted to stay in health and fitness

Without doubt the hardest year of my career was when I was chief executive of Fitness First during the advent of budget clubs. Looking back, that time was a ‘boil the frog’ moment* – when it gets harder and harder, but you can’t pinpoint the moment when all is lost.

I joined Fitness First in 2005 and there was a purple patch of five or six years where we grew the business from 250 to 550 clubs worldwide. But then we had the double whammy of the financial crisis starting to bite, combined with the growth of budget clubs which were offering a better value proposition to customers. I can remember the manager of one club asking me what we were going to do about the fact that we were charging £39 a month for a tired facility when the shiny new budget club across the street was only £12.

Due to the financial crisis we were operating under tighter financial constraints, which meant we couldn’t invest in our clubs, or our teams, to the extent we would have liked. We tried to operate our way out of it – selling memberships harder and driving the secondary revenue, but it wasn’t working. We had our backs to the wall, facing a syndicate of 60 banks which weren’t interested in supporting the company, they just wanted to recover some money.

It culminated in a day of the long knives in February 2012, when myself and some of the management team were axed by the private equity owners. I felt deep disappointment and a sense of failure, as well as the realisation that no one is indispensable, however, there was also some relief at being released from fighting a situation I’d lost control of. It wasn’t my problem anymore.

I spent a year thinking about what to do next. Our kids were young so we took the time for some family holidays. Feeling bruised, I thought about leaving the industry, but when I started looking for jobs elsewhere I realised how much I wanted to stay in health and fitness.

My biggest learning from the whole situation was that it doesn’t matter how good you think you are, if the proposition isn’t good enough you’ll eventually run into trouble.

We were too inwardly focused as a business. I’ve learned to be outward looking and to operate with confidence, but also with a degree of paranoia about what else is going on and where the customer might go. You have to keep innovating and be clear-minded about why the customer should choose you.

Having learned which sites are vulnerable when the tide goes out, I’m now even more selective about choosing new locations and have also learned to be conservative on the financial side, which is how Third Space emerged strongly from the lockdowns.

In the long-run everything has turned out well. The industry is more dynamic than it was then, offering so much more choice, and the budget gyms have done wonders for the market in terms of growing penetration and reach. While it was bruising at the time, I’m happier now than I ever was and I’m grateful to be in the market I’m in now. As a chief exec, it’s good to have some hard times on your CV and I enjoyed the time off with my family.

The mid-market is now in great shape. At the time it covered the whole industry, now it’s part of a more diverse industry. I’m really pleased that the successful parts of Fitness First continue to thrive across a number of continents. That still gives me pleasure, as does getting together for beers with my former colleagues from Fitness First!

* The boiled frog metaphor, used by Charles Handy in his book, The Age of Unreason, (www.hcmmag.com/charleshandy) suggests that a frog, placed in cold water that is slowly heated will not sense any danger until it boils to death, just as humans who do not notice that the world is changing can face catastrophic consequences.

Colin Waggett cv

CEO
Third Space
April 2015 - Present

Co-founder and CEO
Psycle
Nov 2012 - Oct 2014

CEO
Fitness First
Sep 2004 - Jan 2012

CFO
Thresher Group
2001 - 2004

Financial Director
Ladbroke Casinos
1999 - 2001

Group Financial Planning and Reporting Manager
The Hilton Group
1996 - 1998

Manager
Arthur Andersen
1990 - 1996

Third Space was able to emerge strongly from the lockdowns, says Waggett / Third Space
Third Space was able to emerge strongly from the lockdowns, says Waggett / Third Space
Waggett says the experience has made him extremely selective about location / Third Space
Waggett says the experience has made him extremely selective about location / Third Space
As a CEO, it’s good to have some hard times on your CV, says Waggett / Third Space
As a CEO, it’s good to have some hard times on your CV, says Waggett / Third Space
https://www.leisureopportunities.co.uk/images/2023/579512_365149.jpg
The CEO of Third Space reflects on being at the sharp end in the mid-market – as CEO of Fitness First – when budget gyms disrupted the sector
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features

Life lessons: Colin WaggettCEO, Third Space Third Space

At Fitness First, we were too inwardly focused. I’ve learned to be outward-looking and to operate with confidence, but also with a degree of paranoia about where the customer might go

Published in Health Club Management 2023 issue 3
Colin Waggett / Third Space
Colin Waggett / Third Space
I thought about leaving the industry, but when I started looking for jobs elsewhere I realised how much I wanted to stay in health and fitness

Without doubt the hardest year of my career was when I was chief executive of Fitness First during the advent of budget clubs. Looking back, that time was a ‘boil the frog’ moment* – when it gets harder and harder, but you can’t pinpoint the moment when all is lost.

I joined Fitness First in 2005 and there was a purple patch of five or six years where we grew the business from 250 to 550 clubs worldwide. But then we had the double whammy of the financial crisis starting to bite, combined with the growth of budget clubs which were offering a better value proposition to customers. I can remember the manager of one club asking me what we were going to do about the fact that we were charging £39 a month for a tired facility when the shiny new budget club across the street was only £12.

Due to the financial crisis we were operating under tighter financial constraints, which meant we couldn’t invest in our clubs, or our teams, to the extent we would have liked. We tried to operate our way out of it – selling memberships harder and driving the secondary revenue, but it wasn’t working. We had our backs to the wall, facing a syndicate of 60 banks which weren’t interested in supporting the company, they just wanted to recover some money.

It culminated in a day of the long knives in February 2012, when myself and some of the management team were axed by the private equity owners. I felt deep disappointment and a sense of failure, as well as the realisation that no one is indispensable, however, there was also some relief at being released from fighting a situation I’d lost control of. It wasn’t my problem anymore.

I spent a year thinking about what to do next. Our kids were young so we took the time for some family holidays. Feeling bruised, I thought about leaving the industry, but when I started looking for jobs elsewhere I realised how much I wanted to stay in health and fitness.

My biggest learning from the whole situation was that it doesn’t matter how good you think you are, if the proposition isn’t good enough you’ll eventually run into trouble.

We were too inwardly focused as a business. I’ve learned to be outward looking and to operate with confidence, but also with a degree of paranoia about what else is going on and where the customer might go. You have to keep innovating and be clear-minded about why the customer should choose you.

Having learned which sites are vulnerable when the tide goes out, I’m now even more selective about choosing new locations and have also learned to be conservative on the financial side, which is how Third Space emerged strongly from the lockdowns.

In the long-run everything has turned out well. The industry is more dynamic than it was then, offering so much more choice, and the budget gyms have done wonders for the market in terms of growing penetration and reach. While it was bruising at the time, I’m happier now than I ever was and I’m grateful to be in the market I’m in now. As a chief exec, it’s good to have some hard times on your CV and I enjoyed the time off with my family.

The mid-market is now in great shape. At the time it covered the whole industry, now it’s part of a more diverse industry. I’m really pleased that the successful parts of Fitness First continue to thrive across a number of continents. That still gives me pleasure, as does getting together for beers with my former colleagues from Fitness First!

* The boiled frog metaphor, used by Charles Handy in his book, The Age of Unreason, (www.hcmmag.com/charleshandy) suggests that a frog, placed in cold water that is slowly heated will not sense any danger until it boils to death, just as humans who do not notice that the world is changing can face catastrophic consequences.

Colin Waggett cv

CEO
Third Space
April 2015 - Present

Co-founder and CEO
Psycle
Nov 2012 - Oct 2014

CEO
Fitness First
Sep 2004 - Jan 2012

CFO
Thresher Group
2001 - 2004

Financial Director
Ladbroke Casinos
1999 - 2001

Group Financial Planning and Reporting Manager
The Hilton Group
1996 - 1998

Manager
Arthur Andersen
1990 - 1996

Third Space was able to emerge strongly from the lockdowns, says Waggett / Third Space
Third Space was able to emerge strongly from the lockdowns, says Waggett / Third Space
Waggett says the experience has made him extremely selective about location / Third Space
Waggett says the experience has made him extremely selective about location / Third Space
As a CEO, it’s good to have some hard times on your CV, says Waggett / Third Space
As a CEO, it’s good to have some hard times on your CV, says Waggett / Third Space
https://www.leisureopportunities.co.uk/images/2023/579512_365149.jpg
The CEO of Third Space reflects on being at the sharp end in the mid-market – as CEO of Fitness First – when budget gyms disrupted the sector
Latest News
Mindbody, has launched a specialist insurance programme for its customers which is being delivered through ...
Latest News
After introducing Xponential’s reformer Pilates concept, Club Pilates, to Germany last year, Matin Seibold's LifeFit ...
Latest News
Rugby legend, Jonny Wilkinson has been announced as a keynote speakers for the HCM Summit ...
Latest News
As United Fitness Brands gears up to launch its fifth Reformcore location at Battersea Power ...
Latest News
The Gym Group has built on the positive momentum of 2023, with a strong half-year ...
Latest News
The way fat stores are metabolised during exercise is different in males and females, according ...
Latest News
The UK's National Sector Partners Group (NSP) has called on the new government to pledge ...
Latest News
Boutique fitness software platform, Xplor Mariana Tek, has launched in-app gamification to help studios motivate ...
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Featured supplier news
Featured supplier news: Altrafit introduces custom functional fitness equipment at Third Space
Altrafit has taken further steps to cement its reputation as a provider of high-quality, affordable functional fitness equipment that is built to last with the development and introduction of a new functional fitness keg for luxury gym operator, Third Space.
Company profiles
Company profile: Safe Space Lockers
We provide a full turn-key solution for clients from design and consultation, through to bespoke ...
Company profiles
Company profile: CoverMe Ltd
CoverMe Fitness, an app for seamless, on-demand management and cover solutions for sports and fitness ...
Supplier Showcases
Supplier showcase - Jon Williams
Catalogue Gallery
Click on a catalogue to view it online
Featured press releases
Active IQ press release: Industry heavyweight David Stalker joins Active IQ as independent adviser
David Stalker, President of EuropeActive and a CIMSPA chartered fellow is joining Active IQ from July 2024.
Featured press releases
Greenwich Leisure Limited press release: London Youth Games concludes at Copper Box Arena
After an incredibly competitive season, the London Youth Games Finals Festival took place at the end of last month at GLL's Copper Box Arena in London.
Directory
Snowroom
TechnoAlpin SpA: Snowroom
Flooring
Total Vibration Solutions / TVS Sports Surfaces: Flooring
salt therapy products
Saltability: salt therapy products
Cryotherapy
Art of Cryo: Cryotherapy
Spa software
SpaBooker: Spa software
Lockers
Fitlockers: Lockers
Property & Tenders
Chiswick, Gillingham, York and Nottingham
Savills
Property & Tenders
Cleveland Lakes, Wiltshire and Gloucestershire
Cotswold Lakes Trust
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
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