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UNITING THE WORLD OF FITNESS
Health Club Management

Health Club Management

features

HCM People: Rich HutsonCEO of CHi Fitness and Co-founder of Fire Fitness

The business wasn’t getting the numbers needed, so I raised the prices by 25 per cent. It worked and we didn’t skip a beat

Published in Health Club Management 2019 issue 8
Rich Hutson is based in Malaysia
Rich Hutson is based in Malaysia

Tell us about your career
I started as a personal trainer in Canada, teaching women to box. I realised early on that helping people better their lives makes me feel really good.

I moved to Australia for a change, found a job at a gym and got into sales, quickly realising it was something I liked.

A stint at Fitness First in Australia followed, where I helped lead our Asia expansion as FF Asia sales director. After two years I was asked to go to Europe to take on the European sales director role and spent five amazing years there and met my future wife.

Fitness First sold Europe and I came back to Asia where I spent another eight years before parting ways in 2015.

I then partnered with my friend Dave Nuku to start Fire Fitness. After opening our second club I made a decision to find another job, because you can’t have two families living off a start-up! I spent six months in Dubai before I was offered my dream role, as CEO at CHi Fitness, which allowed me to come back to Malaysia.

We turned the business around and sold it last September to Evolution Wellness. Now back where I started, working for my old colleagues and friends!

Tell us more about Fire Fitness
We have two clubs in Kuala Lumpur. We were the first boutique fitness operator here. Our marketing and approach were very different – we made a big noise coming into the market and it made people wonder what we were.

Right from the start we had success because of our trainers and the experience that we provide. We run four classes: Stride (HIIT); Ride (cycling); Force (low impact strength); and Strike (boxing).

Our audience is a mix of expats and locals. We have a 70/30 split of female to males and a range of ages from millennials to over 60s, which varies by type of class and the trainer. We love the fact we get such a wide range of ages.

How did you turn CHi around?
I had three offers in front of me and I chose the role with CHi because it was the one that got me the most excited. I felt it was time to take a lead role after being in sales and operations for so long, even though I was nervous. I knew the business and believed it could do better.

I was transparent about my goal: to put some major results on the board so we could attract investors. This was the key to our future and I wanted every GM to be on-board with the goal and not be nervous if they heard rumours. I wanted to empower them to feel as though they were part of it.

When I looked at the strategy, pricing and what the clubs were offering, I couldn’t see how we were going to reach our goals. The business was trying to run a budget model but was a full-service offering.

It wasn’t getting the numbers needed, so I raised the prices by 25 per cent. It worked and we didn’t skip a beat.

This gave the team confidence and confirmed that their clubs were worth it.

We also closed our struggling clubs. We started with 20 and worked our way down to 13 and we make triple the EBITDA. It’s mind blowing how much time you can spend on clubs that are losing money, and this just takes away your time from building the future.

What’s the potential in Asia?
It’s an exciting time to be in here as there’s considerable growth to come.

The greatest challenge is finding a way to cater to the less affluent. In many parts of Asia you see a wide gap between those who can afford fitness and those who can’t. Catering to those less well-off is an opportunity worth pursuing.

The level of instruction in many clubs isn’t yet near the standard it needs to be. In most Asian countries there’s no governing body setting standard for qualifications, so anyone can walk off the street and say they’re a trainer.

What’s your career taught you?
It’s taught me to take chances in life and business. I’ve left what I’d consider ‘home’ more times than I can count and have loved every moment – win or lose.

I’ve worked in 17 countries and lived in a further seven, and don’t regret a single move, as everything has provided me with amazing experiences.

Sign up here to get HCM's weekly ezine and every issue of HCM magazine free on digital.
Hutson raised prices and sold struggling clubs to turn CHi around
Hutson raised prices and sold struggling clubs to turn CHi around
Fire Fitness was the first boutique fitness offering in the Malaysian market
Fire Fitness was the first boutique fitness offering in the Malaysian market
CHi Fitness aims to offer a full service at excellent value
CHi Fitness aims to offer a full service at excellent value
Hutson and business partner 
Dave Nuku have two Fire Fitness clubs in Kuala Lumpur
Hutson and business partner Dave Nuku have two Fire Fitness clubs in Kuala Lumpur
Fire offers four group fitness classes: Stride, 
Ride, Force and Strike
Fire offers four group fitness classes: Stride, Ride, Force and Strike
https://www.leisureopportunities.co.uk/images/imagesX/137776_588227.jpg
The CEO of CHi Fitness, in Malaysia, discusses how he turned the business around
Rich Hutson, CHi Fitness, Fire Fitness,Fitness, Malaysia
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Everyone's talking about
In the wake of the pandemic, is the time ripe to change the language around the role of exercise professionals, and gain greater trust from the healthcare sector?
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Write to reply
Fuel the debate about issues and opportunities across the industry. We’d love to hear from you – [email protected]
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Sponsored
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Research
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Interview
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Annual report
In April, Deloitte and Europe Active published the ninth edition of their yearly European Health and Fitness Market Report, as Karsten Hollasch explains
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Supplier showcase
Pulse Fitness and Bolsover District Council have been collaborating for many years to deliver dedicated community activity spaces
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Latest News
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Featured supplier news
Featured supplier news: Virtuagym raises €3m investment to fuel innovation in health and fitness technology
Global fitness technology provider Virtuagym has raised a new €3m investment from Icecat, an Amsterdam-based technology company which invests in innovative technology organisations.
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According to our poll the first thing 80 per cent of operators and gym owners think about when it’s time to sell gym equipment is how much your equipment is worth.
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Video Gallery
Total Vibration Solutions / Floors 4 Gyms / TVS Sports Surfaces
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Supplier Showcases
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Catalogue Gallery
Click on a catalogue to view it online
Directory
Whole body cryotherapy
Zimmer MedizinSysteme GmbH / icelab: Whole body cryotherapy
Fitness equipment
A Panatta Sport Srl: Fitness equipment
Flooring
Total Vibration Solutions / TVS Sports Surfaces: Flooring
Salt therapy products
Saltability: Salt therapy products
Skincare
Sothys: Skincare
On demand
Fitness On Demand: On demand
Wearable technology solutions
MyZone: Wearable technology solutions
Lockers/interior design
Safe Space Lockers Ltd: Lockers/interior design
Spa software
SpaBooker: Spa software
Management software
Premier Software Solutions: Management software
Property & Tenders
Pendine Sands, Carmarthenshire
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Runcorn
Halton Borough Council
Property & Tenders
Diary dates
15-16 Jun 2022
ExCeL London, London, United Kingdom
Diary dates
30-30 Jun 2022
The ICC, Birmingham, Birmingham , United Kingdom
Diary dates
25-28 Oct 2022
Messe Stuttgart, Germany
Diary dates
25-28 Oct 2022
Ibiza, Ibiza, Spain
Diary dates
01-07 Dec 2022
tbc, Dunedin, New Zealand
Diary dates
17-18 Mar 2023
Tobacco Dock, London, United Kingdom
Diary dates

features

HCM People: Rich HutsonCEO of CHi Fitness and Co-founder of Fire Fitness

The business wasn’t getting the numbers needed, so I raised the prices by 25 per cent. It worked and we didn’t skip a beat

Published in Health Club Management 2019 issue 8
Rich Hutson is based in Malaysia
Rich Hutson is based in Malaysia

Tell us about your career
I started as a personal trainer in Canada, teaching women to box. I realised early on that helping people better their lives makes me feel really good.

I moved to Australia for a change, found a job at a gym and got into sales, quickly realising it was something I liked.

A stint at Fitness First in Australia followed, where I helped lead our Asia expansion as FF Asia sales director. After two years I was asked to go to Europe to take on the European sales director role and spent five amazing years there and met my future wife.

Fitness First sold Europe and I came back to Asia where I spent another eight years before parting ways in 2015.

I then partnered with my friend Dave Nuku to start Fire Fitness. After opening our second club I made a decision to find another job, because you can’t have two families living off a start-up! I spent six months in Dubai before I was offered my dream role, as CEO at CHi Fitness, which allowed me to come back to Malaysia.

We turned the business around and sold it last September to Evolution Wellness. Now back where I started, working for my old colleagues and friends!

Tell us more about Fire Fitness
We have two clubs in Kuala Lumpur. We were the first boutique fitness operator here. Our marketing and approach were very different – we made a big noise coming into the market and it made people wonder what we were.

Right from the start we had success because of our trainers and the experience that we provide. We run four classes: Stride (HIIT); Ride (cycling); Force (low impact strength); and Strike (boxing).

Our audience is a mix of expats and locals. We have a 70/30 split of female to males and a range of ages from millennials to over 60s, which varies by type of class and the trainer. We love the fact we get such a wide range of ages.

How did you turn CHi around?
I had three offers in front of me and I chose the role with CHi because it was the one that got me the most excited. I felt it was time to take a lead role after being in sales and operations for so long, even though I was nervous. I knew the business and believed it could do better.

I was transparent about my goal: to put some major results on the board so we could attract investors. This was the key to our future and I wanted every GM to be on-board with the goal and not be nervous if they heard rumours. I wanted to empower them to feel as though they were part of it.

When I looked at the strategy, pricing and what the clubs were offering, I couldn’t see how we were going to reach our goals. The business was trying to run a budget model but was a full-service offering.

It wasn’t getting the numbers needed, so I raised the prices by 25 per cent. It worked and we didn’t skip a beat.

This gave the team confidence and confirmed that their clubs were worth it.

We also closed our struggling clubs. We started with 20 and worked our way down to 13 and we make triple the EBITDA. It’s mind blowing how much time you can spend on clubs that are losing money, and this just takes away your time from building the future.

What’s the potential in Asia?
It’s an exciting time to be in here as there’s considerable growth to come.

The greatest challenge is finding a way to cater to the less affluent. In many parts of Asia you see a wide gap between those who can afford fitness and those who can’t. Catering to those less well-off is an opportunity worth pursuing.

The level of instruction in many clubs isn’t yet near the standard it needs to be. In most Asian countries there’s no governing body setting standard for qualifications, so anyone can walk off the street and say they’re a trainer.

What’s your career taught you?
It’s taught me to take chances in life and business. I’ve left what I’d consider ‘home’ more times than I can count and have loved every moment – win or lose.

I’ve worked in 17 countries and lived in a further seven, and don’t regret a single move, as everything has provided me with amazing experiences.

Sign up here to get HCM's weekly ezine and every issue of HCM magazine free on digital.
Hutson raised prices and sold struggling clubs to turn CHi around
Hutson raised prices and sold struggling clubs to turn CHi around
Fire Fitness was the first boutique fitness offering in the Malaysian market
Fire Fitness was the first boutique fitness offering in the Malaysian market
CHi Fitness aims to offer a full service at excellent value
CHi Fitness aims to offer a full service at excellent value
Hutson and business partner 
Dave Nuku have two Fire Fitness clubs in Kuala Lumpur
Hutson and business partner Dave Nuku have two Fire Fitness clubs in Kuala Lumpur
Fire offers four group fitness classes: Stride, 
Ride, Force and Strike
Fire offers four group fitness classes: Stride, Ride, Force and Strike
https://www.leisureopportunities.co.uk/images/imagesX/137776_588227.jpg
The CEO of CHi Fitness, in Malaysia, discusses how he turned the business around
Rich Hutson, CHi Fitness, Fire Fitness,Fitness, Malaysia
Latest News
New fitness franchise, Circuit Society, has signed its first London location in Bayswater. The 3,000sq ...
Latest News
Active Nottingham, part of Nottingham City Council, has released a children’s book called Can We ...
Latest News
The new £42m Moorways Sports Village will open its doors to the public on Saturday ...
Latest News
Fitness industry veteran Harm Tegelaars has returned to the fitness industry by joining the board ...
Latest News
Planet Fitness saw its Q1 2022 revenue increase by 66.9 per cent (to US$186.7m) on ...
Latest News
Sport England and UK Active have signed a five-year partnership agreement which will see the ...
Latest News
Planet Fitness is offering high-school students free access to any of its 2,200 locations in ...
Latest News
How can organisations, including health club and leisure businesses, decarbonise, generate clean energy and harness ...
Latest News
Being physically active can counter the damage of diabetes by enabling the activation of a ...
Latest News
Altis, an artificial intelligence-based personal trainer solution, has secured more than US$3m worth of financing, ...
Latest News
Members of the United States Congress and Washington DC staff are competing against each other ...
Featured supplier news
Featured supplier news: Virtuagym raises €3m investment to fuel innovation in health and fitness technology
Global fitness technology provider Virtuagym has raised a new €3m investment from Icecat, an Amsterdam-based technology company which invests in innovative technology organisations.
Featured supplier news
Featured supplier news: What’s the first thing you think about when selling gym equipment?
According to our poll the first thing 80 per cent of operators and gym owners think about when it’s time to sell gym equipment is how much your equipment is worth.
Featured operator news
Featured operator news: New partnership delivers swimming support to children with disabilities
A new partnership has been launched to provide inclusive swimming for children with mobility, visual and hearing disabilities.
Featured operator news
Featured operator news: Serco Leisure wins 10-year Mansfield contract
Following a competitive tendering process, Serco Leisure and its partner More Leisure Community Trust Limited (MLCT) have been awarded a 10-year contract by Mansfield District Council to operate three centres in the town, starting 1 May 2022.
Video Gallery
Total Vibration Solutions / Floors 4 Gyms / TVS Sports Surfaces
Mindbody, Inc
Sport Alliance GmbH
Company profiles
Company profile: Hussle
Hussle exists for two reasons: To increase opportunities for people to engage in physical activity ...
Company profiles
Company profile: Virtuagym
Virtuagym is a global provider of health and fitness technology for coaching, engagement and management ...
Supplier Showcases
Supplier showcase - Pulse Fitness: trusted partner
Catalogue Gallery
Click on a catalogue to view it online
Directory
Whole body cryotherapy
Zimmer MedizinSysteme GmbH / icelab: Whole body cryotherapy
Fitness equipment
A Panatta Sport Srl: Fitness equipment
Flooring
Total Vibration Solutions / TVS Sports Surfaces: Flooring
Salt therapy products
Saltability: Salt therapy products
Skincare
Sothys: Skincare
On demand
Fitness On Demand: On demand
Wearable technology solutions
MyZone: Wearable technology solutions
Lockers/interior design
Safe Space Lockers Ltd: Lockers/interior design
Spa software
SpaBooker: Spa software
Management software
Premier Software Solutions: Management software
Property & Tenders
Pendine Sands, Carmarthenshire
Carmarthenshire County Council
Property & Tenders
Runcorn
Halton Borough Council
Property & Tenders
Diary dates
15-16 Jun 2022
ExCeL London, London, United Kingdom
Diary dates
30-30 Jun 2022
The ICC, Birmingham, Birmingham , United Kingdom
Diary dates
25-28 Oct 2022
Messe Stuttgart, Germany
Diary dates
25-28 Oct 2022
Ibiza, Ibiza, Spain
Diary dates
01-07 Dec 2022
tbc, Dunedin, New Zealand
Diary dates
17-18 Mar 2023
Tobacco Dock, London, United Kingdom
Diary dates
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