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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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Speaking exclusively in the current issue of HCM magazine, Third Space CEO, Colin Waggett, says ...
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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
Self Esteem Brands (SEB), owner of Anytime Fitness, has released year-end results which show year-on-year ...
Latest News
Basic-Fit has introduced a new approach to tackle gymtimidation and create an inclusive environment in ...
Latest News
Speaking exclusively in the current issue of HCM magazine, Third Space CEO, Colin Waggett, says ...
Latest News
Australian exercise and active health trade body, AUSactive, has partnered with the national Royal Life ...
Latest News
Kerzner International has ushered in a new era of wellness-centric hospitality and unveiled its highly-anticipated ...
Latest News
Following a successful pilot, The Gym Group is rolling out a programme, delivered by The ...
Latest News
As Planet Fitness announces strong year-end results there are reports the company is planning a ...
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Featured supplier news: Panatta shares the secrets behind the Three Angles Biceps Machine
Panatta’s Three Angles Bicep Machine is designed for training the main elbow flexor muscles; the biceps brachii and brachialis.
Featured supplier news
Featured supplier news: seca TRU: Medical values for medical fitness
Developed for the world of medicine, tailored to the needs of modern fitness studios. The seca TRU seamlessly provides medical expertise for health-focused training with a clinically validated body composition analysis meeting the health and fitness industry's evolving demands.
Company profiles
Company profile: Study Active
Study Active is a UK leading provider of health & fitness qualifications including Gym Instructing ...
Company profiles
Company profile: Balanced Body®
Balanced Body is the global leader in Pilates equipment and education. Founded over 47 years ...
Supplier Showcases
Supplier showcase - Fisikal: Fast reactions
Catalogue Gallery
Click on a catalogue to view it online
Featured press releases
Precor UK press release: Precor launches new functional strength training line powered by BeaverFit
Precor, trusted fitness solution provider to more than 14,000 global facilities, has selected BeaverFit, the world’s largest supplier of fitness equipment to U.S. and NATO militaries, to design and manufacture their new functional training line.
Featured press releases
The Health & Fitness Institute press release: THFI Launches Wellness Coaching Qualification Aimed at NHS Relief and Economic Boost
Recent data from UK Active has revealed that a shocking 25% of the UK’s population is classed as ‘inactive,’ averaging less than 30 minutes of exercise a week.
Directory
Cryotherapy
Art of Cryo: Cryotherapy
Snowroom
TechnoAlpin SpA: Snowroom
Lockers
Fitlockers: Lockers
Spa software
SpaBooker: Spa software
Salt therapy products
Himalayan Source: Salt therapy products
Flooring
Total Vibration Solutions / TVS Sports Surfaces: Flooring
Property & Tenders
Loughton, IG10
Knight Frank
Property & Tenders
Grantham, Leicestershire
Belvoir Castle
Property & Tenders
Diary dates
11-14 Apr 2024
Exhibition Centre , Cologne, Germany
Diary dates
22-24 Apr 2024
Galgorm Resort, York,
Diary dates
30 May - 02 Jun 2024
Rimini Exhibition Center, Rimini, Italy
Diary dates
08-08 Jun 2024
Worldwide, Various,
Diary dates
11-13 Jun 2024
Raffles City Convention Centre, Singapore, Singapore
Diary dates
12-13 Jun 2024
ExCeL London, London, United Kingdom
Diary dates
22-25 Oct 2024
Messe Stuttgart, Germany
Diary dates
04-07 Nov 2024
In person, St Andrews, United Kingdom
Diary dates
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