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FITNESS, HEALTH, WELLNESS

features

Interview: Brian Morris

Aspria has built a collection of high-end, wellness-focused members’ clubs. Now its founder and CEO is launching a new brand – Aspresso. He talks to Kate Cracknell

Published in Health Club Management 2023 issue 4
Morris wants to make quality wellness offers accessible to more people / Photo: Aspria
Morris wants to make quality wellness offers accessible to more people / Photo: Aspria
It feels as though we’ve come out of the pandemic and lit the afterburners

Sum up the last few years
I’d rather look forward than dwell on what’s been a painful period for everyone. Suffice to say we’re grateful to have some of the most loyal members around, many of whom continued to pay through government-enforced club closures. Financially we’re back to pre-COVID levels and member numbers are close; the recovery has been as good as we could have hoped.

We haven’t only been focusing on recovery, but also on growth. In 2021, we secured a €50m initial financing tranche from Fortress Investment Group in the US (www.fortress.com) – proof health and wellbeing are on the radar of the biggest financial institutions in the world.

In spite of moving from pandemic into war, with all the horrors and cost of living crises that has brought, the interest in all things health remains strong. There’s been a sea change in mentality and approach, whereby health is now a key element of a modern way of living and working.

So the pandemic changed people’s priorities?
Certainly for me, the lessons have been that life is shorter than you think and you need to embrace it. Rather than planning for a long time in the future – working for 40 years, then retiring – people’s perspectives are now more immediate. As far as it’s possible to achieve, we’re looking for a combination life: working to earn, yes, but also prioritising looking after ourselves through leisure time, me time and family time.

But how to achieve this when we don’t have any more time in the day? The answer is by being more efficient with time and this is where Aspria comes in, because when you’re in a large health and wellness club such as ours, with so many different opportunities on offer – an answer to so many of your wellness needs in one place – you minimise time wasted on travel.

And so our clubs are becoming real third places after work and home, as the definition and edges of those previous silos blur to create a new work-life balance in a more fluid society. We’re seeing a melding of different elements within our working and leisure week and that’s exciting. We’re all having to learn what that change means for us, not only as individuals and families, but also as operators and developers.

What are Aspria’s big projects at the moment?
Our clubs are large and complex, averaging 100,000sq ft, so you can’t simply find locations to order. You have to be patient. Aspria Roosevelt, for example – the club we’re currently building in Brussels – is a project I’ve been working on for 22 years.

Once a chateau and family home of the Solvays, then a sports facility for Solvay company employees, we eventually agreed to go into partnership with the Solvay organisation, to run it as a club for its employees and external members. That was before the company moved its head office out of Brussels city centre and we acquired the property and its 10 acres of grounds for Aspria. We’ve since been working on a very complex development permitting process: it took seven years but we’re now starting construction.

Opening in 2024, Aspria Roosevelt will be a 140,000sq ft club with our normal mix of beautiful facilities: outdoor tennis courts, indoor courts under bubbles, indoor and outdoor pools, extensive fitness facilities, a full spa and large family area. All the bells and whistles you’d expect from us.

Meanwhile, we’re investing heavily in our existing Aspria clubs in Italy, Germany and Belgium, including a spa and pool remodelling at Avenue Louise, a huge new €1m spa at Royal La Rasante and extensive remodelling of Arts-Loi to make the club very group exercise-focused, with fully immersive studios.

Beyond that, as we’ve done for almost 30 years, we’ll continue to look for new opportunities. I envisage further representation for Aspria within our existing territories where the brand is already recognised and where – in larger cities – we believe the market potential exists. We also feel there are more countries and more markets to come for Aspria.

I look at the pandemic as simply having delayed our growth and evolution as a company. Of course, interruptions of the scale we’ve seen over recent years could have knocked us completely off track, but there’s been real tenacity among the Aspria leadership team – resolve to make sure something good came out of that appalling period in all our lives.

Tell us about your new brand
Opportunities are funny things: you don’t see any for a while, then they all come along at once. We’ve developed eight Aspria clubs in 20 years. With our new Aspresso brand, we’ll deliver four clubs in 18 months.

By budget club standards that isn’t a huge number, but Aspresso isn’t just a gym. Each club will have large outdoor activity spaces – mostly racquets but also other sports, especially where there’s a legacy – as well as swimming, fitness and group exercise, food and beverage and kids’ facilities. So these are big, family-friendly clubs.

The difference compared to Aspria is the market positioning: Aspresso is the sports and fitness club for the wider market, with a lower price tag – €50–€60 a month – and sufficient activity space for a bigger membership.

It’s a fresh, light, contemporary, welcoming brand. A bit less flair and a bit more function than Aspria – more ‘IKEA’, more modular, but somewhere you’ll feel comfortable and have all the facilities you want. It’s less about how beautiful and high-end the facilities are, more about the fact that you can access them all for an affordable price.

I’d place Aspresso in the relatively unpopulated ‘budget family’ segment. In fact, Go Fit – Gabriel Sáez and his team – is arguably the only other operator doing anything like this at the moment and I have huge respect for them. They’re excellent operators, very of-the-moment, with a well thought-through product developed in collaboration with universities, the medical sector and so on. The way they dealt with COVID… it was so professional, so intelligent, so impressive.

At Aspria we had medical experts, 360° Aspria Pro health assessments, immunity-based programmes in place for seven years before the pandemic. But Go Fit did it at pace and with volume. That’s what was so impressive.

Of course, we’re not here to copy Go Fit: we have our own Aspria Group DNA and we’ll shape our affordable ‘club for everyone’ concept accordingly. Our model is also mainly one of private funding, while Go Fit works primarily in partnership with local authorities. Different routes to the same goal.

Tell us about your first Aspresso site
First to launch is Aspresso K7 Valencia; I’ve loved Spain for 25 years and we’ve been looking for the right opportunities there for a long time.

What we’ve acquired is a large family club, most recently known as Club de Campo K7 Valencia, with over 30 years of history and set in nine acres of land. What we’ve inherited is a club that over the years has been developed in a rather unplanned, piecemeal way.

We now want to create a cohesive, planned, symbiotic development of facilities that are fit for purpose, both for modern families and for adult members. This will inevitably require us to phase the development, as the club will remain open throughout.

The club relaunched as Aspresso K7 Valencia at the beginning of April. We’ve done a lot of work on the infrastructure, people and systems already, but our investment in the facilities will be ongoing for the next 12–18 months and indeed beyond.

I love what I call ‘ugly ducklings’: the clubs you need to encourage to come out and blossom. K7 definitely needs some love and we’ll be spending millions, but the end result will be fantastic. There’s also a beauty in a complex project like this where there’s always more to come.

What are your rollout plans?
The next site is in Rome – another existing but closed-down club we’ve acquired. The re-opening and rebrand to Aspresso will be announced soon and we’ll open in Q4.

Clubs three and four will be in Germany and Italy, opening between Q4 2023 and Q2 2024.

Beyond that, we believe a few clubs a year is a sustainable development programme for us. We’ll be looking for further opportunities in Spain, Germany and Italy as well as elsewhere in Europe.

Negotiations are also ongoing for new-build clubs, but for now we’re predominantly focused on acquiring, rebranding and remodelling existing clubs as we find it’s a faster way to grow. It does make things more complex, of course, because you have to be mindful of the history and the legacy. But as we’ve shown at Aspria, where many of our clubs had a life before we took the reins – Royal La Rasante first opened in 1902, just as one example – it’s possible to intelligently integrate that legacy and history within an entirely new concept.

And that’s what our team is really good at: interpreting what’s right for now and for the future, then making sure that’s what we deliver. So this is what we’re doing at Aspresso K7 Valencia: leveraging its past, but with a contemporary outlook and much-upgraded facilities to suit the modern family and a modern lifestyle.

What excites you about Aspresso?
Other than the darkest days of COVID, I don’t think I’ve ever had a day where I haven’t been excited about the future of the group, whether that’s developing Aspria clubs or Aspresso clubs or some of our other initiatives and ideas. That’s my driving force, and the driving force of the senior team I’m so proud of.

And then Aspresso specifically… I’ve wanted to do it for some time. My family wasn’t wealthy and money was tight. This is my way of making sure the Aspria Group appeals to a larger proportion of the population.

This isn’t some great altruistic campaign. I just think that change can come through the carrot or the stick, and I favour the carrot. For me, that means creating clubs for everyone, making improved health and wellness available to more people. If we’re in a position to give back in that way, why wouldn’t we?

And the whole senior team, some of whom have been with me for two decades, are really excited about it. It’s great to see them so energised, so firm in their belief that we’re heading in the right direction.

The speed of the roll-out is a complete step change for us: it feels as though we’re coming out of the pandemic and have lit the afterburners! But after the last few years of getting through on sheer willpower and tenacity, it’s nice to finally be exhausted for happy reasons.

Aspria clubs offer ‘me time, family time, leisure time’ / Photo: Aspria
Aspria clubs offer ‘me time, family time, leisure time’ / Photo: Aspria
Aspria is looking look for more Aspresso sites / Photo: Aspria
Aspria is looking look for more Aspresso sites / Photo: Aspria
Aspria clubs average 100,000sq ft, so it takes time to find new locations / Photo: Aspria
Aspria clubs average 100,000sq ft, so it takes time to find new locations / Photo: Aspria
Morris says now more than ever, clubs can become the ‘third space’ in members’ lives / Photo: Aspria
Morris says now more than ever, clubs can become the ‘third space’ in members’ lives / Photo: Aspria
Aspresso will be the company’s sports and fitness club for the wider market, with a lower price tag / Photo: cesarlloreda.com
Aspresso will be the company’s sports and fitness club for the wider market, with a lower price tag / Photo: cesarlloreda.com
/ Photo: cesarlloreda.com
/ Photo: Aspria
Morris says he feels ‘energised and excited’ about future plans / Photo: Aspria
Morris says he feels ‘energised and excited’ about future plans / Photo: Aspria
https://www.leisureopportunities.co.uk/images/2023/127466_177722.jpg
The CEO of high-end club operator Aspria talks about the company’s launch of Aspresso, a full-service budget brand for the family market
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features

Interview: Brian Morris

Aspria has built a collection of high-end, wellness-focused members’ clubs. Now its founder and CEO is launching a new brand – Aspresso. He talks to Kate Cracknell

Published in Health Club Management 2023 issue 4
Morris wants to make quality wellness offers accessible to more people / Photo: Aspria
Morris wants to make quality wellness offers accessible to more people / Photo: Aspria
It feels as though we’ve come out of the pandemic and lit the afterburners

Sum up the last few years
I’d rather look forward than dwell on what’s been a painful period for everyone. Suffice to say we’re grateful to have some of the most loyal members around, many of whom continued to pay through government-enforced club closures. Financially we’re back to pre-COVID levels and member numbers are close; the recovery has been as good as we could have hoped.

We haven’t only been focusing on recovery, but also on growth. In 2021, we secured a €50m initial financing tranche from Fortress Investment Group in the US (www.fortress.com) – proof health and wellbeing are on the radar of the biggest financial institutions in the world.

In spite of moving from pandemic into war, with all the horrors and cost of living crises that has brought, the interest in all things health remains strong. There’s been a sea change in mentality and approach, whereby health is now a key element of a modern way of living and working.

So the pandemic changed people’s priorities?
Certainly for me, the lessons have been that life is shorter than you think and you need to embrace it. Rather than planning for a long time in the future – working for 40 years, then retiring – people’s perspectives are now more immediate. As far as it’s possible to achieve, we’re looking for a combination life: working to earn, yes, but also prioritising looking after ourselves through leisure time, me time and family time.

But how to achieve this when we don’t have any more time in the day? The answer is by being more efficient with time and this is where Aspria comes in, because when you’re in a large health and wellness club such as ours, with so many different opportunities on offer – an answer to so many of your wellness needs in one place – you minimise time wasted on travel.

And so our clubs are becoming real third places after work and home, as the definition and edges of those previous silos blur to create a new work-life balance in a more fluid society. We’re seeing a melding of different elements within our working and leisure week and that’s exciting. We’re all having to learn what that change means for us, not only as individuals and families, but also as operators and developers.

What are Aspria’s big projects at the moment?
Our clubs are large and complex, averaging 100,000sq ft, so you can’t simply find locations to order. You have to be patient. Aspria Roosevelt, for example – the club we’re currently building in Brussels – is a project I’ve been working on for 22 years.

Once a chateau and family home of the Solvays, then a sports facility for Solvay company employees, we eventually agreed to go into partnership with the Solvay organisation, to run it as a club for its employees and external members. That was before the company moved its head office out of Brussels city centre and we acquired the property and its 10 acres of grounds for Aspria. We’ve since been working on a very complex development permitting process: it took seven years but we’re now starting construction.

Opening in 2024, Aspria Roosevelt will be a 140,000sq ft club with our normal mix of beautiful facilities: outdoor tennis courts, indoor courts under bubbles, indoor and outdoor pools, extensive fitness facilities, a full spa and large family area. All the bells and whistles you’d expect from us.

Meanwhile, we’re investing heavily in our existing Aspria clubs in Italy, Germany and Belgium, including a spa and pool remodelling at Avenue Louise, a huge new €1m spa at Royal La Rasante and extensive remodelling of Arts-Loi to make the club very group exercise-focused, with fully immersive studios.

Beyond that, as we’ve done for almost 30 years, we’ll continue to look for new opportunities. I envisage further representation for Aspria within our existing territories where the brand is already recognised and where – in larger cities – we believe the market potential exists. We also feel there are more countries and more markets to come for Aspria.

I look at the pandemic as simply having delayed our growth and evolution as a company. Of course, interruptions of the scale we’ve seen over recent years could have knocked us completely off track, but there’s been real tenacity among the Aspria leadership team – resolve to make sure something good came out of that appalling period in all our lives.

Tell us about your new brand
Opportunities are funny things: you don’t see any for a while, then they all come along at once. We’ve developed eight Aspria clubs in 20 years. With our new Aspresso brand, we’ll deliver four clubs in 18 months.

By budget club standards that isn’t a huge number, but Aspresso isn’t just a gym. Each club will have large outdoor activity spaces – mostly racquets but also other sports, especially where there’s a legacy – as well as swimming, fitness and group exercise, food and beverage and kids’ facilities. So these are big, family-friendly clubs.

The difference compared to Aspria is the market positioning: Aspresso is the sports and fitness club for the wider market, with a lower price tag – €50–€60 a month – and sufficient activity space for a bigger membership.

It’s a fresh, light, contemporary, welcoming brand. A bit less flair and a bit more function than Aspria – more ‘IKEA’, more modular, but somewhere you’ll feel comfortable and have all the facilities you want. It’s less about how beautiful and high-end the facilities are, more about the fact that you can access them all for an affordable price.

I’d place Aspresso in the relatively unpopulated ‘budget family’ segment. In fact, Go Fit – Gabriel Sáez and his team – is arguably the only other operator doing anything like this at the moment and I have huge respect for them. They’re excellent operators, very of-the-moment, with a well thought-through product developed in collaboration with universities, the medical sector and so on. The way they dealt with COVID… it was so professional, so intelligent, so impressive.

At Aspria we had medical experts, 360° Aspria Pro health assessments, immunity-based programmes in place for seven years before the pandemic. But Go Fit did it at pace and with volume. That’s what was so impressive.

Of course, we’re not here to copy Go Fit: we have our own Aspria Group DNA and we’ll shape our affordable ‘club for everyone’ concept accordingly. Our model is also mainly one of private funding, while Go Fit works primarily in partnership with local authorities. Different routes to the same goal.

Tell us about your first Aspresso site
First to launch is Aspresso K7 Valencia; I’ve loved Spain for 25 years and we’ve been looking for the right opportunities there for a long time.

What we’ve acquired is a large family club, most recently known as Club de Campo K7 Valencia, with over 30 years of history and set in nine acres of land. What we’ve inherited is a club that over the years has been developed in a rather unplanned, piecemeal way.

We now want to create a cohesive, planned, symbiotic development of facilities that are fit for purpose, both for modern families and for adult members. This will inevitably require us to phase the development, as the club will remain open throughout.

The club relaunched as Aspresso K7 Valencia at the beginning of April. We’ve done a lot of work on the infrastructure, people and systems already, but our investment in the facilities will be ongoing for the next 12–18 months and indeed beyond.

I love what I call ‘ugly ducklings’: the clubs you need to encourage to come out and blossom. K7 definitely needs some love and we’ll be spending millions, but the end result will be fantastic. There’s also a beauty in a complex project like this where there’s always more to come.

What are your rollout plans?
The next site is in Rome – another existing but closed-down club we’ve acquired. The re-opening and rebrand to Aspresso will be announced soon and we’ll open in Q4.

Clubs three and four will be in Germany and Italy, opening between Q4 2023 and Q2 2024.

Beyond that, we believe a few clubs a year is a sustainable development programme for us. We’ll be looking for further opportunities in Spain, Germany and Italy as well as elsewhere in Europe.

Negotiations are also ongoing for new-build clubs, but for now we’re predominantly focused on acquiring, rebranding and remodelling existing clubs as we find it’s a faster way to grow. It does make things more complex, of course, because you have to be mindful of the history and the legacy. But as we’ve shown at Aspria, where many of our clubs had a life before we took the reins – Royal La Rasante first opened in 1902, just as one example – it’s possible to intelligently integrate that legacy and history within an entirely new concept.

And that’s what our team is really good at: interpreting what’s right for now and for the future, then making sure that’s what we deliver. So this is what we’re doing at Aspresso K7 Valencia: leveraging its past, but with a contemporary outlook and much-upgraded facilities to suit the modern family and a modern lifestyle.

What excites you about Aspresso?
Other than the darkest days of COVID, I don’t think I’ve ever had a day where I haven’t been excited about the future of the group, whether that’s developing Aspria clubs or Aspresso clubs or some of our other initiatives and ideas. That’s my driving force, and the driving force of the senior team I’m so proud of.

And then Aspresso specifically… I’ve wanted to do it for some time. My family wasn’t wealthy and money was tight. This is my way of making sure the Aspria Group appeals to a larger proportion of the population.

This isn’t some great altruistic campaign. I just think that change can come through the carrot or the stick, and I favour the carrot. For me, that means creating clubs for everyone, making improved health and wellness available to more people. If we’re in a position to give back in that way, why wouldn’t we?

And the whole senior team, some of whom have been with me for two decades, are really excited about it. It’s great to see them so energised, so firm in their belief that we’re heading in the right direction.

The speed of the roll-out is a complete step change for us: it feels as though we’re coming out of the pandemic and have lit the afterburners! But after the last few years of getting through on sheer willpower and tenacity, it’s nice to finally be exhausted for happy reasons.

Aspria clubs offer ‘me time, family time, leisure time’ / Photo: Aspria
Aspria clubs offer ‘me time, family time, leisure time’ / Photo: Aspria
Aspria is looking look for more Aspresso sites / Photo: Aspria
Aspria is looking look for more Aspresso sites / Photo: Aspria
Aspria clubs average 100,000sq ft, so it takes time to find new locations / Photo: Aspria
Aspria clubs average 100,000sq ft, so it takes time to find new locations / Photo: Aspria
Morris says now more than ever, clubs can become the ‘third space’ in members’ lives / Photo: Aspria
Morris says now more than ever, clubs can become the ‘third space’ in members’ lives / Photo: Aspria
Aspresso will be the company’s sports and fitness club for the wider market, with a lower price tag / Photo: cesarlloreda.com
Aspresso will be the company’s sports and fitness club for the wider market, with a lower price tag / Photo: cesarlloreda.com
/ Photo: cesarlloreda.com
/ Photo: Aspria
Morris says he feels ‘energised and excited’ about future plans / Photo: Aspria
Morris says he feels ‘energised and excited’ about future plans / Photo: Aspria
https://www.leisureopportunities.co.uk/images/2023/127466_177722.jpg
The CEO of high-end club operator Aspria talks about the company’s launch of Aspresso, a full-service budget brand for the family market
Latest News
Urban Gym Group CEO Neil Randall talks in this month’s HCM about how being passed ...
Latest News
Boxing and strength franchise UBX has taken a step closer to realising its ambitions to ...
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Community Leisure UK (CLUK) and The Richmond Group of Charities have joined forces to support ...
Latest News
Mental Health Swims has been awarded almost £18,000 of lottery money to extend its mission ...
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Employee wellness app GoJoe has teamed up with Les Mills for a major new content ...
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Former footballer, David Beckham, has become a strategic investor in health sciences company, Prenetics, which ...
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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.
Featured supplier news
Featured supplier news: THFI’s new online coaching course partners with FITR: launch your business confidently post-completion
In today's rapidly evolving fitness industry, where many online courses promise secret formulas for entrepreneurial success, the reality is that few provide the necessary knowledge to thrive in this fast-changing profession.
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Company profiles
Company profile: Alliance Leisure
The company’s core business is the provision of facility development and support for local authorities, ...
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Featured press releases
Servicesport UK Limited press release: ServiceSport UK awarded Ministry of Justice contract for gym equipment maintenance in prisons
In a significant milestone, ServiceSport UK proudly announces that we have been awarded the prestigious Ministry of Justice contract for the inspection, service, and maintenance of PE equipment across 106 public prisons in England and Wales.
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Alliance Leisure Services (Design, Build and Fund) press release: Alliance Leisure celebrates official opening of its first Leisure Local Health Hub
This month sees the official opening of a brand new, £9 million Health Hub in Nottinghamshire. Based on Sport England’s Leisure Local model, the new community provision delivers a host of leisure facilities designed to bring new active living opportunities to the whole community.
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Property & Tenders
Jersey
Jersey War Tunnels
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Chiswick, Gillingham, York and Nottingham
Savills
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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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