truGym: Parm Singh

The budget gym operator on avoiding an office job and the importance of business planning

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Company name: 5k Fitness Ltd – trading as: truGym
Founders: Parm Singh
Age: 33
Based: Maidstone
Staff numbers: 6
Date started: September 2010

Tell us what your business does:
truGym is a budget gym operator, offering affordable gym membership from £9.99 per month. We offer large open plan gyms, with the latest equipment. We have taken away extra facilities such as swimming pools and saunas and we offer a “no frills” alternative in a clean friendly environment. By removing these overheads and making significant investment in access control, security and online membership sales, we have driven down our operational costs.

How did you know there was a market for it? What’s your USP (unique selling point)?
Price has always been a barrier to entry for many potential gym users. From our research, it was clear that approximately 25% of gym members actually use the add-on services such as swimming pools and saunas. So, it was clear that the majority of gym users are paying membership usually in excess of £40 per month, for services that they do not use. Our first gym in Maidstone, is open 6am to 10pm every day – the USP here is simply the value for money. We offer the most affordable gym in Maidstone, with the latest top of the range equipment. Our next gym in Peterborough will have another USP, in that it will be open 24 hours a day.

What were you doing before starting up?
My background is in opticians and hearing centres, where I established a similar low cost business model, based on high volumes.

Have you always wanted to run your own business?
I have always wanted to work for myself. Having worked in my early twenties for a blue chip pharmaceutical company, I quickly realised an office job was not for me.

What planning did you do before you started? What advice did you seek?
I spent a lot of time planning the business – it took me almost a year to get all the systems and software configured to ensure I had a sustainable and profitable business going forward. During this time I made a lot of contacts in the fitness world and attended several industry events. Due diligence was crucial to enabling a successful launch of our first gym. I produced the business plan and made realistic projections based on the industry knowledge I had gathered. Luckily, we have exceeded them so far.

How did you raise the money?
The first gym has been largely self-funded, but also asset financed through a lender. We were fortunate in that we actually had several lenders offering us finance as they could see the potential for our business and the strength of the management.

How did you find suppliers?
We approached several large gym equipment suppliers and went through a lengthy and detailed tendering process, to ensure that the price we paid was competitive and that we had a solid service level agreement in place.

What challenges have you faced and how have you overcome them?
Finding premises has been the biggest obstacle. We are constantly on the look-out for suitable premises in large towns and cities in prominent locations and are working with several agents to meet our requirements. We are planning a rapid expansion plan, so are actively looking for partners/franchisees as well. Finding the right people is always a challenging task and we are looking for motivated individuals with entrepreneurial spirit and proven business and customer service experience.

How have you promoted your business? What has proved successful and what won’t you do again?
We have used all types of media: leaflets, banners, web marketing, newspapers and radio. As our business is based online, we have invested heavily in web marketing and social networking, this has by far been the most effective medium.

How much do you charge? How did you decide this?
Pre-paid membership starts at £9.99 a month or pay-as-you-go from £14.99 a month. The price was derived from our projections and break-even analysis, based on the size of our property and potential members.

What about staff – how many do you have?
We have six staff, from personal trainers and receptionists to an in house web developer. Our future sites will have less staff overheads, as they will be largely CCTV monitored.

What has your growth been like? Are you where your business plan said you’d be?
We have exceeded membership numbers in Maidstone and after just four months, we are near our 3000 member capacity. Our projections and cashflow forecasts have been correct and the business is already profitable and cash positive.

What’s the impact on your home life been like?
As with any start-up business, a lot of commitment is required. The hard work is about to start all over again with Peterborough opening soon.

What would you say the greatest difficulty has been in starting up?
Selling memberships before we had opened and convincing people to sign up without actually seeing the gym.

What advice would you give to budding entrepreneurs?
If you have an idea, research it and test it from all angles. You need to prove that your idea can generate sales and has a big enough margin for sustainable growth.

Where do you want to be in five years’ time? Do you have an exit plan?
Our plan is to continue our growth in the budget gym sector, with plans for at least five sites in 2011. We also plan on recruiting new franchisees, in the right locations to increase our market share. Once we have achieved market penetration, we would look to acquire similar businesses and would not rule out an IPO on AIM or PLUS.

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