Royal Day Spa & Health Club: Shelley Murphy

Shelley Murphy has pursued a holistic approach with her award winning business

Many of us join a gym or health club only to cancel our membership just a few months later, after wasting a lot of money for little result.

Shelly Murphy, 29, had worked in the industry and felt that the high turnover of members displayed the presence of an unfulfilled need in the sector. So she decided to establish Royal Day Spa and Health Club, that would pursue a holistic approach to mental and physical well-being and take on members who love visiting her club.

“I started off my working life as a jeweller but I was working hard and not making much money and I needed to make more really,” says Murphy. “So I took a job at a health club and, realising that there was a gap in the market, I set up a consultancy.

” I was going into startup companies doing their sales and marketing for them and boosting their membership. This developed into handling staffing and making their club a better place to be.”

But Murphy soon found that it wasn’t enough to be running other people’s affairs for them and she longed for something of her own.

“I was away from home a lot and I wanted to start my own club up, however this took a lot longer then I expected.”

Murphy found two sites that were suitable, but just when she was on the brink of closing the deal they fell through.

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Finally, she found her ideal building in Tunbridge Wells, which is connected to an apartment block and is now her venue. However, getting started was going to be an uphill battle.

Murphy had to endure two years of wrangling over deals, planning, building works and to top it all off she lost her business partner during that time too.

“It was a very frustrating time and I had to find some work to keep me going financially,” she says.

She lost her business partner after over a disagreement of how the business was to be run.

“We disagreed about the type of club we wanted to set up, he wanted a gym but I thought that a Spa was the way to go forward.”

Shelly wanted to break the mould of a traditional health club and make her business an exclusive top of the range centre for health and well-being. Her own family background had given her many of the ideas and themes for her club.

“Mum was a bit of a hippy,” she says. “So I was already very familiar with many of the concepts involved.”

But the subsequent loss of her partner had major implications for the funding of the business and she was now fifty percent short of investment. However, Murphy gritted her teeth and tackled the problem head on.

“I went to the people who I was buying the building from and I said I had lost 50% of the investment and that I needed to find more people to invest.”

They suggested that Murphy go to the people who lived in the apartments that were connected to her club. This proved to be a good idea as they could see how the success of the club was in their interests, as it would boost the value of their property.

Murphy managed to find 10 investors who each bought shares in the company worth £7,000, and along with a loan from the bank she had enough to get plans underway.

However, with building work far from completion Murphy stole a march on cash flow by selling memberships in August 2004, prior to the club’s launch in March 2005.

The long wait also meant that she could really develop her business plan and concept for her club and it appears that the planning has paid off.

The club is currently very profitable with a turnover of about half a million for the first year, a figure which Murphy says is set to double for next year.

Royal Day Spa also has a huge range of services for its members including, five different types of yoga, Tai Chi, Tae Kwon Do, Belly Dancing, Pilates, a Jacuzzi, salt water pool, masseurs, therapists, gymnasium, and more – far beyond those normally offered by run of the mill type health clubs.

“I wanted to offer a holistic approach, something that wanted that was good for both body and mind,” says Murphy.

Murphy says she wanted to get far away from the type of gyms and health clubs usually on offer, characterised by a high turnover of members and a lack customer of care.

“People who work in health clubs are so cut-throat, it was quite shocking how false they can be. I think that people need to chill out a bit.” “I have the capacity to take on 1000 members, however I limit my numbers to 500 as I want people to get the best. As a result I keep most of my members, the only downside to this is that long-term members can be very demanding as they get used to a good service and then want more.”

Murphy currently owns the majority of the business, about 75%, which is no mean feat considering the upheaval that she has been through as well as the ambitious course she has followed.

In order to succeed she has also had to overcome personal difficulty – dyslexia – writing is and always has been difficult and her reading is very slow, she says.

“One of the reasons that I wanted to run my own business is that I also thought it (dyslexia) would hold me back if I was working for someone else. I have an assistant now who can do that for me, which is a great relief.”

However, no health club is going to succeed without a strong team working there, a fact not missed by the Startup Awards judges who awarded Royal Day Spa Health Club Team of the Year 2005.

Murphy has been able to get together a group of people who have been invaluable to her including: her mother Gillian Murphy, Trish Baker, Amber Griffiths, and Cynthia Kerns.

“It was a really good award for us to win as it has been a team effort,” she says. “I went to the awards thinking that I didn’t care but when I was there I really wanted to win it. It was brilliant.”

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