The Gym: John Treharne

The founder of no frills chain The Gym on applying the easyJet model to the fitness industry

John Treharne’s career in the fitness industry spans 25 years. However, his latest venture The Gym, has torn up the health club rule book and is pioneering a whole new concept in fitness outlets. The business draws inspiration from a similar concept operating in the States with cost being the biggest differentiator to traditional clubs. At £15 a month, membership is at least three times cheaper than the cost of joining the average mid-market or premium UK gym. Having already opened seven branches since 2007, and plans to open 10 more a year, John is poised to attack the 90% of the population who don’t yet belong to a club.

“40% of our members have never been to a gym in their lives,” says John. “What’s happening is we’re attracting right across the social spectrum. This concept isn’t about pinching members from our competitors. It’s about attracting a new market – those on low incomes, students, retired people, housewives. However, we do also still attract the top ABC’s that typical health clubs sign up.”

The Gym can afford to price itself well below competitors because it’s scrapped the traditional reception, admin and sales staff and replaced them with a highly sophisticated web platform which manages all memberships and payments online. The facilities are also incredibly low cost in comparison to other clubs. Only one piece of equipment needs to be plugged in, there are no expensive energy consuming pools to run and the 24/7 operating hours actually save on security and maintenance fees as everything is monitored remotely.

“We applied the same principle as easyJet, members sign up, pay and manage their accounts online but that means we don’t have to charge them as much for the service,” explains John.

“No other club uses the web in the way we do. Our website is amazing. It gets anything from 2000-7000 hits a day and as we expand, each club uses the same system so it’s a much more economical process. You can’t just take a Fitness First and turn it into what we do. Their cost base is very staff intensive. We have a head office admin team of three and even as we grow we won’t need to expand that.”

Just what the doctor ordered

The no frills proposition was also directly responsible for the funding John received from Bridges Ventures who have put in £6m since 2007. Its low price means The Gym’s membership base is classless, and well within the budget of doctor’s and NHS practices who need to prescribe exercise to their patients. “One of the biggest difficulties I had was raising capital,” says John. “I needed a significant amount to roll the concept out quickly, but VC’s don’t want to fund start-ups. I went to Bridges because they have a different remit due to their interest in social investment.”

The strong proposition and the proven Stateside model (Planet Fitness, a similar concept, has 200 branches) clearly impressed Bridges, but John’s own background in the industry would have been equally confidence inspiring. The former accountant and England squash player started his first gym chain, Dragons Health Clubs, back in the late eighties. After floating the business in 1997, John and his investors sold it three years later. A stint with premium club Esporta ensued before he began work on The Gym.

“We’re now moving very quickly towards profitability,” says John. “The concept is very much about volume. We see it developing predominantly in large city centres. We’ve already signed up all our 2010 sites and are now thinking about 2011.”

Having already attracted over 30,000 members in the midst of a recession across clubs in London, Manchester, and Liverpool, The Gym’s prospects as we enter the recovery period are certainly in great shape. Look out for a branch near you soon. 

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