Fitness is Big Business – Great Sector for Start Ups

Passing the batton

By Ben Camara, a fully qualified personal trainer and co founder of No1 Fitness Group with studios in the City of London and Tower Bridge 


Health and wellbeing in the UK has been steadily increasing year on year with more and more people thinking carefully about their day-to-day decisions when it comes to eating, gym training and general health. By 2021, general health consciousness is set to rise by 0.7% to reach 28.7% – which, of course, is great news for the fitness industry.


Furthermore, UK consumer spending on gyms soared by 44% between 2014 and 2015 (source Cardlytics) as one in seven Brits now holds a gym membership. As the industry continues to grow at break neck speed and is expected to increase by 24% by 2020, never has there been a better time to tap into this lucrative market.


When I first co-founded No1 Fitness Studios in 2009 with my partner, Harry Thomas, it was clear to us that fitness was big business. At the same time, it was also in a transitional phase with little requirement for the ‘middle level’ gym with members paying on average £60 per month for a mediocre gym experience. Although we were relatively young (in our early 20s), we knew that in order to do things properly meant having to understand our business (and the industry) inside and out.


There was very little available when it came to affordable one to one personal training housed in ‘accessible’ private studios – most trainers worked inside mainstream gyms offering very little privacy and ‘experience’ for their clients.


We saw this as an opportunity to create a premium fitness business delivered in a relaxed and informal environment. A place where a number of our PTs could train their clients (often alongside each other) where focus was simply on achieving results in super quick time. What’s more, we created a business model based around paying our trainers for every client they serviced (rather than a fixed monthly salary) which enabled steady cash flow and efficient use of resources – helping us to grow and expand.


Obtaining funding was our first hurdle. We needed to source a loan to secure our first studio site in Tower Bridge. We achieved this by showing the commercial capability of bringing what was once a new concept of training to the gym consumer. Apart from yoga, personal training and studios dedicated to group fitness had not come into the London market.


At this point there was no crowd funding and social media was really only Facebook which, at the time, had nowhere near as much marketing clout as it does now. We had to write the business plan, create the clear vision and show the investors that the business could work.


If starting the business now, I would certainly utilise crowd-sourcing platforms, as this is a highly effective way to seed the brand out to possible investors. Be sure that you already have a good amount of private funding confirmed first as you want there to be an investment coming in as soon as you go live.


A way to ensure potential investors feel less at risk is to be completely transparent and present best case / worse case scenarios with contingencies for each.


As the business grew, we opened our City studio in 2012 which resulted in an increase in turnover of over 185%. By January 2013, our one-to-one membership nearly doubled which meant we needed to hire more highly skilled personable trainers, super quick.


After opening the doors of the City studio, things became abundantly clear that we were now seen, especially by our bank, not just as a small business but one with real growth potential as revenues grew and the brand itself gained more exposure and trust. Trust is key in fitness – people are spending their hard earned cash on behavioural changes to enhance their lives, which can be uncomfortable. We look to take this burden out of our client’s hands. Our in-house motto is to be ‘help practitioners’ as well as health practitioners – we are there to help the client get the result they have paid for. We don’t sell memberships, we sell results!



Ben’s Advice for Flexing ‘Business Muscle’ in the Fitness World




Adaptation is key – all businesses when looking to survive competitor threats, government legislation changes and a whole raft of other things that could sink your business into the abyss need to be ready for change and adapt quickly and intelligently.


Introducing multiple revenue streams around your brand ethos and core business will keep you in good stead to ride the waves of unexpected events. For example at No1 Fitness, in addition to our three tiered personal training packages and small group fitness classes, we launched No1 Fitness Education offering courses and mentoring to people wanting to become personal trainers, taught by experts at the forefront of health, fitness and nutrition. The various certifications are internationally accredited which enhances employment opportunities for the students on a global scale.


Know Your Numbers


If you’re a start up that’s stumbled upon the next big idea you’ve probably started on the route of putting that pain staking business plan together. As fitness professionals, most people would assume the only numbers that we focus on day to day are sets and reps. However, knowing every facet about your business will be crucial for getting the investment you need and getting your business off the ground.


Create a detailed marketing strategy. Understand how much each new client/customer will cost as well as the journey they took from discovering you as a brand to then making a purchase. What’s more, know your clients – keep them engaged and happy to continue using your service.


I would recommend from the offset, setting up a CRM system that integrates well with your business. This will save on time and be far easier to collate crucial data about your client base.


Know Your Values


When it comes to running and growing your business, having the right staff around you will make or break you as will having the right values and ethics.


The industry, as with many sectors, is saturated but the one thing the fitness industry does have is clear values and beliefs. Our ethos for all our PTs is to ‘Help to better health’. Without this our business has no purpose.


Staff Training


Health and fitness is customer service at its best. We’ve learnt the hard way when it comes to training staff and have gone full circle. Now, nearly 8 years on, we have what we call our No1 School of Excellence. We’ve got a great team now but that’s because they live the brand and understand that every day is an experience for our members.


Health & Fitness is a fantastic industry to get into and the joys of helping people are second to none. The four-hour workweek model however won’t cut it here, but you’ll reap the rewards if you put the work in.

Ben Camara