“For us, it’s always about location,” explains Paul Lorimer-Wing, CEO of easyGym, as he leads me into the company’s new flagship site in The Plaza on London’s Oxford Street. “London was key for us – a statement of intent to show we’re a serious player. There’s no better location than this for our model: it’s convenient to thousands of people and nothing in the area comes close to beating us on our two defining factors: size and price.”
Size is certainly something no-one can deny this new site has – it’s so vast I can’t take it all in at first glance – and at £19.99 a month, it undercuts the nearest competitors by at least £50.
“There’s no better way to enter the central London market than with a 26,000sq ft gym right in the middle of Oxford Street for under £20 a month!” says Lorimer-Wing.
Opened on 24 June, easyGym Oxford Street is the company’s seventh site, following Slough, Wood Green, Birmingham, Cardiff, West Croydon and Ilford. It’s managed by Fore Capital Partners, who founded the concept and have a brand license agreement for the famous ‘easy’ name.
In Oxford Street, the fitness area is split into distinct zones, but this does nothing to detract from its vastness. It comfortably houses 42 treadmills, 30 cross-trainers, 27 bikes and 14 Adaptive Motion Trainers (AMT) – all from Precor’s 880 Line, with P80 consoles offering Preva Networked Fitness. There are also 10 Concept2 Rowers, two Stairmaster steppers and an 8.5m TRX frame – and still room to spare.
Moving through the gym, a fixed resistance zone houses the Precor Discovery line – three pieces of every kind of selectorised equipment, plus two of each plate-loaded – as well as 15 cable machines. Meanwhile the functional Freedom Zone is a space where, according to Lorimer-Wing, members can “pick and choose… an empty space for people to do exactly as they wish”. But here, ‘empty’ still means stacked with Escape Fitness and Absolute Performance kit, as well as a Power Plate Pro 7 vibration platform.
Just when I thought there could be no more, round the corner I find the huge free weights zone, with an extensive array of Precor Icarian plate-loaded equipment and Escape free weights.
“It’s certainly huge,” says club manager Kelly Rush. “The sheer amount of kit – 25 per cent more than the average easyGym – means people are sold the minute they walk through the door. They already know the price and there are no contracts, no catches. If they want out, we ask for just five days’ notice. I don’t think anyone does budget quite like us.”
“Since the first site, our philosophy has been to provide a quality, affordable experience,” says Lorimer-Wing. “We strip out the frills to give great value, but still have top of the range equipment, tasteful décor and quality fittings. That’s what being part of ‘easy’ is about, creating a product that doesn’t feel weak or cheap. Low-cost doesn’t have to mean basic.”
In terms of interior design, raw blockwork and metallic finishes give the gym an urban feel. Lorimer-Wing explains: “Our primary focus was pure functionality. We took the site right back to its core, then extensively reconfigured it to meet our standards. We didn’t take shortcuts – for example, the gym has a high-spec floating floor and we commissioned a graffiti wall – but we saved money by leaving the steel girders exposed and keeping the décor simple.”
Costs are also kept down by eliminating front desk – members join at kiosks by the entrance, and gain entry by using a personal pin or by pressing a bell to call one of the two staff members always on duty on-site. “One of the reasons we’re not 24/7 is that I like gyms to be staffed,” explains Lorimer-Wing. “I don’t dispute the convenience of 24/7, or discount it altogether as we may adopt it in the future, but when and if we do, clubs will still always be staffed.”
But if members do want ‘frills’, these are available – and in line with the easyGym philosophy, costs are transparent. “Unlimited access to 50 classes a week in our 1,800sq ft studio costs £11.99, or £4 per class. And anyone can walk in off Oxford Street and pay £5 for a full day pass,” says Rush.
Meanwhile the Preva Media Package – available on all cardio kit and allowing members to watch TV, browse the web, check emails and track workouts – is free for four weeks and £1.99 a month thereafter. Jez Whitling, director of sales for Precor, says: “This new feature enabled easyGym to purchase top of the range Precor equipment but still charge a low membership fee. Members can decide whether to pay a little extra, with the fee generating income to help pay for the initial equipment investment.”
All memberships come with a free, voluntary induction, but there are also six PTs available for follow-up sessions – easyGym puts a cap of six self-employed PTs in all its clubs, each charging whatever they choose within easyGym’s agreed parameters of £20–£50 a session.
“Capping numbers in this way helps us ensure the calibre of our PTs, as well as enhancing their earning capacity,” says Lorimer-Wing. After paying a monthly retainer fee, PTs are free to keep 100 per cent of their profits.
Lorimer-Wing continues: “We don’t look to make money out of our PTs and we charge them less than they’d pay anywhere else; the making of any easyGym is not about the success or failure of its personal trainers. All we demand is that they give quality, affordable service. We look to them to use that freedom to monitor members and identify those who need assistance.”
The bottom line
Breaking even in a site of this size and location can’t be easy, and attracting enough members to make a profit has to be a worrying consideration – especially as full capacity is 7,500 members.
The site was acquired from Virgin for a “significant spend”, but Lorimer-Wing remains unfazed: “I don’t for a minute think we’ll struggle to attract members here. Yes, if you’re only charging £19.99 a head it’s a volume business, but this is a unique offering and we already have more members than we needed to break even on the refurb and build costs.
“Our very first member was the MD of an investment bank. He could afford any gym, but he chose us. That’s just one example of the huge spectrum of members we attract.
“Oxford Street is a world-famous shopping hub, so we’re surrounded by workers and businesses. These are our peak members for whom convenience is key. Thanks to the volume of equipment in the club, they can come in at 6.00pm and be guaranteed a quick workout.”
The club can accommodate up to 500 people at any one time, and because of this easyGym has been forced to adapt its model slightly – installing 10 showers instead of the usual four, for example, to prevent queuing.
So what about the ‘tumbleweed times’ – all the more noticeable in such a large space? “There are three universities within walking distance, so students will visit at irregular times and we’ll be marketing hard during Freshers’ Week,” says Rush. easyGym is also marketing on Oxford Street itself, outside tube stations, and using online SEO and PPC ads to keep the buzz going.
“Across our portfolio, all gyms are well attended during the day and we believe Oxford Street will be no different in time,” says Lorimer-Wing. “In addition, as a city centre location, we have very defined high and low usage points. Members may chose to rearrange their schedule to make use of the gym during quieter times, potentially further increasing membership capacity.”
It seems worries about acquiring members won’t keep the team awake at night, but – particularly with so many members to look after – what about keeping them? “Our studio will be one of our biggest retention tools. Classes will create a community to keep people coming back,” says Rush. “I also plan to run small, impromptu classes on the gym floor – CrossFit, TRX and functional training – creating little hubs using PTs to encourage people to work out in different ways to maintain interest.”
Never stand still
Although he now has his flagship site, Lorimer-Wing has no intention of stopping there. At the time of going to press, the next site was days from opening in Southampton, and the company is looking to ramp up its rollout and add a further six to 10 sites during 2014. Although unwilling to say exactly where the easyGym expansion machine is heading next, Lorimer-Wing admits: “It will be important for us to continue our London focus.”
The aim is to build a portfolio of 50 clubs in the next few years, opening a maximum of 10 a year, and alongside this take easyGym into Europe. “We continue to enjoy strong support from our investors [a Middle Eastern consortium and South African private equity fund] and we’ll most likely enter the European market next year,” he says.
“Although we talk about 50 sites, we may well go further. We’re looking to build a brand for the very long term – there isn’t an end date in mind.”
Returning to Oxford St, he adds: “Our strap line – and philosophy – is ‘freedom to do more’, and although we can’t be everything to everyone, with this site we can and will be a lot of things to a lot of people.”