Pure Gym is the UK’s leading affordable gym chain. Formed in 2009, the operator is a major force in the rapidly growing low-cost segment of the £4bn UK gym market with some 61 clubs. The company currently serves more than 350,000 members offering gym memberships from £10.99 a month with no fixed contract. All memberships are processed online to keep fees as low as possible. Members have access to a wide range of free exercise classes in some of the UK’s largest gyms 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Ranked 23rd in the Sunday Times Fast Track 100 in 2013, a league table of the UK’s most successful private companies, Pure Gym was acquired by US private equity firm CCMP Capital Advisors last May. The company has just agreed a merger with 42 club chain The Gym Group, which is pending regulatory approval. Detailed plans for the merged business have still to be announced, however further expansion will inevitably be high on the agenda.
A new IT system was crucial for the company’s growth plans, says Andrew Forsyth, IT manager at Pure Gym: “Our previous system had been developed bespoke for us and had served us very well. But it was designed to support just six or seven sites, and although it had grown as the chain expanded, we needed to move to the next level to get a better understanding of our members.”
Pure Gym chose the centralised chain management system from international software provider Exerp. The Copenhagen-based company provides software solutions exclusively for some of Europe´s largest health club operators including SATS and Holmes Place Europe. This was a key attraction for Pure Gym, says its chief financial officer Adam Bellamy.
“We have large volumes of members using our fitness facilities. The Exerp system is designed specifically for the fitness industry unlike some of the other more generic products available.”
“Pure Gym has got off to a racing start, but as we develop it’s vital that we understand exactly who our customers are, what they want and how we can meet their needs,” says Bellamy. This poses more of a challenge for a low-cost operator like Pure Gym. The business is heavily reliant on IT; members join online or via a kiosk in a club and contact a call centre for any payment and club enquiries. This means it has less opportunity than a full service club to engage with members face to face.
Robust reporting was therefore a fundamental requirement of the new system. With Exerp, Pure Gym can feed more information into its database, which in turn provides greater visibility of members and their usage patterns.
“We now have a much clearer view of members from how often people use our clubs and how far they travel to get there to which classes they’ve booked. It allows us to identify trends and better target our members,” says Forsyth.
The new system also gives general and regional managers greater insight into each club’s performance allowing them to measure how well the clubs are doing against KPIs and sales targets on a daily basis. The system also needed to satisfy the reporting requirements of its new owner CCMP, says Bellamy. “Data is really important to private equity firms. They buy businesses with great growth prospects, but in order to understand how these businesses can grow further, they need access to good data.”
Before implementing the Exerp solution, Pure Gym held data in three systems. Now merged into one solution, the company has a single, holistic view of its customers, says Bellamy: “We don’t burden our members with contracts so we can’t sit back having locked them in for a 12 month period. We have to be alert to the way our members use our clubs. Having all the data about our members from their payment history to their usage habits in one place is a massive advantage for us.”
Exerp’s comprehensive API was another attraction. Based on the standard web service SOAP, it allows external systems to read and update almost all member related data.
“As a fully online business, it was crucial that the new system could easily integrate with third party systems from the joining process and class bookings to member services. Essentially, everything members see on our website feeds back to the Exerp system,” says Forsyth.
The new system has also allowed the company to take its billing services/direct debit collection in-house and now members can pay any debt online.
Pure Gym is the first Exerp client to do daily direct debit collections. “Exerp were able to incorporate this functionality for us, which shows just how flexible the system is,” says Forsyth.
However, this placed tight deadlines on the implementation process, which launched at a pilot site in November and rolled out across the entire group in January. A smooth and speedy implementation was crucial, says Bellamy: “We are highly dependent on IT in a number of key areas, it is truly business critical for us. We couldn’t afford for the system to be down for even one day and thankfully Exerp were able to accommodate our needs.”
Robust, flexible and proven, thanks to several successful past conversion experiences, Exerp was able to safely migrate 300,000 members in a period of just four hours.
With the support of the new system, Pure Gym can concentrate on its rapid expansion and serving its members, says Bellamy: “The fitness industry has high attrition rates and these can be higher in the low-cost sector where there are no contracts. We need to satisfy our customers every time they visit us, because they can choose to just walk away if we’re not meeting their needs. Our new IT system will help us to reduce attrition, which is positive for both us and our customers.”