It’s been a busy year so far for David Lloyd Leisure (DLL). In the past six months, the group has agreed and completed a deal to take over 14 Virgin Active clubs in the UK and entered the Italian market with the acquisition of the Malaspina Club in Milan.
DLL has also been tightening its grip on the UK’s luxury health club sector after making a number of high-end acquisitions. In June, it took control of The Park Club – one of London’s most exclusive health clubs – and also exchanged contracts to buy The Academy in Harrogate, North Yorkshire.
As part of its strategy to corner the UK’s high-end fitness market, the company also spent £5.5m converting an existing DLL Club in central London into a Harbour Club – its “premium brand within a premium brand”.
The new Harbour Club – the third in the company’s portfolio – opened on 1 June and is housed at the Point West mixed-use tower in South Kensington.
While there has been a DLL club at the site since 1997, the launch has been treated as a whole new opening, rather than a revamp. General manager Robert Sambles says of the opening: “I’d definitely describe it as a brand new club. Some of the layout is the same as it was for the old DLL club, but the interior is unrecognisable.”
The six-month redevelopment has changed an ageing club into a spacious, luxurious facility with crisp design. There is an affluent feel to the interior, with many of the finishes more akin to a spa than a gym. The club’s food and drink offer exemplifies the revolution – where there once was just a coffee machine and water tower, now lies a restaurant and bar with full table service.
Sambles is well placed to judge the extent of the transformation. He joined the former DLL club as general manager a year before work began to remodel the property.
“It really needed attention,” he says. “The club had been here for nearly 20 years and a refurbishment was due.”
According to Sambles, when the plans for a revamp were first tabled, it quickly became clear that the club would have to shut for the whole duration of the works. This led to a rethink about whether a straightforward revamp was the best option – and ultimately the decision to turn the site into a Harbour Club, rather than reopening as a David Lloyd Leisure club.
Sambles says the decision was based on a number of important considerations. “Perhaps the biggest factor was that we already had Harbour Clubs in Chelsea and Notting Hill,” he says. “Having a third one here in South Kensington really strengthens our brand presence in south west London, where the Harbour Club brand is already very well established and well-loved.
“We also already have a David Lloyd Leisure club quite close to here, over in Fulham, which has a very similar offering to us – a large gym, swimming pool and dedicated group exercise spaces.
“So we really wanted a differentiator, and turning the South Kensington site into a Harbour Club provides us with the perfect one,” he adds.
The New Harbour Club is spread over five floors – four of which are customer-facing – and has a total floor space of 62,592sq ft (5,815sq m). Three of the floors are below ground, with the bottom floor occupied by a 20m, four-lane swimming pool and a large wellness area with two saunas, a steamroom and spa pool.
The pool – surprisingly large for a private health club in a central London location – has proven to be an effective marketing tool, attracting members looking for regular swimming opportunities.
“We always keep two lanes open for swimmers, even when we have classes on,” Sambles says. “So we might have aqua aerobics or kids’ lessons going on, but there will still be space for lane swimmers to come in.”
Located on the level above the pool is what Sambles describes as a “holistic destination”. “It’s where all our mind and body classes take place,” he says. “We have studio spaces dedicated to activities such as yoga, pilates and Body Balance.”
In total, the health club has seven group exercise areas – five of which are traditional, “closed” studio spaces.
Situated on the level above the holistic studio is the main gym area, fitted with 80 CV and 40 resistance stations from Life Fitness and Stages. There’s also a Hammer Strength free weights area. Laid out in a circular space, the gym offers a modern, high-end feel, in keeping with the rest of the club’s interiors.
The fourth level is dedicated to group exercise and, according to Sambles, is the club’s “most exciting” area. “This is where we have two brand new group training products, PRAMA and Blaze,” he says. “PRAMA is a concept developed in Spain and we are only the second club in the UK to have it.”
Blaze is DLL’s new high-intensity interval training (HIIT) concept, created by the group’s head of fitness, Michelle Dand. Housed in its own studio space – adjacent to the PRAMA area and carpeted using 3G artificial turf – Blaze offers an intensive workout in an ultra-modern setting.
“Blaze is making its world debut here,” Sambles reveals. “We’re really excited about the product and so far it’s taken off really well. It’s something we will be rolling out to other clubs at some point in the future.”
Dand, the concept’s creator, adds: “Blaze provides members with an authentic boutique experience that’s more than a match for anything else available in London. Our members can get their fill of HIIT group training at the club without having to go elsewhere. This means that they get to work out in a way that’s incredibly popular, and still enjoy all the luxurious facilities we offer.
The fourth floor is also home to a Synrgy360 functional training system, a sports performance area kitted out with Wattbikes and a large indoor cycling studio with a capacity for 30 people. As well as instructor-led sessions, the indoor bike studio runs a programme of virtual classes which are supplied by Les Mills.
“The beauty of the virtual classes is that they will always go ahead and it doesn’t matter whether there is one or 30 people taking part – they won’t cost any extra,” Sambles says.
The group exercise spaces are in heavy use. In total, there are more than 200 classes every week, ranging from reformer pilates, yoga and barre to Body Combat and other Les Mills classes. There’s also a studio space for children, catering for families – a big growth area for the club.
As the group exercise areas act and work as their own spaces, the fourth floor – while connected to the rest of the club – feels as though it accommodates four separate boutique studios.
This is entirely intentional according to Sambles, and a crucial one of the club’s USPs. The inclusion of so many group spaces is also a response to the surge in popularity of non-traditional gyms and small, boutique facilities which concentrate on a single activity – some of which can be found on the Harbour Club’s doorstep.
“There are quite a few smaller boutique studios around us,” Sambles says. “There’s a Barry’s Bootcamp fairly close and also a Core Collective and a 1Rebel club. We also have an exclusive cycling studio operator due open in the area.
“Boutique studios are increasingly popular and people look for that intimate experience – where they can go and get a good workout in a smaller, non-traditional gym setting.
“Each boutique studio has one thing it does really well – be it HIIT, yoga, combat sports, cycling or some other form of training. Our plan has been to take a boutique cycle experience, a boutique HIIT experience, boutique circuit training and put it all in one product – while also offering a range of other services, such as the pool and the restaurant.”
The health club currently has around 2,200 members – with a healthy mixture of both new members and members of the old David Lloyd Leisure. “We closed the club in December 2016 with 2,000 members and the target was to open with about the same number and we’ve been successful on that front,” Sambles says.