HCM People
Alan Leach

IHRSA is now on a mission to bring the global industry together


You’ve been elected chair of the board of IHRSA – how does that feel?
It’s a real honour to chair a board with some incredible people, from all walks of the fitness industry.

I’ve been attending IHRSA events for 34 years, started speaking at the conference about 13 years ago, joined the board, then chaired the international committee. So to have been voted in as chair, is a great achievement for me.

I’m also the first IHRSA chair who’s been unable to attend IHRSA events because of the travel restrictions!

What are your priorities?
My job is to carry forward the initiatives which have been put in place by the board, since the start of the pandemic. The plan is to act strategically and move towards advocacy.

We also want to open up the board to a lot more people in the fitness industry, bringing in people from studios, small gyms and boutiques and grow the footprint globally from all sectors in the fitness industry.

Diversity and inclusivity are also a focus – bringing more people from different areas onto the board and to the show, as speakers and such like. We want to unite the industry globally and also spearhead robust research which can hold up to any scientific peer review and inform our relationship with the World Health Organization.

IHRSA has been through some challenging times during the pandemic. How have things been going and what changes have been implemented to get the organisation back on track?
IHRSA has had its challenges like everyone else, but to be told a few days before the trade show was due to go ahead, in March 2020, that it had to be cancelled was a big, big shock.

At that point, the board went from meeting three times a year, to meeting nearly every week. It led to us getting involved with all sorts of headline groups, and looking at diversity and the value of fitness. It also focused the mindset of the board on taking responsibility, thinking strategically and coming up with alliances with different organisations. IHRSA had to become an advocacy organisation to protect the interest of its members [private sector gym and health club operators].

IHRSA is now on a mission to bring the global industry together, having launched the National Health and Fitness Alliance in the US and the Global Health and Fitness Alliance internationally to unite big industry partners and look into the global impact of the industry.

The change has been 100 per cent positive. I think IHRSA is stronger than ever, the ethos is stronger than ever, with the support of staff, vendors and the board.

Tell us about the GYMS ACT & PHIT legislation
The Gyms Act has come about as a direct reaction to the pandemic, it’s US-based legislation for financial relief for the industry to compensate for the closing of businesses and loss of revenue.

Advocacy is so important on these types of issues and IHRSA CEO Liz Clarke, along with Jim Worthington and IHRSA vice chair, Chris Craytor, have worked very hard on this.

The PHIT Act has been on the table for a while. It would allow a member who joins a health club to claim tax relief, in the same way as they can on medication or health services.

IHRSA CEO, Liz Clark, has come from the sugar lobby and has been responsible for getting confectionery classed as ‘essential’. As a poacher turned gamekeeper, what is IHRSA’s brief to her?
A huge amount of effort went into finding a new CEO who would be able to lead IHRSA over the next decade. We were looking for someone who can make things happen for the industry, who had extensive experience in leading an industry body, as well as experience in advocacy in Washington.

Liz is that person. She’s in Washington meeting all the right people and big players, as well as reaching out to international players and finding out what people want from IHRSA. She’s doing a fabulous job.

If you can get the sugar industry rated as essential during COVID then by God, you’re good.

How are things going in regards to your day job – West Wood Club in Ireland?
We’re very happy to be back. We won’t get the income back that we lost, but our sales are up by 180 per cent and we’re on 97.5 per cent of our pre-pandemic membership. Our more family-orientated suburban clubs are running at 100 per cent. The city centre clubs are a bit slower – about 80-90 per cent of what they were pre-COVID.

The members are happy to be back too – people are sick to death of working out at home. The gym gives access to classes and so much varied equipment which is difficult to replicate at home.

You’ve launched an outdoor concept. How has this been received?
Group fitness is a huge part of what we offer – we have 44,000 visits a month – so when we could open, but not run indoor classes, we made the decision to build a proper outdoor fitness studio, which we branded as ‘Outfit’.

It’s hugely popular. How did no one think of this before? To be out on a fine evening with instructors on the stage, disco lights and a great atmosphere, is a fantastic experience. We’re still doing about 60 per cent of classes outside – we do our spinning and Les Mills classes out there. We even think it will be popular in the winter, when we can theme it for Halloween and Christmas.

What have you learned during the pandemic?
The 2008 recession – which lasted for six or seven years – taught us resilience which came in very useful during the pandemic. Even after seven months of being closed we were in a better position than we had been back then, because the banking crisis hit people’s earnings straight away and they cancelled memberships.

I haven’t seen any Irish fitness clubs go out of business yet, but I saw loads of the big players close during the 2008 recession. When that ended, we had a boom and I warned people to be careful.

In the recession at least there are no new competitors, but in the boom anyone can ask the bank for £1m to open a club.

During the lockdowns it all came down to relationships – with suppliers, bank managers and landlords. If you have good relationships and less financial commitments, you’re in a much stronger position.

You also need to run the business professionally to cope with the threats and challenges which come along. West Wood is constantly at conventions learning and taking on board best practice, our business model is based on IHRSA guidelines, our sales and marketing teams are degree educated. All of this has stood us in good stead.

Leach’s day job is CEO of West Wood chain of health clubs in Ireland Credit: photo: West Wood clubs - Clontarf
Leach’s day job is CEO of West Wood chain of health clubs in Ireland Credit: photo: West Wood Clubs - Dun Laoghaire
West Wood Clubs is a full service operator with sport, health and fitness, spa and wellness offerings Credit: photo: West Wood Clubs - Westmanstown
The PHIT Act would enable members to claim tax relief on gym fees Credit: photo: West Wood Clubs - Westmnastown
The COVID-driven outdoor studio at West Wood has been a hit and is here to stay Credit: photo: West Wood Clubs
After home workouts in lockdown, gym members are glad to be back Credit: photo: West Wood Clubs
At West Wood Clubs, sales are up 180 per cent post-pandemic Credit: photo: West Wood Clubs - Dublin
 


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SELECTED ISSUE
Health Club Management
2021 issue 10

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Leisure Management - Alan Leach

HCM People

Alan Leach


IHRSA is now on a mission to bring the global industry together

Alan Leach, Chair of IHRSA and CEO, West Wood Clubs photo: Alan Leach
Leach’s day job is CEO of West Wood chain of health clubs in Ireland photo: West Wood clubs - Clontarf
Leach’s day job is CEO of West Wood chain of health clubs in Ireland photo: West Wood Clubs - Dun Laoghaire
West Wood Clubs is a full service operator with sport, health and fitness, spa and wellness offerings photo: West Wood Clubs - Westmanstown
The PHIT Act would enable members to claim tax relief on gym fees photo: West Wood Clubs - Westmnastown
The COVID-driven outdoor studio at West Wood has been a hit and is here to stay photo: West Wood Clubs
After home workouts in lockdown, gym members are glad to be back photo: West Wood Clubs
At West Wood Clubs, sales are up 180 per cent post-pandemic photo: West Wood Clubs - Dublin

You’ve been elected chair of the board of IHRSA – how does that feel?
It’s a real honour to chair a board with some incredible people, from all walks of the fitness industry.

I’ve been attending IHRSA events for 34 years, started speaking at the conference about 13 years ago, joined the board, then chaired the international committee. So to have been voted in as chair, is a great achievement for me.

I’m also the first IHRSA chair who’s been unable to attend IHRSA events because of the travel restrictions!

What are your priorities?
My job is to carry forward the initiatives which have been put in place by the board, since the start of the pandemic. The plan is to act strategically and move towards advocacy.

We also want to open up the board to a lot more people in the fitness industry, bringing in people from studios, small gyms and boutiques and grow the footprint globally from all sectors in the fitness industry.

Diversity and inclusivity are also a focus – bringing more people from different areas onto the board and to the show, as speakers and such like. We want to unite the industry globally and also spearhead robust research which can hold up to any scientific peer review and inform our relationship with the World Health Organization.

IHRSA has been through some challenging times during the pandemic. How have things been going and what changes have been implemented to get the organisation back on track?
IHRSA has had its challenges like everyone else, but to be told a few days before the trade show was due to go ahead, in March 2020, that it had to be cancelled was a big, big shock.

At that point, the board went from meeting three times a year, to meeting nearly every week. It led to us getting involved with all sorts of headline groups, and looking at diversity and the value of fitness. It also focused the mindset of the board on taking responsibility, thinking strategically and coming up with alliances with different organisations. IHRSA had to become an advocacy organisation to protect the interest of its members [private sector gym and health club operators].

IHRSA is now on a mission to bring the global industry together, having launched the National Health and Fitness Alliance in the US and the Global Health and Fitness Alliance internationally to unite big industry partners and look into the global impact of the industry.

The change has been 100 per cent positive. I think IHRSA is stronger than ever, the ethos is stronger than ever, with the support of staff, vendors and the board.

Tell us about the GYMS ACT & PHIT legislation
The Gyms Act has come about as a direct reaction to the pandemic, it’s US-based legislation for financial relief for the industry to compensate for the closing of businesses and loss of revenue.

Advocacy is so important on these types of issues and IHRSA CEO Liz Clarke, along with Jim Worthington and IHRSA vice chair, Chris Craytor, have worked very hard on this.

The PHIT Act has been on the table for a while. It would allow a member who joins a health club to claim tax relief, in the same way as they can on medication or health services.

IHRSA CEO, Liz Clark, has come from the sugar lobby and has been responsible for getting confectionery classed as ‘essential’. As a poacher turned gamekeeper, what is IHRSA’s brief to her?
A huge amount of effort went into finding a new CEO who would be able to lead IHRSA over the next decade. We were looking for someone who can make things happen for the industry, who had extensive experience in leading an industry body, as well as experience in advocacy in Washington.

Liz is that person. She’s in Washington meeting all the right people and big players, as well as reaching out to international players and finding out what people want from IHRSA. She’s doing a fabulous job.

If you can get the sugar industry rated as essential during COVID then by God, you’re good.

How are things going in regards to your day job – West Wood Club in Ireland?
We’re very happy to be back. We won’t get the income back that we lost, but our sales are up by 180 per cent and we’re on 97.5 per cent of our pre-pandemic membership. Our more family-orientated suburban clubs are running at 100 per cent. The city centre clubs are a bit slower – about 80-90 per cent of what they were pre-COVID.

The members are happy to be back too – people are sick to death of working out at home. The gym gives access to classes and so much varied equipment which is difficult to replicate at home.

You’ve launched an outdoor concept. How has this been received?
Group fitness is a huge part of what we offer – we have 44,000 visits a month – so when we could open, but not run indoor classes, we made the decision to build a proper outdoor fitness studio, which we branded as ‘Outfit’.

It’s hugely popular. How did no one think of this before? To be out on a fine evening with instructors on the stage, disco lights and a great atmosphere, is a fantastic experience. We’re still doing about 60 per cent of classes outside – we do our spinning and Les Mills classes out there. We even think it will be popular in the winter, when we can theme it for Halloween and Christmas.

What have you learned during the pandemic?
The 2008 recession – which lasted for six or seven years – taught us resilience which came in very useful during the pandemic. Even after seven months of being closed we were in a better position than we had been back then, because the banking crisis hit people’s earnings straight away and they cancelled memberships.

I haven’t seen any Irish fitness clubs go out of business yet, but I saw loads of the big players close during the 2008 recession. When that ended, we had a boom and I warned people to be careful.

In the recession at least there are no new competitors, but in the boom anyone can ask the bank for £1m to open a club.

During the lockdowns it all came down to relationships – with suppliers, bank managers and landlords. If you have good relationships and less financial commitments, you’re in a much stronger position.

You also need to run the business professionally to cope with the threats and challenges which come along. West Wood is constantly at conventions learning and taking on board best practice, our business model is based on IHRSA guidelines, our sales and marketing teams are degree educated. All of this has stood us in good stead.


Originally published in Health Club Management 2021 issue 10

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