David vs. Goliath: How boutique fitness sector is squaring up to gym chain giants

Using originality and variety to create a niche

Gymbox is another distinct brand operating across London – one that started in a car park 13 years ago. The founders considered themselves “the fitness industry’s version of Marmite” with a distaste for “the bland, beige and boringly snooty health clubs.”

Despite its age, Gymbox has maintained the boutique approach itself and has just seven clubs open, with an eighth set to arrive in Victoria in February.

However, what it lacks in sites it makes up for with variety. Indeed, Gymbox caters to weightlifters, boxers, dancers, fighters and more, while it comes equipped with resident DJs for those times when Kiss FM just won’t cut it.

The company said of its philosophy: “We’re not big on rules at Gymbox. We don’t believe in pain without pleasure. We don’t believe in sweating without a smile. And we don’t take ourselves too seriously. But we do take your workout seriously. Really seriously.

“That’s why everything we do, from the designs of our interiors, to the people we hire, and the classes we invent, have to inspire and excite, energise and ignite.”

The all-in-one solution aiming for the back of the net

Speedflex is a project that started in the US before making its way to UK shores. Having grown out of the North East of England, the company boasts sites across Newcastle, Leeds, Surrey, London, Aberdeenshire, Southampton and also Dubai.

But what is it?

A high-intensity, low-impact workout that combines cardio and resistance work, the combination exercise programme is also led by a personal trainer and tracked with a heart rate monitor.

With sports science at the heart of the business, all users are required to undergo a health screening with physiologists to determine areas of improvement and targets to work towards. Additional benefits include lower risk of injury, according to the firm.

Former England footballer Alan Shearer is a Speedflex shareholder and director, and he’s part of the reason the company is shaped the way it is. Indeed, Shearer recommended Paul Ferris, former Newcastle United physiotherapist, to Speedflex chairman Graham Wylie – the co-founder of Sage.

Together the trio joined forces in 2013 and set out to change the industry.

Speaking to Real Business, MD Ferris explained that the Speedflex machines are designed to create resistance based on the user’s force, which means that all ages and fitness levels can participate and still achieve results that include strength, power and speed.

Based on all of these factors, Ferris considers it tricky to pinpoint a particular rival – but added that while many concepts claim to be inclusive, Speedflex genuinely is.

He said: “Due to the unique nature of Speedflex, it is difficult to identify specific competitors. We believe that Speedflex offers an effective alternative to conventional gyms and, as such, would say that boutique offerings which tailor training to the individual are our competition.”

In addition to the marketing power of an ex-England captain on the board, three-time Paralympic gold medalist Stephen Miller is also brand ambassador.

“Stephen lost his funding after London 2012, we supported him, he trained with us, and continues to do so, and as a result he got his funding back in 2015,” explained Ferris.

Although the company already has a number of sites across the country, Speedflex is set on scaling “truly nationwide” and will achieve that by creating standalone branded studios within health clubs and gyms.

“To retain the true nature of Speedflex, all sessions will be led by a Speedflex trainer and we are willing to invest in, lease space from existing facilities nationwide or work with gyms and health clubs to help them operate their own Speedflex studio,” said Ferris.

“We believe that the growth in small fitness ventures indicates that people are in search of an effective alternative to being left to their own devices in the gym and seeking a form of exercise which will give them the best results and fit in with their busy lifestyles.”

While the gym giants continue to thrive, there is an exceptional effort from SMEs looking to ruffle feathers of the execs perched atop the big box operators before powerlifting the business from under them.

We know that it’s increasingly harder to grab the attention of consumers thanks to short-form media and that people’s lifestyles are becoming more and more busy. 

With Balfour’s comments of boutiques offering less commitment and more flexibility, it stands to reason that people will look to more options to suit their needs.

After all, we all remember the outcome of the David and Goliath battle…

If you don’t know the name Joe Wicks, chances are you’ve heard of The Body Coach – Wicks is the man behind the brand with the “lean in 15” tag and we caught up with the former personal trainer about how he disrupted the industry by embracing social media, which has secured him over 70,000 customers.

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