Fresh from signing up master franchisees in countries like India and Kenya, easyGym CEO Paul Lorimer-Wing has bold international aspirations for the low-cost fitness concept. But nobody said it was going to be easy.
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Most people’s first experience with the signature tangerine orange-colored easyGroup branding will come via easyJet. Bursting onto the scene back in 1993, the low-cost airline – created and owned by Sir Stelios Haji-Ioannou – completely revolutionized the way many Europeans travelled. Fundamentally, it inspired members of the British public to go forth and explore the continent.
Despite the easyGroup’s airline company offering a European-centric service, Paul Lorimer-Wing believes that his easyGym franchise can piggy-back on the notoriety of the brand and attract a worldwide audience. “I think most people will instinctively see the easyGroup as a European brand,” he says, “but it’s known at a global level – there are people based all around the world that have interacted with the easyGroup brand.”
While easyJet is undoubtedly the most well-known brand within the easyGroup stable, under Lorimer-Wing’s ownership, it wouldn’t be outlandish to predict that easyGym may go on to usurp it as the corporation’s marquee organization. easyGym has been in operation since 2010 and has built its network to comprise 16 clubs around the U.K., boasting almost 100,000 members.
In 2017, Lorimer-Wing wanted to scale up the enterprise, and switched to the franchising model – he hasn’t looked back since.“We were aware of the difference in business model; franchising requires a lot of attention and an entirely different skill-set,” he says. “So over the last two years, we’ve been ensuring that our systems are ready for scaling. When everything is within your own control, if something isn’t quite right, you can fix it quietly and get it right. In the hands of franchisees, you need a robust set of processes and systems that make the business work. We feel that the last two years have been time well spent, and we believe we’re now ready to start promoting the opportunity to the world.”
Fighting fit on the global stage
As the business has converted its strategy from what had been a corporate-focused, U.K.-based plan, to a franchise with global intentions, it is quickly becoming an attractive proposition for international investors. Getting ex-Anytime Fitness franchising supremo, Karl Dietrich, on board as global development director has helped the big box, low-cost fitness concept to expand beyond the U.K. with aplomb.
It’s the business’s flexible, no-contract, all-online monthly membership model that appeals to many investors, and its daily cash inflows appeals to those who have run retail or food and beverage operations in the past. And the appeal is certainly crossing borders. To date, and admittedly without much marketing, easyGym has signed up five countries into the mix. One of the most recent master agreements was to bring the concept to Kenya, which was launched to much acclaim. “James Holden, who’s the master in Kenya, opened the first unit with over 3,500 members signed up – there were lines outside the door!” enthuses Lorimer-Wing. “We couldn’t have wished for a better start.”
With easyGym embarking on such a bold expansion project, which further regions are earmarked for expansion? “We’ve signed up France, India, Kenya, Ireland, and of course, the U.K.,” he says. “We have many, many more countries interested in the brand. Territory-wise, it comes down to the demographics around the local area, and it’s about the density of the population. Typically, our gyms attract a younger crowd – generally from 20 to 45 is the age group which makes up 80 per cent of our membership.”
And while new and innovative concepts aren’t in short supply, Lorimer-Wing believes that easyGym’s big-box, low-cost, tech-focussed and “doing the basics right” approach will always keep it one step ahead of the competition. “While the boutiques create excitement in the fitness space, they still only cater for a very small subset of people – not everybody can afford £160 to £220 a month,” he explains. “We feel that we’re able to leverage our existing platform but offer a very similar physical fitness experience – quite possibly in many cases with better equipment and instructors – for a fraction of the price. We feel that we’re democratizing these very nice fitness experiences and bringing them to the people.”
Recruiting master franchisees
We currently primarily use our network to find the right calibre of people. It’s also about a meeting of minds – we’re looking for people that really share our values and understand us. It’s not uncommon for us to reject potential master franchisees – quite often our deals take several months before they conclude, but during that process, it gives us the chance to determine whether this is a person we want to do business with.
Competing with new fitness concepts
We have the benefit of our PACK45 propriety concept, which is a team-based workout experience for all fitness levels. It’s an algorithmically-designed functional training system; a true differentiator within the low-cost space. The big-box, low-cost space is one that’s very much growing alongside the boutiques, and that’s why we created PACK45, which is essentially our disruptor.
Being considered a global brand
We have a different view of what makes a ‘global brand’ – once we’re trading in 100 countries, that’s when I’ll be happy to call easyGym a global brand. We’re still currently in the early phases, and I take my example from the truly huge global brands out there – the likes of McDonald’s and Subway, they have a presence in 100-plus countries. In the fitness industry, there’s not one truly global brand.
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