HCM October 2020

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If I look forward five years, I’d want us to be somewhere around the 1,000-site mark – the ‘premier league’ benchmark

With a portfolio of 516 clubs, the PureGym Group is now the second largest operator in Europe – and it is eyeing continued growth. Its CEO talks to Kate Cracknell


e believe a premier league of larger-scale budget fitness operators is beginning to emerge: the likes of Planet Fitness in the US, BasicFit in Europe and SmartFit in Latin America,” says PureGym CEO Humphrey Cobbold. “We want to get bigger too. Not at the expense of quality – you have to be both big and good – but scale has real advantages. “Being bigger means you can invest more in all the key elements that respond to scale: technology, digital, data, analytics, information, management processes, quality of management and so on. Of course, these also happen to be the things that underpin the budget model. “One of the other things that’s important about the low-cost model is that it’s more consistently exportable and manageable across geographies than the traditional gym model,” says Cobbold. “In turn, that makes scale even more achievable. “So, this is a model that will go on growing. In some markets, it already has a 50–60 per cent share, and we believe affordable fitness


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will be a very substantial part of all significant gym and fitness markets in the future. Within that, scale operators will have an advantage.” It was this thinking that led to PureGym’s acquisition of Fitness World – a deal that was completed at the beginning of 2020, just before COVID-19 sent the world into lockdown. The deal handed PureGym more than 230 clubs in Denmark, Poland and also in Switzerland – under the BaseFit brand. “With hindsight, you could argue the timing wasn’t great,” reflects Cobbold. “However, the underlying strategic logic for the deal is absolutely sound and will play out over the medium to longer term. It’s just going to take a bit longer to get there, as everything is at the moment, because of COVID-19.”

A cross-market strategy

“Part of the rationale for the transaction was geographic diversity,” says Cobbold. “That’s a good thing generally, because it means you’re not entirely exposed to the economics and situation in one country. Of course, I didn’t expect it to play out in quite the way it did, with a global