Embracing difference: how to thrive with a unique offering in the fitness market

Paul Ferris is the Managing Director of Speedflex, a company that offers high intensity circuit training “with a difference”. In 2011 Paul set up the business with Sage Software founder Graham Wylie and former Newcastle United and England Captain Alan Shearer. They now have seven studios around the UK and two internationally. In late 2016 they created the Speedflex Pod, a standalone machine which offers the same effective workout, on the gym floor.

We met with Paul to learn about:
– The limitations of the traditional gym environment

– How to capitalise on a unique offering

– How to overcome the challenges of being different

– Why boutiques will continue to take market share from traditional gyms


What do you believe are the shortcomings of a traditional gym and how have you tried to do things differently?

The biggest shortcoming is that traditional gyms tend to be ‘exclusive’. Some of the very people we are trying to engage – unfit, older, overweight, injured – don’t feel comfortable in the traditional environment. This means either don’t engage in the first place or they quickly drift away when the initial motivation fades and they feel uncomfortable in their baggy tee shirt surrounded by ‘fit people’ who always seem to know what they are doing.

It is all too easy for someone to get lost in a traditional environment. The small footprint nature of Speedflex and the focus on customer service and engagement alleviates this issue. We wanted to create a unique environment that was highly effective but that was also a really enjoyable place to get fit and healthy regardless of your starting point.


But when you do things differently – when your offering doesn’t fit the traditional mould – what challenges does it bring? How do you overcome these?

flexBy far the biggest challenge is in getting your message across. People assume they’ve seen it all before or that it’s just another fad, all without even entering the room or trying it for themselves. Getting people to put their hands on Speedflex will always be our biggest challenge. The great thing is that when people do try something unique and effective they become great advocates for it. Word of mouth has been one of our most effective recruitment tools. We’ve also tried to simplify our message and be more focused with our marketing.


What are the benefits of having a unique offering and how do you capitalise on this?

The biggest benefit is that you can reenergise individuals who’ve become bored with their routine. You can also offer operators a genuinely fresh and exciting new way of engaging their existing members and attracting others who ordinarily would shy away from more traditional gym offerings. I love nothing more than listening to operators or members discuss the merits of Speedflex after they’ve been introduced to it for the first time. It reminds me of why we created the room in the first place.


Is it important that the fitness industry creates more opportunities for all levels of exerciser from elite athletes to pensioners to workout alongside each other? Why?


The industry only engages a very small percentage of the population. Yet we all know that we need to exercise to live a healthier and longer life. The more the general population get this message – and they are bombarded with it daily – the more the focus will be on the fitness industry and health care providers to provide genuine opportunities for people of all ages and abilities to get exercising and stay healthy. We are social beings. No one wants to feel left out. We all want to belong. If I’m a pensioner with arthritis or an overweight middle aged man and you provide me with an environment where I can train in the same place as young fit healthy individuals, then that can only be good for me both in body and mind. I’m ‘back in the game’ and no longer on the outside looking in.


We’ve seen the rapid rise of the boutique gym, do you think this trend is set to continue? Will boutiques continue to take market share from traditional gyms and health clubs?

Absolutely. I think there will always be a market where good customer service matters. Give me an environment where I can feel part of something, where I’m welcomed as a friend and not as a customer or a number and I will always want to go there. Some of the best experiences of my life have been when I’ve been part of a small group – in my case football teams – all striving to achieve something. I think the boutique gym offers a sense of belonging and camaraderie that we all thrive on. That is simply impossible to replicate in the larger setting.

Posted in Gyms & Clubs, Interviews, Most Popular Interviews, The Fitness Network.