Building to save
Our latest edition of RIDE HIGH includes a must-read supplement – A Global Crisis? – in which we speak to operators across Europe, Asia-Pacific, Africa and the Americas to understand the region-by-region challenges facing the fitness sector at the moment, and the strategies that might be deployed to navigate them.
Check out all our expert comments here or download a PDF of the full magazine, including the supplement, above.
Here, we share the perspective of Antonio Iozzo, founder and CEO of Body Action Gym in South Africa. Interview conducted 2 November 2022.
Ours is a new building that was designed to be as energy-efficient as possible. We were the first building in Africa to have a full FRIT dot façade: little white ceramic dots baked into the double glazing that take up about 30 per cent of the area of the glass. Light still comes through and you can see out, but it saves you around 35 per cent on your heating/cooling costs. Our whole building is fitted with this special glass.
This was definitely not the cheap option – our façade cost 60 per cent more than normal glass – but it will pay back over the long term. It’s also what consumers are beginning to expect, not to mention the right thing to do.
We’re also off the grid for our water consumption, with two boreholes on the property, and we’ve put as many solar panels on our roof as possible. But honestly, the electricity they generate is just a drop in the ocean of our building’s energy needs.
Meanwhile, the national energy grid is in chaos. Since before the pandemic, we’ve had power cuts across the country of between three and eight hours a day – the result of a steady decline in the maintenance of electricity power stations over the last three decades. The government is now talking about appointing independent energy providers and letting individuals feed into the grid, but that’s a long way off.
For now, if you don’t have a big generator, you’re in serious trouble: I’m currently spending around £20,000 (US$22,500) a month on diesel. And that’s on top of electricity, which has almost quadrupled in price with another 25 per cent rise on the cards. I spend around £50,000 (US$56,300) a month on electricity to power our building and we don’t even have a swimming pool in our gym. Clubs that do have pools have mostly stopped heating them now; members have to accept the water temperature as it is.
“Clubs with pools have mostly stopped heating them. Members have to accept the water temperature as it is.”
So it’s fairly doom and gloom in South Africa from an energy perspective. Yet as ridiculous as these costs are, we have to swallow them if we want to keep running our gym. I certainly can’t pass any of the increased costs on to our members, as the pressure on consumers’ disposable income – with inflation close to 20 per cent – means gym membership is already a luxury.
I just have to hope the Competition Commission finds in our favour in March and forces Discovery to extend its gym membership subsidy scheme to other health club brands beyond Virgin Active and Planet Fitness. We’re confident it will, but in the meantime I’ll keep subsidising things myself and focusing on growing our membership base through aggressive marketing.
And it’s working, because while we continue to invest heavily in the latest and greatest equipment, many gyms here can’t even afford to maintain or repair their current equipment, with ‘out of order’ signs everywhere. Any additional investment secured by our competitors isn’t going to refurbishments or new kit. It’s just keeping their gyms open.
“The gym is subsidised by my other businesses. in the current climate, if it had to stand alone, it would not survive”
So how are we able to keep investing? One simple fact: the gym business isn’t our bread and butter. I run an insurance company here in South Africa, as well as a construction company, with everything in the same building. The gym is subsidised by my other businesses and always had a three-year plan to break even. In the current climate, if it had to stand alone, it would not survive.
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