In 2021, Joe Cohen, Robert Rowland and Hilary Rowland co-founded United Fitness Brands (UFB), bringing together their respective businesses – KOBOX and Boom Cycle – as the first step in creating a new ‘supergroup’ of boutiques. They update Kate Cracknell on the story so far.
Why did you create UFB?
Even pre-COVID, businesses in our sector struggled: there were record attendances at boutique studios, but head office costs made it hard to make money. We realised there was an opportunity to drive significant economies of scale by joining forces, allowing each brand to continue to operate with autonomy but with head office functions centralised.
“Our strategy is to be the #1 destination for boutique fitness and wellness, with each brand the best at its own discipline”
Our conversations began during COVID, and in October 2020 we agreed heads of terms to join KOBOX and Boom Cycle, creating a new umbrella company – United Fitness Brands – of which Joe is CEO, Robert COO and Hilary marketing director.
KOBOX and Boom Cycle officially joined forces and launched as United Fitness Brands in March 2021. The following month we heard that Barrecore was on the market. We’re fortunate to have a strong team behind the combined business, with a very supportive board on which our backers Pembroke VCT, Nectar Capital and Dominvs Group all sit. Through these channels, we were able to raise funds to acquire Barrecore in May 2021.
What is the vision for UFB?
Our strategy is to be the number one destination for boutique fitness and wellness, with each brand the best at its own discipline. We want to provide our customers with the best overall industry experience.
Meanwhile, for the businesses within UFB, it’s about building a single operational platform to achieve economies of scale for multiple brands and accelerate revenue.
We have four brands now, with Triyoga also part of the UFB portfolio since January 2022, and will bring in more over time; from the outset, we envisaged building a group that spanned six or seven different disciplines, as well as continuing to grow within each of those verticals.
UFB currently offers cycling, boxing, barre and yoga. Other potential disciplines might be dance, reformer pilates, non-yoga stretching. We’re looking to capture as much share of a consumer’s annual wellness spend as possible, by offering services within our portfolio that complement each other and that give consumers the products, services and content they’re looking for.
We’ll assess each opportunity as it comes, and it doesn’t just have to be bricks and mortar. It could include digital brands such as content providers, for example.
How do you explain UFB to consumers?
So far, United Fitness Brands hasn’t been consumer-facing. KOBOX, Boom Cycle, Barrecore and Triyoga each have their own passionate team and fans, so it’s important that each brand retains its autonomy.
However, we have been looking closely at how we explain UFB and the relationship between our different brands to consumers, because we’re launching a new Studio Pass membership option this month.
“We’ll assess each opportunity as it comes, and it doesn’t just have to be bricks and mortar. It could include digital brands.”
When customers log on to their favourite UFB brand website, they will have the option of sticking with the existing price structure to use that brand only. Alternatively, they can purchase a Studio Pass membership, with the benefit being that Studio Pass credits can be used at UFB partner brands as well – currently just KOBOX, Boom Cycle and Barrecore, but we will bring in Triyoga too.
The new pricing will make it advantageous to take up Studio Pass membership. There’s a one-week introductory offer priced at £30. Four classes a month is £60, eight classes a month costs £110, 12 classes a month is £150 and for unlimited classes it’s £180 a month.
We hope this pricing will woo people away from the aggregators. Data shows that on average, people visit three studios for three different disciplines a month, and it’s really exciting to offer that variety within our own group of brands. With our Studio Pass membership, you get to be a member of three – and soon four – best-in-class boutiques, all offering something different in terms of workout but all promising you the best 45–75 minutes of your day.
Upper body, lower body, cardio, calmness, flexibility, major muscle groups, smaller muscles… We’re making it easy for people to switch it up in their workouts and reap the physical and mental rewards.
And you have a new booking system…
Yes. Launching this month, it will allow Studio Pass members to book classes at Boom Cycle, Barrecore and KOBOX – and in time also Triyoga – all through one system. It will also be the gateway to live and on-demand digital content, starting with Barrecore.
Then behind the scenes, it’s about insights that allow us to improve the customer journey and run the business more efficiently.
“When we expand outside of London, we’re likely to build multi-brand locations”
Across UFB’s four brands, we have close to half a million customer accounts. That gives us an amazing opportunity to extract good insights into our customers and aggregate all this data in one place. In turn, that allows us to communicate in a more efficient, targeted way, offering our customers more of what they want: the classes they want, when and where they want them, as well as sending relevant offers for apparel, say.
For the business, then, this new system is about securing more accurate, current data, allowing us to make faster, more informed decisions: adaptations to our packages, our timetables or our staffing to improve the customer journey, for example. It will certainly present ecommerce opportunities, too, and could even give us insights into where we might expand physically.
It simply wouldn’t be possible to invest in something like this as separate entities – we’re talking a five-figure investment and a system that’s taken many months to build – but together as United Fitness Brands, our distinct boutique operations are able to benefit from the sort of insights that normally only large businesses can afford.
Tell us about your multi-brand studios.
We opened our fourth KOBOX studio at Boom Cycle’s Waterloo location in July of last year, and when Barrecore’s Chelsea lease expired, we moved it in alongside KOBOX on the Kings Road.
Of course, with 23 sites across London, we already had a number of studios in striking distance of each other – and a good number of customers who already visited at least two of our brands – so it will be interesting to see what incremental crossover these multi-brand studios generate. It’s certainly too early to tell at this stage: people still aren’t really coming back into offices to work, so visit numbers remain down in locations like Waterloo. We’ll need more time to assess the impact of multi-brand studios in London.
What we do already know is that when we expand outside of London, which we expect to do towards the end of 2022 and into 2023, we’re likely to build multi-brand locations. Each will have a shared communal area, two or more studios and perhaps some wellness services – massages, for example.
This will, of course, all be data-led. We know who our customers are and we know the perfect customer for each brand, so we’ll be able to identify which street in which city would work for each. And the great thing about UFB is that each brand can roll out independently or we can group them together to suit each location.
What are your growth plans for the next few years?
We now have 23 owned locations – four KOBOX, five Boom Cycle, 10 Barrecore and four Triyoga – as well as two Barrecore franchises in Manchester and one in Leeds, and thus far there’s been sufficient funding to grow the business through our own board.
“We have international growth aspirations, with our eyes on the Middle East in particular as an exciting opportunity”
In time, though, we will need to look at financing options for the next big step: we’re always having conversations and looking at potential sites, and there’s sadly lots of market opportunity post-COVID. That said, we are looking to embed our four brands before we make any further bricks and mortar acquisitions.
We will grow our number of brands and locations per brand in London, however, as well as outside of London, including multi-brand studios in smaller cities across the UK.
With these multi-brand studios in mind, we’re also starting to think more about branding. United Fitness Brands is rather corporate-sounding, so in time this name may disappear in favour of a new, more consumer-friendly name as yet to be decided.
Finally, we have international growth aspirations, with our eyes on the Middle East in particular as an exciting opportunity. There are lots of areas opening up to women in that region; if we could put something like boxing out there, we feel that would be a big step forward.