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21 Nov 2023

JD Gyms sells GymNation to MBO team
BY Liz Terry

GymNation's Ant Martland, Loren Holland and Frank Afeaki

GymNation's Ant Martland, Loren Holland and Frank Afeaki
photo: John mMrsland photography

JD Gyms, part of listed company, JD Sports Fashion plc, has sold UAE health club operator, GymNation, to a management buy-out team backed by investors TriCap Investments and Ruya Partners, which has revealed it invested SAR 94 million (US$25 million) private credit into GymNation.

JD Gyms, bought GymNation from Select Investments Ltd in February 2022.

The MBO was led by co-founder Loren Holland and colleagues Frank Afeaki, Ant Martland, William Rasmussen-Dean and Ishan Patil, who are all now significant majority shareholders.

Along with the transaction the company has established an equity incentivisation scheme for its wider management team.

GymNation has also reported that it’s signed four more locations in the UAE and six in Saudi Arabia, while also commencing the formation of trading companies in Qatar, Bahrain and Kuwait.

The GymNation team was advised by DLA Piper, Tatsu Partners, Ben Trainor, PwC Middle East and James Wigglesworth at Inflexion Private Equity.

Read HCM's previous interview with the GymNation team here.

HCM Q&A with GymNation director, Ant Martland

How long have you been working on the deal?

We began initial discussions with JD Gyms on this deal in mid 2023.

There were quite a few parties that were interested in working with us on this investment, so in the last year we've been working hard to make sure we found the correct new partners, while also ensuring that the deal was structured in a way that gave us the flexibility and control we need for our next stage of growth.

Does JD Gyms retain any equity?

No, this was a full exit for and JD Gyms is not retaining any equity.

With the war in the Middle East, does regional instability concern you at all?

No, the fitness sector across the GCC is growing rapidly driven by huge government support and it is a very exciting time for GymNation and the industry.

For example, we're currently in the middle of the Dubai 30x30 challenge, a major government initiative to encourage the population of Dubai to perform a minimum of 30 minutes of exercise for 30 consecutive days.

Such initiatives are helping increase the awareness of the importance of health and fitness and drive up penetration levels.

What are your ambitions for the business - How big could it get within the Middle East?

Our ambition is to grow GymNation into the number one fitness brand across the GCC. We're the largest operator in the UAE with 60,000 members across 11 clubs, but we now plan to expand across the GCC, starting with Saudi Arabia.

Will you extend your reach beyond this region and go global?

The next phase of growth will see us focusing on GCC expansion.

Do you have plans to Franchise?

No, for now at least, we'd like to keep full control of GymNation. We've seen other brands operate under franchise agreements and a lot of the time things don’t work out as planned.

This is a founder/management-led business that we've taken from an idea on a sheet of paper to where it is today, we don’t feel anyone else would be able to give GymNation the attention and care we do.

Will you launch any other models so you can infill in smaller cities?

We believe in staying true to our business model and have no intention of changing this as there is plenty of expansion potential with the product we operate today.

What more can you tell us about the development pipeline?

Since the deal completed, we've nowsigned our first six Saudi Arabian locations, and a further four more UAE sites. We've also completed company formations in Qatar, Bahrain and Kuwait and are now in discussions on a number of potential locations within each of those countries.

We firmly believe we can become the leading gym chain in region in the next three to five years and are looking forward to entering these new markets and repeating the success we've had in the UAE.

Will you add to the concept, or is it fully formed?

We'll never stop improving, updating or investing into the GymNation product. It’s important to stay ahead of trends and ensure members have the best possible experience when they visit.

How do you personally feel about the deal?

I'm incredibly excited for the next chapter of GymNation growth and being able to reward and incentivise our wider management team with equity in the business that they've helped us grow so successfully to date.

Official statements about the deal are as follows:


We are pleased to announce that JD Gyms has successfully completed the sale of its majority interest in the GymNation Group. The sale forms part of our realigned strategy, in which we will be focusing primarily on the accelerated growth of the JD Gyms fascia. We would like to wish the GymNation team luck with their continued expansion.


We are pleased to announce that JD Gyms has successfully completed the sale of its interest in the GymNation Group. This deal sees the management team of GymNation entering into a new investment partnership with Tricap Investments and Ruya Partners.

This investment by Tricap Investments marks a new chapter in GymNation's journey, and the management team are excited about the opportunities that lie ahead.

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