27 Sep 2021 World leisure: news, training & property
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Health Club Management
2021 issue 5

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Leisure Management - Ben Alderton

HCM People

Ben Alderton

We see a world where every major city has access to Solo 60

The first Solo 60 location in Shoreditch will be followed this month by a second location near Tower Bridge photo: Solo 60
Solo 60 is booked through an app and accessed with a PIN code photo: Solo 60
PTs can use Solo 60 for one-to-one and group bookings photo: Solo 60
A bespoke steel rig sits at the heart of the Solo 60 offering photo: Solo 60

Tell us about the venture
Solo 60 is a unique alternative to the conventional gym. We lease small, unused offices and retail units and transform them into high-end private micro-gyms that can be booked to work out solo or with friends or for PTs to train clients, with slots starting from 60 minutes.

We have three brands – Solo 60 Sessions, which are pre-booked workouts, Solo 60 Studio for group exercise and Solo 60 Stream, our virtual offering.

All bookings run end-to-end via technology so the first step is to download and register an account on our mobile app, which guides the user to find a space, select a time, duration and group size before confirming the booking.

We send instructions and a PIN code so people can access the gym and enjoy it exclusively.

How did you come up with the idea?
I was running a PT business from April 2015 until selling it to pursue Solo 60 in November 2019, so effectively, I was my own customer.

The business had eight trainers and 350 clients and I was looking to expand out of the gym we were using so I could test new locations, scale and find new clients, but I faced constant rejections from gyms that wanted me to sign up to pay monthly fees and/or bring my whole team of trainers and clients to that gym.

I was looking for flexibility and so were my clients, who were being forced to sign up to the gym to train with me. The lightbulb went off in my mind and I started to develop the concept for Solo 60.

How many sites do you have and what are your expansion plans?
We currently have two sites in London – Shoreditch and Tower Bridge – but our expansion plans are huge. We aim to grow 10 times over in the next year and then set our sights on entering the rest of the UK and then Europe.

We see a world where every major city has access to Solo 60.

Who’s advising on investment?
When it comes to investment, I’ve done it all myself and learned a lot about raising finance through angel investors and venture capitalists.
We’re currently closing a US$1m seed round which has been another huge learning curve.

How has the Solo 60 concept developed since launch?
Our Standard Place location in Shoreditch has been extremely successful, with close to 3,000 Solo 60 Sessions completed, while Brewery Square near Tower Bridge, which will open this month (June 2021), will see the launch of Solo 60 Studio for those who love group exercise.

Solo 60 Studio will be limited to six people at one time and cover six unique concepts. Group exercise will be offered in all future locations and will sit alongside the original Solo 60 Session offering.

The group exercise content will also go out via our third product, Solo 60 Stream.

What kind of vibe are you aiming for?
An international award-winning interior designer called Bergman Interiors designed our first site and created a concept to roll out to future sites. We took this and bent it to suit each site’s quirks. We’re going for a high-end feel with bespoke touches in each – for the gram, of course.

Will you own and operate or also franchise?
We’ve had a huge amount of interest and requests for franchising the model and the technology but at the moment we have no plans to do so.

We’re extremely protective about the experience Solo 60 provides and our plans for the future are to own and operate all sites to maintain these standards.

What improvements will you make with your next site?
We have ambitions to incorporate the technology from our digital products into the physical space. This is a huge mission in relation to how customers will experience our spaces going forward.

How much does it cost to use Solo 60?
Prices vary depending on time, location and method of payment – for example, using pay-as-you-go and credit packs.

Our pay-as-you-go pricing is dependent on the time of day and – using surge pricing – on the demand for slots at that time.

Our credit pack option provides the best perks, such as a fixed-price booking (even at peak times), the option to book 14 days in advance (rather than the seven days offered for pay-as-you-go) and reduced cancellation (four hours, instead of eight). These prices start at £17.

Overall, sessions start from £15, average £20 and are £25 at peak times while using pay-as-you-go. Customers can share this cost by inviting friends through the app.

Personal trainers are allowed to train small groups at no additional charge.

There are no contracts and users are free to cancel, upgrade or downgrade their credit packs at any point without penalty.

Do people return?
Absolutely! People have quit their gym memberships and personal training contracts at well-known gyms to come to Solo 60 full-time. The number of sessions they book depends on whether they’re gym-goers or personal trainers but in both cases people reuse Solo 60 regularly and return often.

As an example, we’ve taken 80 bookings this week from 25 unique customers. This is an average of three times per week per person. Clearly though, some use it once, some use it 5-10 times.

We’ve had 300 unique paying customers so far from the 1,500 users on our app. Most of the inactive or low usage is due to location and will become active as we grow our network.

What’s your staffing set-up?
We’re a two-man team with a couple of teammates helping part-time and an army of amazing suppliers and contractors. We aim to grow this to 10 people in the next 12 months.

Due to technology, we’re able to keep staff and staffing costs low and aim to just hire the strongest and most talented individuals.

What are your criteria for locations?
We select sites using data we accumulate to ensure local demographics match ours. There needs to be a strong residential or commercial office population locally and demand for (or from) personal trainers. We also look at the uptake of local gyms in the area.

Our choices are also helped by our amazing community who are vocal about which areas to go to next – they answer our polls to allow us to gain insight into where the interest is most focused.

This was one of the reasons for choosing our SE1 London location – this area had been mentioned more than 50 times on our feedback forms.

If customers shout loud enough and the data supports their requests, we’ll open up!

Who’s advising on property acquisition?
Solo 60 uses a well-known London commercial property acquirer that understands our business and is extremely experienced in finding suitable properties.

We’re also approached by agents outside our network who see what we’re doing, if they feel they may have suitable sites, which is really helpful.

Was it easy to get insurance?
Insurance was tricky because I had to literally explain the concept to insurers and most struggled to wrap their heads around it. That said, we were lucky to talk to a couple of forward-thinking insurance companies and went with one of them.

They now have the business for our two sites and we’re hoping to stick with them now on an ongoing basis.

Solo 60 seems a very COVID-19 friendly format – is this just a coincidence?
Solo 60 is very COVID-19 friendly and I wish I could predict the future, but having started out in 2019, I have to admit it’s just coincidental timing.

My original plan was to create a gym offering for people and PTs who wished they had their own gym that gave them privacy, freedom and flexibility, but it quickly became apparent it also had a great fit in the wider market for those who were conscious of COVID-19 and desired a safe space to train.

How do you deliver COVID-secure cleaning?
Our sites get deep cleaned every morning with a special cleaning spray solution and topped up with the best cleaning products for users to clean before and after their own sessions.

On days with particularly heavy-usage, we also deep clean an additional time.

What kit is on offer?
Each site has a bespoke steel rig at its heart, with a variety of equipment that anyone would need in a traditional gym.

This includes cardio equipment ranging from treadmills to bikes and/or rowers. We also offer half racks, cable machines, 2.5kg-40kg dumbbells, a huge array of kettlebells, balls, suspension trainers, boxing bags and much more.

Customers can find a list of equipment inside each gym on our app, along with site photos and a description.

About Ben
photo: Solo 60
Tell us about your first business

I started a PT business in 2015 when I was 19 years old and sold it in 2019 to two fantastic new owners. This allowed me to pursue Solo 60 while knowing my clients and trainers would be looked after.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?

It comes from a mentor who told me that I should sell my business and go “all in” with Solo 60.

I wasn’t sure at the time, as the previous business was going so well, but after this conversation, I took the leap.

What advice do you have for other PTs looking to launch their own ventures?

Be brave, you’re already an entrepreneur!

Being a PT isn’t easy – you wear many hats; the front-end product, the back-end admin, the marketing machine and the customer service ‘team’. Take these skills, create a really great product or service and build a team around you to help you focus on the areas you’re good at.

I took too long to do this and could have grown faster if I’d listened to my own advice!

Who do you most admire in the industry?

Recently I’ve come to really admire Gymshark founder, Ben Francis. He’s an example of what’s achievable, regardless of age, education or previous experience. He followed his passion for the fitness industry and is a huge British success story. I’d love to do the same.

What have you learned about yourself in launching Solo 60?

That I can deal with a lot more than I ever thought was possible. Running a start-up isn’t easy or glamorous, but my stubbornness and never-give-up attitude have served me well.

You get knocked back hundreds of times and as a founder and leader, you need a serious amount of grit to keep pulling the business, your staff and those around you forward.

I’ve also learned how important family, friends and support networks are, as they’ll always be there, in the good times and the bad.

The Solo 60 gym has been designed to support a wide range of workout types / photo: Solo 60

Originally published in Health Club Management 2021 issue 5

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