25 Sep 2022 World leisure: news, training & property
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Health Club Management
2022 issue 5

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Leisure Management - David Zarb Jenkins

HCM People

David Zarb Jenkins

Despite industry challenges, there’s a fresh air of positivity

Jenkins worked for Mclean events prior to this new venture Photo: Roberto Runzaa / W3
Jenkins’ passion for events developed while working remotely from Malta Photo: shutterstock/4kclips
W3 is on a mission to integrate wellness into all aspects of the event Photo: W3
A W3 spa event in Spain Photo: W3
The industry has missed in-person meetings Photo: W3
W3 is working to foster connections across the fitness industry Photo: Roberto Runzaa / W3
David Zarb Jenkins pictured with his wife and daughters photo: Roberto Runzaa / W3

You've made your career in health and fitness events. Tell us your story
I specialised in hospitality management at the Institute of Tourism Studies in Malta and had the opportunity to do work placements in Malta and London, which provided me with invaluable experience in all facets of management.

I started my career in sales management at a local five-star hotel with a focus on attracting conferences and incentives to the resort.

As a 21-year-old it was exciting to travel abroad to trade fairs and conventions to promote the hotel and Malta as a destination.

In 2003, after two years in this role, one of my clients, Noor Kassam, approached me with an offer to work for Mclean Events, a company specialising in delivering face-to-face meeting forums for the hospitality and fitness industries.

I opted to remain in Malta to work remotely. This is when my passion for events really developed. I loved the concept of matchmaking buyers and suppliers.

This adventure lasted 18 years, up until 2021, and over this time I had the opportunity to travel the world, organise amazing events and create friendships with key players in the fitness, hospitality and spa industries.

The next chapter in my career started in 2021 when I met Monica Helmstetter and Lucy Hugo from We Work Well – organisers of hosted buyer events in the US. We teamed up to launch the W3Fit and W3Hospitality events for the fitness and hospitality industries, to connect decision makers from buyer companies with international suppliers.

The support I’m experiencing from my many industry friends is amazing and a daily reminder of just how much I love working in the fitness and hospitality sectors.

Tell us what you're up to with W3
We Work Well, or for short W3, started three years ago with live and virtual spa events in the US and EMEA. I joined W3 last summer to launch W3Fit and W3Hospitality – new hosted buyer events which will bring together buyers and suppliers for face to face meetings, education and networking.

Our aim is to create a new era of events that will deliver an elevated VIP experience to change the way business is done. This premium experience will ensure the highest calibre of attendees, and a social programme that provides the platform for long lasting relationships.

Since our launch, some of the most prominent operators and suppliers in the respective industries have committed to attend and we can’t wait to repay their faith in W3 with our inaugural events in Malta later this year.

What new supplier companies are you bringing into your events?
The fitness industry has evolved so much over the past 20 years. There was a time when these events were attended by a high percentage of fitness equipment suppliers.

The role of digital technologies, increased awareness of wellness and fitness as a healthy option to tackle obesity has rapidly changed the profile of supplier attendees.

Now we see a broader range of categories and trends such as wearable technology, wellness and recovery, body composition analysis, digital fitness and more recently fitness brands embracing the metaverse.

What does it take to stage a successful buyer event?
It’s all about making connections – most important is bringing together operators and decision makers with budgets to invest.

We have a qualification process that ensures operators are serious about committing resources, and then having the right operators present almost ensures that suppliers will follow.

There’s no better way to meet with so many operators in such a short space of time. We firmly believe people do business with people they like. As organisers, we provide a platform to encourage professional friendships through an enhanced event experience and social programme.

How have you adjusted your events to accommodate the pressures of the pandemic?
We Work Well has embarked on a mission to integrate wellness into every aspect of the event. The pandemic has taught us that the challenges are more than just financial and that the mental aspect has taken its toll on the workforce. Wellness needs to be integrated in the workplace and in everyday life and the inaugural W3 events are incorporating a programme that will evolve the way people do business.

What's the economic value of events to the health and fitness industry?
Events are an integral part of how buyers and suppliers meet, create relationships and conduct business. The pandemic has shown how much people have missed in-person contact through meetings and networking with potential partners.

Individuals have moved companies and changed roles over the last two years, and the lack of events has made it more difficult for companies to stay abreast of such changes.

Knowledge is power and events not only facilitate connections but make sure suppliers maintain strong connections with key clients. Over the years, I’ve experienced suppliers linking contracts with operators directly to a specific event. This is indicative of events’ value to the bottom line.

What impact have the pandemic and the war in Ukraine had on budgets?
We’ve seen contrasting experiences, with some being more cautious with investment and others taking the opportunity to use closures and lockdowns to improve their facilities. We’ve also seen a number of operators opening new clubs in recent months, which bodes well for the industry and shows that despite the unprecedented challenges there’s a fresh air of positivity.

Which types of operators do you see as being most commercially successful?
Operators who’ve embraced digital solutions and adopted a hybrid model have had more success than others during the pandemic.

The popularity of virtual workouts and digital solutions has accelerated tremendously and I feel this will be an important part of any fitness offering going forward. The opportunity is there to innovate and expand connected fitness and irrespective of whether they’re low-cost gyms or upmarket operators, their tech offerings is likely to determine their level of success.

As the industry matures, more operators have dedicated buyers. Is this changing the market?
I remember a time when face to face events included buyers and industry veterans such as Duncan Bannatyne, John Treharne and the late Jan Spaticchia. The industry has changed so much since then, with major operators now having an array of buyers with different areas of expertise such as fitness equipment, IT/digital, retail and so on.

This bodes well, as experts in their fields can focus on bringing the best products and services to the market and create better offerings for the end consumer.

Has the buying process changed over the years and if so, how?
For smaller chain operators the process hasn’t changed much, with the approval process being easier to execute than with large scale operators.

With larger chains, the decision-making process can involve a number of people in the business and appear more challenging. However, as mentioned, this hierarchy involves experts and is ultimately an integral part of decision-making.

It can sometimes be a long drawn out process for suppliers, but ultimately there’s nothing more rewarding than supplying a major operator.

What are some of the outstanding things you’ve learned?
To deliver one of our events takes a year – to gradually qualify and confirm operators and suppliers.

Several calls, emails, meetings and visits to other events and tradeshows are necessary to build relationships with prospective buyer and supplier attendees. There’s nothing more satisfying than to see 200+ people at an event connecting and building friendships and a year’s work coming to fruition.

I’ve learnt to stay close to my clients, always be just a phone call away, and be humble and sympathetic to their needs. The events are about them. As organisers we’re just there to facilitate the event.

It’s not always straightforward and sometimes it’s difficult to turn down operators who don’t qualify as an attendee, particularly when you have a friendship with that individual.

Likewise, our events are an intimate affair with a relatively low capacity compared to trade shows, and it’s not easy to turn people away when the event sells out.

Being open to working with everyone is important, as is forming relationships with media, associations and even competing events. In reality it’s a close-knit industry and we thrive by being a part of our client’s success story.

What's your own favourite workout?
I like to vary my physical activity, with visits to a local gym, walks, runs, hiking, swimming and football. But I have to admit, I do thoroughly enjoy a game of tennis.

What's the best piece of advice you've been given?
In the earlier years of my career, a person I viewed as my mentor would often say that everything happens for a reason and that beyond immediate disappointments lie greater and bigger things.

I’ve experienced the occasional disappointment and difficult situation over time but sure enough I look back at these without regret.

When one door closes another opens and when I look at the last door I opened to W3, it reminds me of that advice.

What else would you like to share?
It’s been a testing couple of years for the industry, but having recently attended Perform X Live in London and FIBO in Cologne, it appears we’re starting to see a light at the end of the tunnel.

Handshakes and hugs clearly showed how the industry is craving in-person connections and networking opportunities.

The onus is on us to embrace the positive energy, help each other and support the industry as best we can.

Originally published in Health Club Management 2022 issue 5

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