29 May 2024 World leisure: news, training & property
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Spa Business
2023 issue 1

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Leisure Management - Justin Musgrove


Justin Musgrove

Core Life, billed as the world’s most exclusive lifestyle company, has ambitions to expand to affluent cities around the globe. Its CEO speaks to Kate Cracknell

Core Life CEO, Justin Musgrove Photo: Core Life/Kun Investment
Customers won’t tolerate crowds, so memberships are capped Photo: Core Life/Kun Investment
Core has some of the only mixed-gender clubs in Saudi Arabia Photo: Core Life/Kun Investment
Biologique Recherche is among the brands on offer at Core Spa Photo: Core Life/Kun Investment
Luxury designer finishes have been used in all areas of the club Photo: Core Life/Kun Investment
Core Spa offers lifestyle interventions and relaxation facilities Photo: Core Life/Kun Investment
Most people work out with PTs, while private gyms are also available Photo: Core Life/Kun Investment
New clubs will open in major cities around the world Photo: Core Life/Kun Investment
The team chose Woodway, Watson and Life Fitness for the Core Fit gym Photo: Core Life/Kun Investment
The Encore Restaurant and Tea Lounge deliver the F&B offering Photo: Core Life/Kun Investment

Having amassed 45 years in the leisure industry – including four years overseeing spas for leading brands such as Center Parcs and Bannatyne – there isn’t much Justin Musgrove hasn’t experienced when it comes to wellness. Yet relocating from the UK to Saudi Arabia in 2019 has “been a great learning curve” he says.

Musgrove made the move after being headhunted by Leejam Sports, the largest health club operator in the Middle East with 140-plus locations, to lead its Fitness Time portfolio. Two years on and he’s now the CEO of Core Life, an exclusive lifestyle brand founded in 2020, which is on a mission to improve quality of life for high achievers and high net-worth individuals.

Tell us about Core
Core Investment is owned by Kun Investment Holding. Its consumer-facing brand – which I head up – is Core Life and it spans a number of verticals.

There are four Core Social Wellness Clubs: two in Saudi and two in Egypt. We also have two Encore restaurants, while our third vertical – operating under the Core Residences pillar – is hotels and retreats which has two projects in the pipeline.

The fourth vertical is Core Adventure and Excursions and we’re also looking at piloting a medical pillar focusing on things such as gene testing and drawing heavily on the latest science.

And more about Core Social Wellness Clubs
International visitors who are members of the top clubs in their countries tell us they’ve never seen anything like Core. It’s a very special product that’s been beautifully designed and executed.

There are still no official mixed wellness clubs in Saudi Arabia, but at Core, we’ve been allowed to create the country’s first mixed communities: one in Riyadh’s diplomatic quarter – a secure and highly international zone within the city – and one in a highly affluent area of Jeddah. Our customer base is a fairly equal balance of men and women.

In terms of the facilities themselves, let’s take Riyadh as the latest evolution, having opened in December 2021. The social wellness club covers 13,500sq m. It’s a huge, opulent space with luxurious fixtures and fittings, as well as stunning art.

A beautifully designed spa offers 4,500sq m of luxury with a mix of holistic and tech-based treatments. This includes a number of Oriental therapies, for example, and also cryotherapy chambers, oxygen treatments and a Lympha Press (pneumatic compression pumps and garments), as well as hydrotherapy and contrast therapies. There’s also an exquisite tea lounge, a kids club, a Eurasian restaurant, two boardrooms, a cigar lounge and also 10 luxury villas within the parameters.

In the gym, we’ve hand-picked what we believe to be best-in-class products – Woodway treadmills, Watson benches and dumbbells and anti-gravity treadmills from Life Fitness, for example. The focus is on delivering one-to-one, in-person contact rather than connecting with apps and technology. I still believe this to be key in our sector, with people and programming supported by, not replacing, technology.

We also have two private gyms for members who require privacy and exclusivity.

How do you approach wellness at Core?
We have three grounding pillars – mind, body and soul – which I know everyone says. The difference at Core is not only that each element of the offering is world-class, but also that they’re all connected. It’s about the whole experience.

‘Mind’ centres on our world-class spas, where we use techniques such as biohacking to enhance recovery and complement the fitness journey.

Moving onto ‘Body’, it’s about fitness, which is the backbone of our business. But the way we do it is important because many of our clients already have their own trainers at home, their own home gyms and their own chefs. So they come to Core for the exceptional talent we employ: the world-class trainers, the experts in biomechanics and the specialists in rehabilitation and recovery. We set the bar very high when it comes to recruitment and pay for the best.

‘Soul’ focuses on healthy, enjoyable cuisine. It isn’t about dieting, but about doing things that subtly improve your habits.

Our Core Connect programme integrates these three pillars to improve quality of life. I went through it myself recently and was amazed by the results.

Tell us about membership fees
Our access-only Silver tier starts at SAR30,000 (US$8,000 €7,539, £6,611) a year, while Platinum, the highest level, costs SAR115,000 (US$30,667, €28,898, £25,346) and in Jeddah, 40 per cent of members are on this tier. This gives them unlimited personal training, a couple of spa treatments a week, a couple of barber/hair appointments a month and VIP privileges. They’re also allowed to bring their partner to share these benefits.

Importantly, though, ours is an exclusive community. We limit numbers and have a selection committee that approves applications to join our clubs. It isn’t necessarily about your wealth but about being the right fit: we want our members to have a positive influence on the community at large.

What are your growth plans for Core?
In spite of the huge investment, after just one year of operation, the concept is being proven and we’re close to breaking even in Riyadh. Once we also have our standard operating procedures fine-tuned, we’ll move ahead with our growth plans.

We’re primarily focused on moving Core into the most affluent cities globally: London, Paris, New York, Los Angeles, Dubai, Singapore and Tokyo. Each city will have just one Core Social Wellness Club, with a total of around 10 globally and most within the next five years.

For readers interested in health and fitness, what’s the market like in Saudi Arabia?
The health club market has changed massively just in the few years I’ve been here. The planned transformation programme for the Kingdom, called Vision 2030, has seen a colossal amount of investment and development going on across six giga projects (see www.spabusiness.com/vision2030). Seeing them come to fruition is like something out of science fiction and one of the main strategies relates to getting the nation fit, healthy and productive, as Saudi has one of the worst diabetes and obesity records in the world.

In 2019 there were fewer than 500 chain gyms, but in the next two to three years, I expect the number of clubs to quadruple, with membership getting up to 10 per cent of the population – around 2.5 to 3 million – by the end of 2030.

Big box gyms such as Fitness Time and Bodymasters dominated the market. However, now there are boutiques such as 1Rebel and Orangetheory Fitness and a number of high-value-low-price (HVLP) brands such as Pure Gym, Gym Nation, Activ and B-IT – the sister brand of Core.

What’s shaping this sector in Saudi?
There are a few important factors, the first being that around 60 per cent of the population is under 34 years of age and nearly 80 per cent is under 44. Even at our exclusive clubs, members are in their 30s and 40s, which makes having a family offering very important.

The second is the relative importance of location over factors such as price. Price points remain inflated compared to other markets – monthly fees in the High Value, Low Price gym sector sit at around SAR180-250 (US$48-67, €46-63, £40–55) – but what people are really looking for is a gym at the end of their road.

The third difference is really interesting and something I haven’t seen anywhere else, even in the UAE. Saudis like space, so you have to look carefully at club density. In the UK, a low-cost gym measuring 1,500sq m might cater for 4,000–6,000 members. In Saudi, hit 2,500 members in that space and you’ll be getting complaints.

What are your plans personally?
I ultimately see myself returning to the UK, although there’s no particular timeframe at the moment. At that point, I’d like to give something back in the shape of non-exec work.

We still have a lot of work to do as a sector to persuade governments and world organisations of the role our industry can play in the future of every country. It’s why I’ve been an active member of the Global Health and Fitness Alliance – a group of industry leaders who’ve been working tirelessly since the pandemic to highlight the value of our sector, including producing a report in collaboration with Deloitte China, called Economic Health and Societal Wellbeing: Quantifying the Impact of the Global Health and Fitness Sector.

We’ve already made huge strides in reducing the cost of access to fitness: US$10 a month at Planet Fitness in the US, for example, and £5 a month at Everlast in the UK… it’s now so accessible. I know Saudi is still pricey, but even here prices will come down as access rises.

And that’s why we’re worthy of a seat at the table. Because we’re givers. We contribute to society. But in return, we need government incentives and preferential terms. We need support.

Originally published in Spa Business 2023 issue 1

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