04 Dec 2023 World leisure: news, training & property
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Health Club Management
2023 issue 7

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Leisure Management - David Barton

HCM People

David Barton

Gym U is offering the most scientifically-advanced equipment and ushering in a new level of luxury

Barton has launched Gym U in Chelsea, New York City Photo: David Barton
Gym U’s style is vibrant and energetic Photo: David Barton
Gym U in New York City focuses on exercise science and luxury Photo: David Barton
The interiors of Barton’s TMPL gym included a homage to Grace Jones Photo: David Barton
The design-led TMPL in NYC was sold to Town Sports Photo: David Barton
Lighting design at the former David Barton Miami South Beach Photo: David Barton
Anvil in Russia was designed by David Barton as a fantasy escape Photo: David Barton

What’s your expertise?
My qualifications are mostly hundreds of failures resulting in the occasional success.

I’ve studied, experimented, read, taught, and contemplated, and there is no qualification that prepares someone for the alchemy and magic of a gym that actually works. In fact, the creative impulse happens suddenly and there is no preparation for this that I can think of.

What has shaped your philosophy?
The first time I ever walked into a gym, I was transported by the energy. Local criminals were working out next to the local cops, it was a world apart from the outside. That was my moment, and from that moment on, I was hooked. It’s infectious and intoxicating, and when I get it right, I know a member walks into my club and feels that they’re walking into the best party in town. They’re in the right place at the right time; that’s perfection in my book.

Tell us what’s happening now
There is a new post-pandemic world, which requires an updated paradigm in the gym business. I created a new concept called Gym U (www.gymunyc.com) because I felt it was necessary for someone to fill this void and pre-empt the possible obsolescence of the gym as we know it.

Tell us more
Gym U is a project that’s very dear to my heart. Located on 215 West 23rd St in Chelsea, New York City, Gym U is built in the space of my original David Barton gym, which opened over 20 years ago. It opened in June. Gym U is offering the most scientifically-advanced fitness equipment, training and wellness services I’ve gathered and amassed from my travels, ushering in a new level of luxury and personalisation in the fitness world in New York City.

Every club I do is different; a lot is based on the local market and the demographics and psychographics of the locals. When designing U, I drew inspiration from the movie Metropolis which gives it a Deco and Expressionist feel.

How is it different from and better than your previous NYC gyms?
Gym U is similar to previous David Barton gyms in that the space will feel uniquely curated to its demographic – unlike other chain operations, Gym U reflects the specific personality and charm of New York’s Chelsea neighbourhood: colourful, vibrant and energetic.

Gym U differentiates itself from its competitors through the caliber of its workout equipment and personal training, which are guaranteed to deliver results. Members can expect to experience the most efficient and fun workout with machinery from premium fitness brands such as Pannatta, an Italian manufacturer that has redesigned the mechanics of strength training.

How are you using technology?
I was amazed by the advanced technologies implemented globally in the fitness world and brought them all to U. The gym carries ARX adaptive resistance equipment, which utilises patented, motorised resistance and computer software to maximise every rep to create a perfect workout with maximum results.

We’ve partnered with the world-class Precision Health Alliance from Australia to deliver a full epigenetic diagnostic profile for members, utilising AI. Our trainers can provide members with key insights into their health and fitness needs considering their genetic predispositions, taking all the guesswork out of working out.

We also offer sessions with the Neubie, an electrical stimulation therapy that reprogrammes muscles for optimised performance and recovery times. Even three sessions with this powerful tool are guaranteed to deliver visible results. We also have an area for recovery powered by Fuel Stop, a wellness boutique in Uptown NYC that offers personalised IV Drips and Ozone capsule treatments.

How will you future-proof this business?
Although one never knows what the future will bring the gym will be future-proofed by fostering community and personal engagement.

Of course, it’s important to stay ahead of trends in science and technology, but the basics of the right environment and great customer service never go out of style.

What’s the perfect customer journey?
New gym-goers need to feel comfortable when joining a gym. At U, we’ll focus on the community aspect, helping newcomers feel welcome and providing a fun, dynamic workout experience.

We have an esteemed roster of trainers I hand-picked who will work closely in tandem with members to identify their fitness goals and develop a highly tailored workout regimen for success. The core mission is delivering a user-focused experience for our members that makes going to the gym for a workout one of the highlights of their day.

Can design contribute to the success?
Absolutely. I worked closely with architects such as Charles Renfro and Stephen Alton and collaborated with creatives Peter Brescia, Rose Wood and award-winning lighting design firm Focus Lighting to deliver a sleek and energising space that encourages movement the moment our members walk through the doors.

Lighting is incredibly important in gym design, because we want our members to feel good and look good when they work out. The entire space is thoughtfully lit with mood lighting and lined with mirrors to provide that extra visual element needed for workout motivation.

What are the most important things to consider when designing a club?
The word design misses the point. What I try to create is an emotional experience. Having said that, I think our industry has historically lacked vision when it comes to design.

Some operators overdesign their clubs, they lack restraint and include too many ideas, finishes patterns, graphics and signage. In my gyms you might have a soundbite or a design moment, but there’s always a reason why it’s there.

It’s easy to neglect certain elements of design, such as lighting or auditory components, which all take part in creating an enjoyable environment geared towards movement and fitness. For instance, you can have all the workout equipment in the world, but if the space is flooded with harsh fluorescent light, it will take away from the overall experience.

Similarly with music, you need to consider a playlist that caters to the vibe of your member demographic, that also aligns with the general mood and atmosphere of the gym and location.

You’re designing gyms around the world. What was the inspiration for Anvil?
Anvil was inspired by a dream I had of being a tiny being in the world of Giants. I played with scale and proportion to create a fantasy, and an escape from the world outside.

There’s a combination of grit and glamour, akin to the shiny chrome on a Harley Davidson. Sometimes the greatest challenge is to create luxury without being precious or fancy or feeling like something other than a gym. With Anvil, I tried to be intriguing and titillating.

What motivates and inspires you? 
I’m inspired by movies, music, paintings, buildings ... sometimes just my imagination.

What’s the best gym you’ve seen that isn’t one of your own?
I once went to a gym in Nantucket. It was in a small windswept house on the beach with open windows that allowed a warm breeze and the smell of the ocean. There was very little equipment and I believe no staff whatsoever, but there was something so simple and authentic about that little gem of a gym.

What’s your personal wellness regime?
I do mostly strength training, focusing on slow, controlled movements. I’ve discovered bodybuilding-style training is the best solution to combat ageing.

• From the archives: www.hcmmag.com/Barton12

• Watch David Barton interviewed on the Entrepreneurship at Cornell YouTube channel www.hcmmag.com/DavidBartonCornell

David Barton timeline

1988 Graduates from Cornell in Human Ecology

1989 Declines grad school to work as a PT

1992 Establishes first David Barton Gym in NYC

1992 - 2013 Grows to nine clubs

2013 Sells to investors

2016 David Barton Gyms owned by Club Ventures close

2018 Launches TMPL gym brand in one location in NYC

2018 Sells TMPL to Town Sports

2020 Town Sports ceases trading

2023 Creates Gym U in New York City

Originally published in Health Club Management 2023 issue 7

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