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Health Club Management
2023 issue 9

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Leisure Management - BLK BOX: Best kept secret


BLK BOX: Best kept secret

Equipment designer and manufacturer, BLK BOX has spent ten years gearing up for global growth. Founder Greg Bradley tells Julie Cramer all the pieces are now in place for rapid growth

Founder, Greg Bradley and CEO, Ben Stocks photo: BLK BOX / Matt Mackey / PressEy
Sydney Swans specified BLK BOX for its training centre photo: BLK BOX
The gym at the Corinthia Hotel won a Tatler award photo: BLK BOX
The new 130,000sq ft custom-built factory has been purpose-built to deliver a fast turnaround on orders photo: BLK BOX
BLK BOX ships from its own warehouse photo: BLK BOX
The company manufactures in Northern Ireland photo: BLK BOX
The Marchon Stratford LDN photo: BLK BOX

When ex-Gaelic football player Greg Bradley started his fitness equipment company BLK BOX in 2012, straight out of university, the world of strength training and functional fitness was still very much the domain of the elite athlete.

Fast forward more than a decade and strength and functional training have gained a firm foothold in mainstream health and fitness facilities, with even greater take-up predicted for the future.

Bradley says: “As a company that has its roots in functional fitness and strength training, we’re delighted to see how the market is moving in this direction. We’re evangelical about its benefits and believe it can change lives, as well as the fortunes of the businesses that deliver it in the most professional way.”

For Bradley, the business really started to take off with the opening of its first manufacturing site in Belfast’s Titanic shipyard in 2014, creating better control over product quality and the supply chain, and increasing the scope for more bespoke solutions.

A slew of contracts followed, with the company fitting out almost all the GAA (Gaelic Athletic Association) inter-county clubs in Ireland. Contracts across the Irish Sea ensued, first at Brighton and Hove Albion FC and then other Premier League clubs and then well beyond the sporting world (including Google’s Dublin HQ and the world’s biggest Lamborghini showroom in Dubai).

‘Made in NI’
It’s clearly taken Bradley years of hard graft, but his home-grown, ‘made in Northern Ireland’ brand is no longer a minnow in the fitness industry, and can now easily compete with the fitness equipment giants in the marketplace.

With a £2.5m investment in 2021, the company’s manufacturing plant was expanded to 130,000sq ft, including its own 4,000sq ft functional gym. The team now totals 85, manned by people who Bradley says are “as obsessive about the company and client service as he is”.

It is from this base that advanced laser cutters and robotic welders, along with expert design input, are birthing inspiring functional spaces with bespoke rigs and custom-branded equipment that are being installed around the world. High quality flooring for strength training also makes up 15 per cent of sales, as Bradley sees such flooring as integral to the success and performance of the space.

In readiness for the next major stage of growth, the company recruited a new MD, Ben Stocks, who took the helm last year. Stocks, who has a strong background in strategy and M&A for global companies (most recently at Wiggle, and as CEO of Leckey, a world leader in paediatric rehab equipment) is charged with strategy design and ensuring scaling systems are in place to drive the BLK BOX name further into the international arena.

Stocks says: “Greg and I make a great duo. Greg brings his wealth of industry experience and knowledge, his passion for client service and branding. He’s also the best sales person I’ve ever met! I’m more of the back-end person.”

Here Stocks is clearly underplaying his strengths, as since his arrival there has been much remodelling of the BLK BOX product set and bespoke manufacturing processes (some details of which are still under wraps).

Market disruptor
This work behind the scenes means the company is now able to deliver fully customised projects within an almost unheard-of three-week lead time, compared to an industry average of 9-12 weeks.

And the best is yet to come, says Stocks: “We’re on the cusp of a service delivery revolution, where we’ll soon be able to provide the highest quality fit-out, no matter how big or complex the project – or where it is in the world – in a game-changing one-week lead time.”

With these market-disrupting metrics, it’s not surprising that major contracts are ratcheting up for BLK BOX, as evidenced by the impressively varied and ever expanding range of case studies hosted on its newly-revamped website (www.blkboxfitness.com/pages/all-projects).

Such contracts range from Loughborough University and other high-level educational institutions, through to luxury hospitality, with the company’s installation at the Corinthia Hotel London winning in an award for ‘Best Hotel Gym for 2023’ from Tatler magazine, while its fit-out at Marchon Stratford LDN was named by Men’s Health magazine as one of ‘The World’s Best Gyms’.

BLK BOX is also working with luxury brand Bulgari on hotel projects in Tokyo, Milan and Rome and is about to ink a deal with another prestigious hospitality brand.

Bradley says the company prides itself on forming long-term partnerships with clients and attracting repeat business. After a solid five-year working relationship with the UK’s biggest gym chain Pure Gym, BLK BOX won the exclusive contract to supply all the free weights, studio equipment, fitness accessories and functional training kit.

Glittering high profile contracts aside, Bradley is keen for the company to remain accessible and in tune with the grassroots facilities and small independent fitness companies in the UK and Europe that provided the stepping stones to its global success.

He adds: “We’ve never been about selling our clients – large or small – the most equipment we can. For functional training to work at the highest level, the space is as important as what goes in it.”

Exceeding ESG targets
And when design, equipment and service delivery work together in perfect harmony, it results in many happy clients coming back for more.

Stocks says: “Our client retention metrics are outstanding, with 50 per cent of customers returning after year one and 45 per cent after year two and beyond – not because they need to change what’s not working, but because customer demand is driving them to expand or even open new sites.”

The modular, expandable nature of BLK BOX equipment, alongside its low-carbon, local manufacturing footprint, also means that many of its environmental credentials are ‘built in’.

Stocks says: “We’re very much focused on turning ESG into an opportunity, rather than seeing it as an obligation. We offer ’circularity’ that enables organic equipment growth for companies rather than fully dismantling and rebuilding, with some parts going to secondary markets or into community projects.”

After 10-plus years of authentic growth, with an elite management team now in place and world class contracts under its belt, it’s clear that BLK BOX is ready to further flex its muscle on the world fitness stage and more than able to deliver on its promises.

• More: www.blkboxfitness.com

Originally published in Health Club Management 2023 issue 9

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