“I’m an accidental entrepreneur,” said Tan Tse Yong, Group CEO of Fitlion and GymmBoxx.
The 37-year-old confessed that his ambition was to be a History and Physical Education teacher. But because he failed the General Paper subject twice during GCE ‘A’ Levels, it disqualified him from enrolling into a local university and this inadvertently dashed his dreams.
As a track and field athlete in school, he then decided to pursue this interest by enrolling in the Sports and Wellness diploma course at Nanyang Polytechnic, where he ended up being the top student of his cohort.
After graduation, he teamed up with his senior to head a gym management business which mainly runs polytechnic gyms.
That was his first foray into the fitness business, but it also wasn’t the last.
Creating A Niche Market With 24/7 Heartland Gyms
In October 2010, Tan established the first GymmBoxx – a compact gym located on the top level of a multi-storey carpark in Bedok Reservoir.
It pegged itself as an “affordable premium” gym brand in Singapore, serving residential neighbourhoods and heartlands.
“Back then, the fitness industry had only two types of gyms – the commercial gyms targeting the more affluent PMEBS in Singapore, and the ActiveSG (Clubfitt) gyms serving everyone else.”
“We started GymmBoxx with the mindset of serving the mass heartlanders which helps to address the gaps. With that in mind, we kept our membership plans flexible and prices affordable. This has helped to provide our gym members a boost of confidence because of the lower commitment period and lower financial output.”
Prices are $3 to $5 for GymmBoxx Standard, $5 to $7 for GymmBoxx Classic, and $12 to $22 for GymmBoxx Signature. Their membership plans are also very affordably priced from $65 onwards.
As it builds a chain of wallet-friendly gyms, Tan wanted to create an even more niche market: 24/7 gyms in the heartlands.
It was clear to him that there was indeed a market for a 24-hour gym in Singapore, but being the careful entrepreneur that he was (and is), he decided to build GymmBoxx Bishan in 2014 as a testbed.
The 24-hour concept worked like magic and he realised that a lot of their gym-goers liked the flexibility of working out at any time that could fit their busy schedules.
“Through [feedback from] our users, we found out that they are time-starved and a lot wished they didn’t have to rush to the gym straight after work,” said Tan.
Working out in the wee hours of the morning also meant that there is a smaller crowd, so there is no one to jostle with for gym equipments, and you can use the equipment as much as you want.
The success of the Bishan outlet soon gave him confidence to set-up more 24-hour gyms, and he started implementing it to other clubs where the landlord was agreeable.
Gymboxx now has four 24-hour gyms in its portfolio, with the new Keat Hong CC outlet being its latest addition.
Surviving The Stiff Competition
“People who have visited GymmBoxx would easily note that we are rather different from commercial gyms as we do not hard sell. We focus on customer service instead. We also strongly believe in transparency when it comes to gym-related information and that is what binds the Gymm Boxx community stronger,” said Tan.
“Along with the government’s active calls for health and fitness, we see an increase in the various segments of demographics and with this increase in demand, it has also pushed for more supply and options which is probably why we see gyms growing quite a fair bit in the last few years.”
However, the fact that more people are taking a stronger stance on health and fitness serves as a double-edged sword.
While it’s true that it has led to a rise in membership sign-ups, this demand also meant that more gym operators, as well as niche programmes and fitness clubs, are coming into Singapore.
This saturates the market, triggering stiffer competition.
A wave of big-brand gyms has shut down in Singapore in recent years, including California Fitness and women-only gym Vivafit.
True Fitness was also a recent casualty, although the closures only affected the gyms in Thailand and Malaysia.
This spate of news could potentially affect consumer confidence, with many choosing to rethink signing on for new membership packages. However, Tan is confident that these closures do not necessarily signal the death knell of gyms in Singapore.
On the flip side, he sees it as a signal for gyms to evolve and change their business models to keep up the times and trends.
“Consumers are very fitness-savvy now and a lot of them are going to boutique gyms … as they want value service or specialised ones such as CrossFit.”
“If you look at it, fitness is about convenience, and we’ve had customers from the big boys come to work out at our gyms during the weekend because they are closer to home. Things have changed because there are so many choices now,” he said.
On that note, GymmBoxx has trumped mega gyms’ aggressive selling tactics and long-term packages. Customers can opt to pay per-entry fees to use GymmBoxx’s facilities, or sign up for membership plans that range from three to 12 months.
Currently operating 7 branches islandwide, Tan is planning to open another gym in the third quarter of 2017.
“We are still actively seeking for convenient and accessible locations to open up more clubs in the next five years.”
A Holistic Fitness Experience
Tan’s vision was to always create a holistic avenue for consumers to achieve a healthy lifestyle so besides running a fitness gym chain, he also started up an online store in 2009.
The platform currently retails health and fitness supplements and foods, as well as sports gear and apparel.
“The nature of sports supplement makes a very strong complement for gym enthusiasts as it helps them to achieve better sports performance and results. On the other hand, sport supplements users are also seeking for a good fitness facility to work out at. With that, we are able to combine these 2 platforms as one to provide experiences and convenience that they find it hard to find with other fitness operators,” said Tan.
He emphasised that the platform is more than just a one-stop-shop for all things health-related – all the products they carry are also carefully curated.
This is to meet the needs of busy customers who are too busy to conduct product research and browse through multiple products that is both of good quality and value-for-money.
When Fitlion first started, they operated out of a 200 square-feet ‘warehouse’.
Only two people were working in that cramped space back then, and they also only had dismal orders of only two to three a week.
“It was a two-man team and we did everything ourselves – from packing, ordering, processing invoice, delivery etc. My entire family also chipped in to help when we needed more manpower,” recounted Tan.
However, its revenue has multiplied 16 times since then, hitting $10.3 million in 2015. It also employs 20 staff now, and have upgraded to a 20,000 square-feet warehouse.
The immense success of the company also meant that it found itself ranked among the top 1,000 small and medium enterprises in Singapore in terms of sales – an achievement it proudly displays on its website.
Adopting A Franchise Model To Go Global
The company is currently developing a franchise model as it intends to enter foreign markets – their future plan is to carry the brand forward internationally.
Earlier in February this year, GymmBoxx was approved by the Singapore International Enterprise Development Board, funded by the development scale, and a franchising model for local and regional markets.
There are still in the midst of planning various aspects including branding, operation, training et cetera; but Tan trusts that the planning will be wrapped up by November.
In addition to neighbouring Malaysia, Tan also hopes to break into the Chinese market.
When asked about his business mantra, Tan said: “Do things to prepare for the future, not for the present. We must always stay ahead of the competition by embracing changes and innovation. Small daily improvements will create stunning results.”
Featured Image Credit: Tan Tse Yong