CEO Series

One Simple Factor Fixed These M'sians' Weight Issues, Now It's Their Business

  • Fort is a boutique gym based in Tropicana, Damansara founded by Brian Foo, Jeremiah Tan, and Wayne Yap in January 2018.
  • They specialise in group exercise classes, with customers able to join in via a pay-as-you-go model.
  • Their classes are designed in-house by their team of instructors, with the focus on making each session quick, fun, and effective.

Exercise is necessary, yet too often urban Malaysians have a hard time making space for it in their daily routines, no thanks to the quick pace of life. Most of the time the excuses are the same: “Exercise is no fun”, “I don’t have friends to work out with”, or “I just don’t have the time.”

Realising a need among urban Klang Valley dwellers for a fun fitness option that fits within the constraints of modern living, Damansara-based boutique gym Fort offers up group fitness classes that are both quick and effective, with “accessibility” the keyword they use to describe their programmes.

Fort was conceptualised in the third quarter of 2017 became officially in January this year.

“The main idea behind opening a boutique gym was simply to make great group exercise classes more easily accessible to more people,” said Brian Foo, who co-founded Fort alongside his buddies Jeremiah Tan and Wayne Yap.

“People are starting to move away from the old gym models of paying monthly or up front for a whole year,” he said. “These contracts have become more of a deterrent for people rather than a motivational tool.”

According to Brian, Fort was founded upon a belief that exercise should be done in groups, a belief that was borne out of the three founders’ personal fitness journeys.

“All three of us have personal experiences when it comes to fitness and we believe it is a huge driving force behind the business,” Brian said.

“Wayne was underweight and had to put on mass, and he did it with the aid of group exercise classes,” he explained. “As for myself, I was overweight and had to bring my weight down, and I did so through group exercise classes as well.”

“And Jeremiah was once upon a time obese. He went from 200 kilograms down to 92 kilograms. It was not easy but it was epic, and he’s now a firm believer of making exercise classes more easily accessible for everyone.”

Strength In Numbers

Currently, Fort offers patrons access to their group classes via a pay-as-you-go model: users buy a package with a predetermined number of classes (passes start at RM55), and only use the passes as and when they attend a session.

Classes at Fort are designed in-house by their certified instructors (who together have more than 50 years of fitness industry combined), with four main modules available to cater to different needs ranging from strength conditioning, to mobility training and yoga.

For example, Forge focuses on strengthening individual muscle groups, while Flash focuses on improving speed and agility.

According to Brian, these classes are designed to be effective and efficient while also creating an enjoyable experience for attendees.

“Our unique trait is that we have a great community and freaking amazing workout programmes,” Brian said confidently.

“Our members always give us great feedback on our programmes, and apart from that, the community here is awesome as well.”

Looking at Fort’s overall offerings, it’s quite obvious to see that Fort is trying for the feel of a ‘neighbourhood gym’, with their centre even hosting a dedicated chiropractor as well as the availability of private classes for birthdays and corporate events.

All in all, Brian thinks that the whole idea is to let people workout within an environment that is supportive and personal, a stark contrast to the traditional gym models of old.

“We also started a boutique gym because it promotes the sharing of experiences,” he explained. “At commercial gyms, trying to bring a friend to experience a great exercise class is nearly impossible—they would have to sign up for a membership just to join you.”

“Our packages are all shareable and you can book in as many slots you like per class. This is a powerful tool as some people prefer to work out with their friends and this creates an amazing support system.”

Image Credit: Fort

The Right Direction

In terms of sustainability, Brian thinks that Fort are on the right track as far as their subscription-free business model goes.

“People simply do not believe in the monthly commitment model anymore, this business model works as long as we can constantly keep our small member base refreshing their packages when they run out of credits,” he said, also pointing out the number of other smaller gyms appearing around urban locales.

“It’s just the way the industry is moving and if you look at the trend, even the commercial gyms are opening on a smaller scale these days. Boutique gyms are able to offer unique programmes that don’t exist in a commercial gym. It’s just the overall experience of boutique gyms that people are more drawn to these days.”

On the flipside, Brian does admit that there exists some challenges related to running a group-focused fitness centre, with one of the major ones being the problem of steep drops in attendance during holidays.

“Whenever there are holidays we find that class attendance suffers,” he explained. “We’re not just talking about normal holidays—because our demographic here consists of a lot of young parents.”

“We’re starting to map out attendance patterns and hopefully in the future, we can use that to manoeuvre the business accordingly.”

Fortifying With Quality

Right now, Fort are hard at work building their still new business, with plans for expansions and ideas for scaling and growing being thrown about.

Image Credit: Fort

“We’ve started to explore opening up a few other locations, but nothing concrete so far,” Brian said. “We’re still learning from our first outlet but we’re definitely looking to open a few more locations either late this year or next year.”

But despite all the plans, Brian thinks that nothing should come at the expense of quality and also feels that a good product is always the best way to grow the business.

“I am a firm believer that nothing will ever trump word of mouth,” he said. “While we do have promotions in conjunction with celebrations such as Mother’s Day and do work with bigger brands—Fort is an Under Armour gym, I truly believe the best way to grow a business is by delivering top-notch service day-in and day-out.”

Feature Image Credit: Fort

 

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