As part of a movement to provide inclusive and accessible fitness to Singaporeans, Jeremy Ko, Chen Yanheng and Chew Leong Heng founded Arkkies, a fitness company that leverages technology to enhance the overall fitness journey and experience.
Investing close to S$3 million to build its gyms, in-house technology and product development teams, the business was completely self-funded by the trio, with resources from their existing business ventures — Movement First, Fit Bloc and Javy Sports.
The pandemic catalysed the launch of Arkkies
Jeremy and Yanheng were in their second year in university when they first decided to start their respective ventures in the sports industry.
Jeremy founded Movement First, a premium fitness equipment supplier, while Yanheng founded Javy Sports and First Aid, which caters equipment for physical education at schools. The duo only decided to join hands and work together during their fourth year in university.
“Upon graduation, we continued growing the business while drawing S$500 [salary] per month for two years,” said Jeremy.
Years later, when the pandemic hit, Movement First surprisingly saw a large influx of orders. While most businesses were badly hit by COVID-19, Movement First was thriving due to an increase in demand for home fitness equipment during the circuit breaker.
Our sales spiked by 200 to 300 per cent in those two years. Having a strict control of our supply chain and good working relationships with our suppliers meant that we found ourselves being the only supplier with ready stocks in Singapore to meet the spike in demand.– Jeremy Ko, co-founder of Arkkies
At the same time, while the fitness landscape in Singapore is currently ultra-competitive and saturated, Yanheng identified that there were still gaps in the industry that were not properly addressed, mainly, fitness inclusivity.
Pulling together the additional surge in revenue from Movement First and resources from their other businesses, both Yanheng and Jeremy, joined by Leong Heng, plunged headfirst into their latest venture, Arkkies.
The Arkkies’ ecosystem of gyms
“Keeping fit should not be a privilege, it should be accessible,” said Leong Heng.
Arkkies consists of five different concepts in its fitness ecosystem — Ark Move, Ark Liv, Ark Grit, Ark Bloc and Ark Pod. Each of these concepts cater to different segments of the population.
Additionally, every gym is equipped with Arkkies’ own equipment, all manufactured overseas.
Ark Bloc is the only sheltered outdoors gym in Singapore that has equipment catering to many niche sports under one roof. These include bouldering, powerlifting, strongman, weightlifting, kettlebell sports and calisthenics.
We have more than 15 stations (power racks, machines and rig) simply for squats at Ark Bloc, which is the most in the whole of Singapore. Not having to queue to squat was a gamechanger for many members — they can even superset their squat with another exercise with ease without having to share equipment.– Chen Yanheng, co-founder of Arkkies
Meanwhile, Ark Liv is a ladies-only gym, and provides a secluded safe space for ladies. Through Ark Liv, Arkkies aims to build a community of women who are not afraid to try new sports and get fitter together.
The gym comprises a free weights area, cable and cardio machines, a bouldering wall, as well as a studio for private workouts such as barre and yoga.
In addition, the gym also has a dedicated vanity for freshening up, before or after workouts.
The Ark Liv team also comprises a “very capable team of ladies, making the whole gym welcoming for females,” said Jeremy.
Beyond its open space and female-only gyms, Arkkies also has an ‘Ark Pod’, which allows for private workouts in a 24-hour self-sufficient gym.
Located in Bishan, the outlet consists of four pods clad in neon lighting, furnished with different equipment which cater to different workout needs. Each pod is housed underground, and can accommodate up to two people.
To maintain the cleanliness of the unmanned gym, each pod user will be provided with disinfecting tools and is requested to wipe and tidy the pod after their session.
Arkkies also carries out a weekly maintenance exercise to clean as well as conduct checks on the pods’ equipment.
Besides Ark Pod, the company also has a neighbourhood gym concept, Ark Grit, located at underutilised spaces. Arkkies wants to rejuvenate such spaces and add value to the community by creating a workout space for residents nearby.
There are currently two outlets operating in Bishan and Hougang, and each gym spans 2,500 square feet respectively.
Both the Ark Grit outlets have only been around for four (Bishan) and two (Hougang) months respectively, yet its membership numbers are steadily doubling every month. Yanheng attributed this strong traction to the fact that Ark Grit’s membership fee is currently the lowest monthly-billed fee in Singapore.
Last but not least, their final concept, Ark Move, caters to the mass market.
Ark Move is a community gym and currently has three outlets in Singapore. It provides a wide variety of gym equipment and has recently extended its operating hours to provide 24-hour access for its members.
Commitment issues to long-term contracts
While Arkkies’ gyms provide an inclusive space for all segments of the community, they also do not bind gym goers to a contract.
Most gyms in Singapore require customers to pay lump sums, or bill them monthly and bind them for a set period of time. The payment scheme of these gyms are not very beginner-friendly, and committing for long durations of time might be uneasy for some.
Gym junkies, on the other hand, would be tied down to the same gym although their fitness journey might have evolved.
To alleviate this concern, Arkkies does not lock in its members in to any long-term contract.
We want to encourage people to try a gym facility to improve their health, not turn them away due to commitment issues.– Chew Leong Heng, co-founder of Arkkies
Members at Arkkies’ gyms can cancel their monthly memberships or freeze their memberships for a small fee at any time.
They can also choose to pay for passes (single visits or multi visits) each time they visit. “This empowers customers to select a plan that makes most sense to their fitness journey,” explained Jeremy.
Housing big gyms in the dense population of Singapore
While Arkkies triumphed over the initial success of the launch of its first few outlets, the business faced a number of challenges along the way.
The main challenge for Arrkies was to locate suitable venues to operate its gyms, closer to its members, to provide them with greater convenience.
Each of its gym requires a minimum of 1,500 square feet to operate, but such unit sizes are not easily available. On top of the difficulty to locate a suitable venue to operate its gyms, Singapore’s soaring rental rates do not make it easier for the business.
Arkkies has currently established eight gyms islandwide, but it is still looking for opportunities to expand locally.
As a gym operator, our value proposition is to draw regular footfall and building a healthier community, and we are thankful to have found many landlords (HDB, JTC, NTUC, PA amongst others) who are supportive of this vision.– Jeremy Ko, co-founder of Arkkies
Furthermore, due to the nature of its membership structure which does not bind its members to any long-term contracts, Arkkies has to put in hard work to ensure that its members continue to see value in being part of the Arkkies community.
Despite revenue not being guaranteed on a monthly basis, we are proud to share that many members are close to completing a whole year of their fitness journey with us – the entire duration Arkkies have been in existence.
Many members join the gym as there was minimal financial commitment, but stay after finding themselves a part of this larger fitness community.– Chen Yanheng, co-founder of Arkkies
Integrating tech and fitness
Arkkies’ website allows its customers to buy passes or memberships, suspend their membership in the event of injury, sickness, or pregnancy, book time slots to come into the gym, and automatically unlock gym doors through a link.
“All of the above is done without any human intervention, allowing us to channel manpower resources to service our customer base better,” shared Leong Heng, adding that the company has plans to port over the features from the website into a user-friendly mobile app.
It also aims to implement a fitness programme recommendation feature within the app. By collating data on users’ height, weight, sleep, metabolism, body type, habits, activity and energy levels, the feature will leverage machine learning under the supervision of a sports scientist to recommend the intensity of a user’s workout.
The machine learning algorithm will create a four-, eight- or 12-week training programme based on the user’s fitness goals. These goals could be metric-based (to lose weight or gain muscle) or goal-based (do a certain amount of push ups or pull ups).
In the long run, Arkkies aims to create a software and human vetted programme which connects personal trainers (PTs) to suitable clients. For example, this programme would be able to connect obese clients to PTs specialising in sustainable fat loss, or connect gymnastics coaches to clients wanting to learn how to do a handstand.
Besides that, Arkkies also aims to integrate Internet of Things (IoT) into their equipment by collaborating with their overseas factories. Through the integration of IoT, customers can place their phones or scan a QR code to record their workouts.
Establishing more outlets both locally and overseas
For many countries, a patriarchal society combined with acts of micro and macro aggression towards females means most of them will never step into a gym, despite the health benefits.– Jeremy Ko, co-founder of Arkkies
To bring the concept to these countries and to provide a safer workout environment for females, Arkkies is currently working with interested overseas partners. In fact, the gym received an overseas franchise enquiry on the second day of its operation.
In Singapore, Jeremy shared that the next Ark Liv outlet will be launched in Fusionopolis at one-north next.
Apart from expanding its female-exclusive gym, Arkkies also has plans to move into other sports and fitness concepts tailored to children and the elderly.
As long as a group of customers can benefit their health from our next iteration, we will be motivated to continue what we are doing. Our ultimate goal has always been to be a partner in the health and fitness journey of as many individuals.– Chew Leong Heng, co-founder of Arkkies
Featured Image Credit: Arkkies