Recently, I caught up with John Treharne, CEO of UK-based, The Gym Group. We were discussing Gymtopia, my new project, and the various Charity partners that the The Gym Group supports. Here is the interview:
Ray Algar: When was The Gym Group founded and why was it started?
John Treharne: ‘The Gym Group was founded in 2007 and our first gym opened in 2008. The concept behind it was the fact that the UK fitness market had become rather stagnant; it was incredibly expensive for consumers compared to other countries and so we saw a real opportunity to develop a value for money, low-cost gym brand.’
Ray Algar: Bridges Ventures is your investment partner and they look to invest in businesses with a strong social purpose. Can you please explain more?
John Treharne: ‘Bridges Ventures is a private investment firm and a founding principle is that all the funds they raise aim to achieve dedicated social and/or environmental goals, as well as aiming to achieve financial returns for investors. For us, this means that at least 50% of all the gyms we open here in the UK are in areas of social deprivation. Also, we have a social impact scorecard, which means that every six months, we measure the social impact we are having in our communities and amongst our members.’
Ray Algar: In which ways would you say that The Gym Group are socially responsible?
John Treharne: ‘It happens on a number of levels partly because of our low membership prices (from £10.99 per month), which means we make membership affordable. The ‘no-contract’ environment is part of that as well. Given that we are open 24-hours means that around a third of members are shift workers which means we are attracting members from a much wider social spectrum. We also ensure we employ local gym staff and buy from local communities, whenever we can.’
Ray Algar: How else is the company socially responsible?
John Treharne: ‘When we take on a new building, we take great care in how it is developed. Normally, we can recycle 90% of the materials we remove. This means less is going to landfill.’
Ray Algar: How often do you and your team spend focusing on external stakeholders rather than members?
John Treharne: ‘Obviously, increasing and looking after members is a big driver for us but we recognise that what we do as a business has an impact beyond what goes on inside our gyms.’
Ray Algar: When did your teams start thinking about working with Charities and why does this matter to you?
John Treharne: ‘It started back in 2009 and was triggered by the fact we were receiving a number of requests from members to organise Charitable events in our gyms. We thought we needed to put some structure behind that and set up some evaluation process to help us decide whether we should support a specific Charity. So the process now starts at a local gym level, supporting local Charities.’
Ray Algar: Can you explain how members join one of your gyms?
John Treharne: ‘Members join primarily through our website, in one of two ways. They can join at our gyms, using our internet-connected kiosks, or join where it suits them, such as at their office or home.’
Ray Algar: In 2009, you changed the online joining process to allow members to donate to Charities. Why did you make this change?
John Treharne: ‘The main reason is because it is a very effective way of collecting money for various Charities. Donations can also be boosted via Gift Aid, which adds 25% to the value of donations. So given that all our members join online, it seemed a very simple and obvious way for us to support a number of great causes.’
Ray Algar: I understand that 85% of all new members are making a donation; does this level of generosity surprise you?
John Treharne: ‘It certainly does; it has been a wonderfully successful process. It is totally voluntary, members choose to donate or not, donating any amount they wish to.’
Ray Algar: Do you believe adding a further step to the joining process in order to ask for donations may confuse people and stop some from joining?
John Treharne: ‘We can track whether members are quitting the joining process at this point and it has never shown to be an issue. It is very straightforward, simply selecting, yes or no, and then the amount.’
Ray Algar: How difficult was it to add this step to the online joining process?
John Treharne: ‘It was really quite straightforward and then we set up a monitoring process to calculate how much money is collected each month.’
Ray Algar: How do you choose which Charities to support?
John Treharne: ‘This is driven by individual Gym Managers. They suggest local Charities and we then collectively select one Charity per month to support.’
Ray Algar: What difference do you believe this money is making to your Charity partners?
John Treharne: ‘Because we choose smaller, more local Charities, it can make a significant difference. We can collect £5000 – £7,000 per month, which can make a real difference to a small Charity.’
Ray Algar: How does it make you and your team feel knowing you are collecting up to £84,000 a year for good causes?
John Treharne: ‘It feels great that something so easy for us can make such a difference to local communities.’
Read more about Gymtopia and the inspiring projects being led by the global health and fitness industry.