Roll-out of budget gyms planned by group

A HEALTH and fitness operator is planning to create up to 300 jobs by rolling out a chain of budget gyms across Yorkshire.

Xercise 4 Less, which already has a base at Xscape in Castleford, is planning to launch the brand in up to 15 more sites over the next five years.

The next location will be at the former Allied Carpets store on Denby Dale Road in Wakefield, which has been empty since the firm went into administration last year.

The company has begun a 230,000 refurbishment of the 27,600 sq ft building after agreeing a 10-year lease and the gym will open in October.

Nik Dockree, director of property company Ripley Capital, which is working with Xercise 4 Less on the venture, said: "It's a cracking site from a footfall point of view and it's got a great profile and masses of signage."

A thousand members have already signed up to join the Wakefield gym, which will feature 300 pieces of gym equipment, and the company says it is on target to reach its goal of 4,000 members at the site.

Xercise 4 Less, which has a turnover of 750,000, plans to launch the brand in towns and cities in Yorkshire, the Humber and the North East including York, Doncaster, Huddersfield, Leeds, Sheffield and Barnsley.

Mr Dockree said: "We are looking at leasehold and freehold sites but it all comes down to what opportunities are out there."

Xercise 4 Less was founded last year during the recession. It was previously known as Xercise due to its location at the Xscape leisure complex in Castleford.

Budget gyms include the same exercise machines and aerobics classes as other gyms but without the 'luxuries' of glossier chains such as towels, swimming pools and jacuzzis.

Managing director Jon Wright said: "We took a traditional health club model and flipped it in January 2009. It's something which has worked well for us. This is a fairly new concept in the UK but it's fairly big in the US and Europe. For some reason there has always been resistance to it in this country until now.

"The industry is starting to change and we will see a massive impact in the UK in the next few years."

He added: "The problem is finding the right locations. The site in Wakefield is fantastic and there are a few decent locations about but we need to identify the right ones. It needs to be easy to get to, with exposure from an arterial road."

Mr Wright said he was inspired to adopt the concept after seeing the success of other budget gyms, including Pure Gym and Gym Group.

The new venture is being funded by the existing Castleford site and a loan from Barclays Bank, which it received through the government's Enterprise Finance Guarantee scheme.

"I have worked in the industry for a long time and I have seen the budget gym concept come into this country," said Mr Wright. "I saw the first couple of clubs and how well they did.

"We think this is a good move with the way the economy is. It looks like the era of austerity we are entering will be here for some time."

He added:"We are doing what Ryanair and EasyJet did with flights – giving people the basics without the frills and charging 14.99 a month."

RIPLEY'S ROLL IN EXPANSION

Property company Ripley Capital is identifying opportunities for Xercise 4 Less to lease or buy the sites for its new budget gyms.

The Harrogate-based firm will put together a business plan to obtain the buildings and project manage their development.

Nik Dockree, director of Ripley Capital, said: "We will build the business with managing director Jon Wright by using real estate as a vehicle to generate value for him."

Ripley Capital was launched in November 2009 by Mr Dockree and his business partner Mark Leonard as an investment and asset management firm.

Mr Dockree ran BAM Property's Leeds office until it closed last year. Mr Leonard previously worked at CB Richard Ellis in London but became a consultant in 2007, advising on equity raising, project finance and investment acquisitions.

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