Shaping the future of fitness

How OP Integrated Lifestyle Centre is setting new standards in the health club industry
By Neil King
Wed 04 Jun 2014 09:10 AM

In 2012, the health club industry generated an estimated $75.7bn in revenue from more than 153,000 clubs serving 131 million members worldwide.

This is according to the 2013 IHRSA Global Report: The State of the Health Club Industry, with the 2014 report expected to reveal even higher figures for 2013, as the health club scene continues to grow and grow.

To put it bluntly, it’s massively profitable industry. But it’s also highly fragmented and often faced with continual changes, such as the demographics of users, as well as the challenge of new competitors entering the market.

One way to deal with these uncertainties is to conquer uncharted territory by mastering and combining the industry’s best parts. Something Dubai’s OP Integrated Lifestyle Centre is succeeding in doing right now.

“It’s is so much more than just a gym, just a nutrition place, or a place where you come for coaching,” says Carolyn Coe, CEO and business director of the JLT-based venue.

“I would say that we are in the lifestyle well-being industry because it’s a holistic approach.”

In an engrossing conversation lasting an hour and a half, she covers an incredible amount of ground, and shows me a lot that proves this centre is a huge advancement from traditional gyms.

A quick tour through the centre’s various parts provides insights into a new breed of centre, revealing a place where advanced technology can measure your body posture, the team put you through a ‘BRAINMASS’ assessment or test “everything to get a real idea about what’s going on with your body”.

Add to that adult-sized playground, state-of-the-art heart rate monitors to see how many calories exercisers have burnt, or what their maximum effort points are. All available on TV screens, of course.

“Everything that we do is measurable,” says Coe.

To finish the tour, she welcomes me into her office where her Skyrocket coaching sessions take place, pointing out: “If my husband [Matt Coe, the centre’s CEO and creative director] has a client who is challenged to keep with the consistency, or not getting the results they are looking for, he will send him or her to me.

“Because it’s about their beliefs in their own abilities, capabilities, and what they are telling to themselves.”

Before we delve into the details of this UAE-born brand, she explains that the Skyrocket Sessions series of coaching programmes (20 lessons to cause immediate change and acceleration in one’s life) is her “piece of the two that came together”.

The other piece – achieving excellence in physical performance – is in the competence of her husband, Matt Coe, a former professional British rugby player and a certified corrective exercise and functional movement specialist.

He is also the curator of the Dubai Fitness Competition, endorsed under the patronage of HH Sheikh Majid Bin Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, chairman of the Dubai Culture and Arts Authority.

In passing she mentions that before obtaining the highest NLP qualifications, she had ended her career in the hospitality industry with the record-breaking launch of the UAE’s largest sporting event, the Etihad Formula One Grand Prix.

“I came to the point when I was ready to take that hat off and start doing what I loved,and that’s people and their development from a rough diamond into something fantastic,” she says.

Being at the centre and talking to Coe makes you feel healthier and strive for success and fulfilment, simply by association. That feeling explains how they deal with the potential lack of awareness among their target group which she defines as “one of our biggest challenges as a start-up business.”

“How do you get people to understand the concept? The simple thing is – they have to come and experience it.”

However, pursuing excellence has already resulted in a success and caused the centre to hit the 100-members mark after only four months since opening at the tail end of 2013.

“My husband and I are mad researchers. We really wanted to put our ideas together and come up with something that would truly create a wow impact,” explains Coe, adding that they decided to sum up their main values and experience in the BRAINMASS acronym, after working as freelancers in Dubai for a long time.

Being the personal trainer of H.H. Sheikh Majid Bin Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum gave her husband an opportunity to check what was the best and the latest in all the main fitness centers around the world.

“That relationship has been going on for some years now, and is the one that we cherish very much and we are very respectful of the opportunities that working with someone like that has given us.

“Having done all that solid research and with our knowledge – we were very confident that we could do this,” she says.

There is an idiom derived from a Cicero note that a handwritten version of Homer’s Iliad, consisting of more than 15,000 lines, could fit inside a nutshell.

The Coes seem to have broken this record by covering all the main aspects of our well-being in the eight-letter acronym.

In a nutshell, B stands for biophilia to make us re-connect with nature, R for rest to remind us that our body needs it, A for attitude which shows our beliefs and thoughts, I for interaction to highlight the importance of our face-to-face time with others, and N for nutrition “to debunk all the myths surrounding it.”

Furthermore, M stands for mobility to check how we move, A for activity to motivate us to sit less and move more, S for stimulation to remind us that interaction can be fun, and S for supplementation to ensure that our body gets all the proper sustenance it needs.

BRAINMASS is at the heart of the centre, and a focal point for its conception. But Coe admits that the evolution from gym to Lifestyle Centre was not a particularly easy one to market.

“It’s such a massive and challenging topic to talk about because it’s so deep, but something that is beautifully simple when you experience it,” she says.

The concept came to them in an eureka moment during a morning coffee, and got its final shape on a drawing board, which she carried with her in the back of her car for a year and a half as they knocked on investors’ doors.

“Every single one [of them] was telling us that it was too radical,” says Coe.

Eventually, they changed their approach and prepared two brochures presenting the idea in two different forms – as a competition and as a centre.

“It was the idea of a competition that would go around Dubai using amazing locations to inspire people and spread the message about the local talent in Dubai and the surrounding emirates, which we wanted to highlight.

“The other part was to create a centre, a place where people who would want to compete in the competition could start,” says Coe.

She goes on to explain that she and her husband learnt a valuable lesson in “what’s staring you in the face,” revealing that one of her husband’s childhood friends, Marcus Wade, not only invested in the centre, but became its CEO and financial director.

“After all the years of looking for somebody to help us, he was actually there. Once we showed him [the concept], he immediately joined and helped us create it,” she adds.

A similar story is behind the launch of the well-known Dubai Fitness Competition in mid-2012: “My husband was working with HH Sheikh Majid Bin Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, when he said that he would like to create a competition.

“Matt showed him the brochure, and [once] when they were at Beverly Hills, HH said: ‘Let’s do it’,” she recalls.

Despite describing the setting up phase as “a bit of a minefield”, she is quick to praise the UAE’s business environment, saying: “From an entrepreneurial level, being in Dubai – I can’t think of a better place to be.

“If you are an entrepreneur in Dubai – yeah, you can make it!”

Despite their confidence in the market, Coe emphasises the importance of keeping costs down: “We decided to start small and with a place in which, even if we had no staff, Matt and I could run it on our own.

“We kept all our costs as low as we possibly could and checked whether every single part has a purpose.”

Offering some words of advice to aspiring entrepreneurs, she adds: “If I could take some learning from that time – make sure that you’ve got all the basics covered.”

She admits that finding a location was the most challenging part: “We knew that we wanted to be in JLT because we felt that this is where our niche of people is – we want to help people in the business community.”

That brought us to the question of who actually is prepared to turn over a new leaf and use the duo’s brain-child and combination of skills to master both the internal and the external world.

She says: “Leaders need to be here – that’s our view.

“If you are going to grow your business, you’ll have to grow your energy to keep up with that growth. If you are going to grow your company, you need to make sure that your staff believe they can grow with you.

“We tend to attract corporates, executives, senior managers – and companies who are looking to transition so they need their people to get to another level of skills.”

Because it’s not a superficial approach, but one that expects a client to step into the unknown, she admits: “We learnt a bit when we first opened, and felt like we wanted to save the world from burnout, that people weren’t ready for it.

“So we work with what a client gives us. You go as you feel with our guidance or allow us to dig a little bit deeper.

“Obviously, our major focus is on taking action, and what we, as a team, can provide you with, but there also has to be a commitment from the client.”

Although initiating a sea change is never an easy task, she says: “The centre records a healthy growth in the membership base. We did very little marketing – everything we do is based on either referral or face-to-face meetings.”

Furthermore, she is glad to talk about their links with an insurance company that is willing to decrease insurance premiums for people who follow the brainmass model, considering them as low risk.

“They can definitely see the benefits of what we are doing here and are quite excited to support us,” she adds.

“There’s a big dream that we would like to see OP in every business district around the world – to serve the people that need us,” says Coe, revealing their vision for OP to become a not-for-profit philosophy that will be applied in schools, universities, and the corporate world.

Carefully planning each step on OP’s journey, the duo have to date declined initial franchise offers, insisting they remain faithful to their core values.

“After checking the results during the first year, we’ll start to build a franchise offer. We already have a few offers for another part of town, and we’ve also got interest coming from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Jordan.

“We need to constantly assess and re-assess ourselves and look at what we could do even better - if I’m not wowing myself with my own product, then I could be better,” she concludes.

For more information about OP Integrated Lifestyle Centre, visit, or call +971 4 365 3399.

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Last Updated: Thu 26 Jan 2017 01:27 PM GST

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