CEO of boutique gym Bare on why Dubai's fitness sector is lagging behind many Western cities
Dylan Eiffe, CEO of boutique gym Bare on why Dubai’s fitness sector is lagging behind many Western cities.
Why does the market need another gym and what makes Bare unique?
To be bold, I would perhaps argue the market does not need another gym.
Bare is a concept that is highly trending globally; it’s called ‘boutique gyms’: stylish, small footprint facilities which can withstand the rents of prime commercial real estate.
Bare is also one of the first of these concepts in the UAE.
However, the Dubai fitness market lags [behind] many Western cities, and despite the popularity of our first location, we are hesitant to open a second in Dubai, and are in fact currently expanding abroad.
What is your business model?
Trendy, community-focused facilities that focus exclusively on group fitness classes.
The popularity of concepts such as Bare has been down in part to the current global wellness boom, along with the growing popularity of group fitness classes. Millennials are spending less on retail and [drinks], and more on self-care, using ‘boutique’ group-exercise brands as places to feel good, be seen, and to meet people. ‘Working out is the new going out.’
Bare’s business model capitalises upon the fact that millennials are willing to spend more on this, whilst we can keep facilities small - unlike traditional gyms - group exercise allows you to host 30 – 40 people in a single room.
Gyms in the Dubai are the second most expensive in terms of membership worldwide, according to a number of studies including one by Deutsche Bank. What is your take on this and how do you price Bare?
In many foreign cities, there has been an explosion of the low cost gym, which has significantly reduced the average gym-membership price. In London, you can join a similar mid-level gym (as you may do here in Dubai) for GBP 15 (AED65) per month. However, this has not yet happened here [in Dubai].
Globally, there has been a shift away from mid-priced gyms to either super low cost or high-end gym. At Bare, we are the latter. I’m sure Dubai will follow suit where will see many of the mid-level mainstream brands disappear, but this is yet to happen.
Why are gym prices so high in Dubai? Is it the rent?
I don’t think it’s the rent. Dubai rents are no more that say London, Hong Kong or New York, for example.
I would say it’s down to my answer above, and down to highly speculative investment attitude in Dubai. Emotional investors like the idea of owning a gym. And new entrants have ambitious expectations as to the market and the price people are willing to pay. Investors and entrepreneurs see existing gyms in Dubai, see how much they’re charging, and assume that their project will do well. Dubai investments and projects can often be well-backed, meaning these facilities remain open a lot longer than they might abroad.
In Dubai, you will see many gyms opening, and you’ll see many also closing.
Do you see prices of gym memberships dropping in Dubai? Please explain why or why not, and factors involved.
They will drop. The clear split to either low-cost or high-end gyms which we see in the big global cities has already begun. However, as with the Dubai real estate market, over-speculation means that it will take time for the gym market prices to adapt, and the fitness industry to change.
Have rents dropped for gym operators in Dubai in the past few months or year? Please explain and provide figures if possible.
Yes and no; rents in general have been coming down [in Dubai], however, it will depend on the gym’s business model. For example, a low-cost gym may opt for a warehouse-type location, whereas a trendy high-end low-footprint concept such as Bare will opt for a retail location in a shopping mall or financial district.
In Dubai, many high-profile developers will be resistive to reducing their rents... As such, depending on the gym-concept and location, rents could vary from sub-100 dirhams per sqft, to over 400 dirhams per sqft.
What are your main challenges when it comes to operating a gym in Dubai?
Dubai loves what’s trendy and ‘now’, meaning it’s hard to hold [consumers’] attention for too long. You see this clearly in F&B With the exception of [a few] restaurants, there are hardly any Dubai restaurants that are ‘the place to be’ for more than a year. We experience the same in fitness. You have to really work hard to keep them coming back [to you].
Any expansion plans in the UAE, GCC and beyond?
Never say never; this is a hugely dynamic and progressive region, so I am sure we will be expanding [in the GCC], however, as things stand, I have more confidence in looking at foreign markets including the Far East and Australia as well.
How has Bare been performing since its launch?
Bare has been doing well. However, I would say we’re one of the few [gyms that are].
We’ve been open for a number of years, have learned about the industry, and as mentioned above, we’re not yet confident to open another location in Dubai.
What are some trends in the fitness world that clients are following in Dubai?
‘Do it for the gram’ is all about where you train and what you post on social media.
Health is the new wealth and working out is the new status symbol. This trend is certainly increasing and can be seen in Dubai; meaning fitness providers need to be trendy and also current.
What are your predictions for changes in the Dubai fitness industry in coming years?
Expanding on my point above, Dubai will eventually follow the big Western cities with a split away from mid-market gym brands, to either low-cost or high-end. Many of the mid-market ‘big box’ gym brands we are familiar with in Dubai will - I’m sure - disappear or re-brand to conform to these trends.