Here comes Hybrid Fitness to freshen your workout
We’re championing gym owners this month, so we caught up with Chris Harrison who, at the time of interviewing, was getting ready to open his brand new gym Hybrid Fitness.
“I've been a personal trainer for about 10 years” Chris explains when we ask him to introduce himself “and during that time I've had pretty much every role you could expect in the industry, whether that be class instructor, personal trainer or a management role.”
“After Covid, I decided to open up my own gym, which was based just south of Winchester, and I had that for about two and a half years.”
He went on: “I decided to sell that off to my business partner so I could then open Hybrid, which I'm the sole director of. Hybrid is actually set to open within the next few days!”
Bionic wanted to know more about the contrast between Chris running his previous gym and setting up Hybrid, were the experiences vastly different or did they share similarities?
“It's been a huge learning curve doing things on my own” Chris tells us “Setting up this business in comparison to my old business has been very different, my old business was functioning for quite a long time, but Hybrid has a different concept.”
“It’s basically how I think exercise should fit into people's lives, what I've done is procure a space where I have full freedom to implement that.” He explains.
Does Chris enjoy having that freedom to run his business how he wants to? He says he appreciates not having to follow the same path as high street gyms. He finds his approach more personal, and client focussed.
“I don't have to follow the rules of large national gym chains. So, it just gives me full control over how I think running a gym should be.” He grins, before continuing “But I think the main difference between setting up Hybrid and my previous gym is just size and scale. My previous company was very rural, which was great in some respects as it was quiet. It was in a very affluent area, which was obviously great for things like revenue.”
He adds “Hybrid is in a very built-up area. Within a kilometre radius of the premises, I have 5,000 houses which means more potential members. Essentially it works as a law of averages, getting people in.”
Prepping for success
And now opening day is upon him, how does Chris feel? He says he’s been preparing for a long time, conducting research and planning how he’ll offer services in a phased approach.
“Initially I'll be starting with a range of group sessions and then towards February and March, I'll be opening the gym as an actual gym where people can come in and train.” He informs us proudly.
“That's when personal training will be introduced. And then during the later stages of the year, I'm going to implement spinning. There'll be more holistic sessions, I’ll also have relationships with physios going forward.”
Chris is funding the Hybrid set up with his own money, with no outside help from investors, does he think this helps or hinders progress?
“Actually, I think what I'm doing now is a much more organic way to do it” he explains “I can look at the standards of one product, polish that off and then introduce the next one. So, the vision will be realised over a certain amount of time, I'm having to do it phased purely for financial aspects.” He says.
And what about the cost-of-living crisis? Small business owners have been finding it tough to keep afloat over the last year, so what is it like actually starting a business with all these worries weighing you down?
“Yeah, setting up a business during the cost-of-living and the energy crisis has been hard.” Chris agrees “But with services offered to people on a daily basis, there are always cheaper alternatives. You know, you can go to an expensive restaurant in London, or you can go to a Pizza Hut, for example.”
“There's so much breadth of what people can choose, and I think when it comes to fitness, that breadth is there again. People are starting to be very aware of their health and any investment they put into health is an investment they think is worth making.”
How does Hybrid set itself apart from the rest then?
“There are obviously cheaper gym chains.” Chris ponders “There are larger gym chains. Pure Gym and Easy Gym charge a much lower rate for their memberships and for a lot of people that's a good solution. But Hybrid is there for people who value their health but don't necessarily have the knowledge to go into a gym and do things themselves" He says "I think people are willing to pay a premium for that kind of service. With Hybrid, it's a space where people are going to get that personalized touch when they come in.”
Chris says he’s already been mindful about energy consumption when planning which equipment to invest in. Every decision he’s made for Hybrid has been carefully thought out and considered.
“Hybrid is a very energy efficient gym, so there's no cardio kit plugged in. “Chris explains “Most pieces of equipment are battery operated and can be recharged, there's only about ten things which need to be plugged in on a daily basis and all the lighting I've got has been changed to super-efficient LEDs.”
He continues: “So even though the business is in early stages right now, the energy bills I'm getting are much lower, I'm really keeping an eye on my overheads. It’s important to me as a business owner not to let costs behind the scenes spiral out of control.”
And how did Chris know to plan this much when setting up a business? He says research is absolutely key.
“I did a lot of research on energy costs, different providers and different contract lengths, which initially felt like a lot to get involved in. But actually, now, when the electricity bills coming through, it's something that is paying dividends back to me.”
And how does Chris plan to advertise his business? Does it differ from the way he marketed his previous gym?
“With my previous business because we were so rural, we didn't have any on road advertising.” He explains “It was a business you would only find out about by accident if you were out and about and didn’t have a smartphone.” He adds “And for me, that was a massive problem because exposure is the best way to market. So, when I set up Hybrid, I purposefully chose a location that was on the street, that was the most important thing for me.”
Because Hybrid is situated in a built up area, Chris says word of mouth has become a huge way to get people talking about his business and drum up interest before he opens on Monday (15th January). But he also cites local Facebook groups as a fantastic way to interact with potential gym members.
“Something that has been infinitely helpful with marketing is local Facebook group chats” He tells us “Finding five or six group chats in the local area and then basically introducing yourself, holding your hand up and saying ‘hello, I’m the guy opening a gym in the local area’” He continues: “I remember the first time someone asked about Hybrid on a Facebook group chat. They said ‘Is the guy opening the new gym on this chat?’ I gave her a little bit of information and I remember within two hours, I'd received another 150 likes on Hybrid’s Facebook page!”
He adds: “In terms of paying for advertising, you're never going to see that kind of reaction. You're never going to get that kind of response.”
Chris mentioned earlier that setting up Hybrid was a huge learning curve, but is it more difficult than he ever expected it would be? What were his biggest struggles?
“The thing for me is the transition of running the gym I owned before to setting up this new one, there's aspects of Hybrid that are just infinitely more difficult to sort out.” He adds “I think one of the largest things for me has been setting up this business completely on my own. I've received help from people when it comes to, you know, DIY or putting flooring down, but getting the kit, setting the website up, the whole communicative program with prospective members, all of that has been me.”
“I don't have a business advisor.” He tells us “I don't have anyone on the side-lines telling me what to do for the best. I've achieved it myself really, just through learning things."
And does the fact that he’s done all this on his own make him proud? Has setting up Hybrid been one of his biggest achievements as a small business owner?
“It's always going to be this tumultuous process but yes, the thing I'm most proud of is the fact that I've pretty much done this from my own back.”
He also notes that transforming the premises into a fully functioning gym was tough work, it wasn’t as simple as buying an old gym and doing it up, Chris had to start from scratch.
“So, the premises used to be a hardware store. They left about two and a half years ago and the property had been empty, it has been the target of vandalism, so there were broken windows.” He tells us “There’s a lot of red tape you have to jump through for the local council, obviously making it safe for fire, making it operational, it's been very difficult to make it what it is now.”
Tip top advice
If Chris could offer advice to anyone who is thinking about setting up a business, what would he say?
“From what I’ve learned, you have to be incredibly resilient to failure” He explains “When you set up a business, you are going to fail so many times before it's successful. There are so many things about Hybrid that have not gone to plan.”
“The single most stressful thing for me is that I chose to import all of the kit and the flooring myself. And that's a process which takes a very long time, it’s very expensive, and there is a huge amount of uncertainty. If you get it wrong, you’ve wasted a whole lot of money.”
He goes on “But my honest advice is to be very critical of yourself and really think about if you’re ready to set up a business. I’ve seen social media propagating this idea that having your own business is this brilliant thing where you can work from anywhere in the world. You can be earning 5 figures a month and it's really simple. You don't have to get down and dirty.” He says.
“And I honestly think that's a complete lie, business is messy. It’s agonizing. It’s fraught with failure. It's a really, really challenging process to keep going. I would initially ask someone who's looking to set up their own business 'are you willing to put yourself through that?'”
And what is next for Hybrid Fitness?
“So being in the early stages of the business, I can have all these plans for the future to expand, to scale, to open new Hybrids. My current goal is about stabilizing this business first.” He adds “What I need to do is basically come up with a format which can be copied and pasted across to other Hybrids in the future. So, I really want this business to be scalable from the outset. That means there's a lot to do from the start."
Chris thinks shopping small is more important than ever, but not simply down to the unique products, because of the business owners you make connections with.
“It's not about the products you buy, it's about the experiences you can have with people that make you happy. That's what small businesses do. They put an individual and assistance in front of you and solve problems that way.”