Post-Cal­i­for­nia Fit­ness Era

Work­ing out the math be­hind run­ning a gym


THE FIRST 400 DAYS were the hard­est, ac­cord­ing to founder of bou­tique gym Aileron Well­ness Academy Keith Tan. Tucked be­hind Amara Sanc­tu­ary in the mid­dle of Sen­tosa and hid­den from pub­lic view, few knew about its ex­is­tence. But the plucky gym would one day garner a group of loyal sup­port­ers. Six and a half years on, it’s one of the most trusted gyms around. Tan shares with us his markedly dif­fer­ent busi­ness phi­los­o­phy to fit­ness in th­ese try­ing times.

What do you think went wrong with Cal­i­for­nia Fit­ness?

It was im­por­tant to the in­dus­try when it started. As one of the first few in Sin­ga­pore to drive the idea of go­ing to the gym to keep fit, it suc­ceeded in pro­mot­ing a cul­ture of work­ing out in an air-con­di­tioned en­vi­ron­ment to good music. But it wasn’t pro­vid­ing enough value. It was chas­ing sales fig­ures in­stead of being focused on the health of its mem­bers. Peo­ple didn’t feel they were cared for at Cal­i­for­nia Fit­ness. When com­pe­ti­tion be­gan to spring up and peo­ple could make com­par­isons, it was all too clear what was lack­ing.

Could it also have been fi­nan­cial mis­man­age­ment?

Many big box gyms don’t own their machines. They ac­quire such as­sets via hire-pur­chase, pay­ing an ini­tial in­stal­ment and then re­pay­ing the rest over time with in­ter­est. This min­imises ini­tial cash out­lay, al­low­ing them to ex­pand faster. They are able to buy more equip­ment and have cash flow for other fac­tors. Here, we do things dif­fer­ently. We bought all of our equip­ment so we don’t have to worry about the banks. We want to be able to fo­cus on our prac­tice, which re­ally is the most valu­able as­set in this busi­ness.

Has the clo­sure af­fected the fit­ness in­dus­try?

Ab­so­lutely. The trust is­sue, es­pe­cially. Peo­ple won’t put down money for a gym so read­ily now.

What does it take to be trusted?

Trust doesn’t just mean good cash flow and busi­ness con­ti­nu­ity. At Aileron Well­ness, we work hard to build a com­mu­nity that cares and that ac­tively en­gages our mem­bers. Peo­ple who come here feel com­fort­able enough to let us step into their lives and steer their fit­ness journeys with them.

There are tons of gyms out there now, and ev­ery­one knows a lit­tle about fit­ness, so why should any­one pay when they can go to the park for free? You must have some­thing con­crete to of­fer. It is about sin­cer­ity and knowl­edge that is based on well­ness. It’s about a sus­tain­able healthy lifestyle, not fad di­ets just to look good for a party. We’re not about that. In­stead, we ex­am­ine your body anatomy, mus­cle tears, stress and what­ever prob­lems you may have. It’s a more prag­matic ap­proach of train­ing.

How dif­fer­ent is Aileron Well­ness from the big box gyms?

We don’t hard sell. We’re hid­den be­hind a ho­tel on Sen­tosa, so we have zero vis­i­bil­ity, which makes word of mouth im­por­tant. To get that, we have to prove our worth as a des­ti­na­tion gym. Even if we don’t close a deal to­day, we still want peo­ple to come back when­ever they like. We charge a rea­son­able $80 to $110 an hour and of­fer pack­ages of 10 to 50 ses­sions. There are no hid­den costs or mem­ber­ship fees.

And what is this Aileron Well­ness Academy about?

The academy started off with the idea of pro­vid­ing what’s best for our clients. We travel the world at least four times a year to learn about new de­vel­op­ments in the field. We also share our knowl­edge with fit­ness train­ers from other gyms, and to show that pas­sion and sin­cer­ity are what mat­ters most.

You need fun and some­thing that ex­cites. Ev­ery­one has a lit­tle kid in them. Run­ning on the tread­mill and do­ing squats; that’s all mun­dane. This joy isn’t found in most gyms. Mo­ti­va­tion is a while. Being as­pir­ing lasts for a life­time. Those who have tried many gyms out there or have been re­ferred by os­teopath, chiro and physio prac­tices are usu­ally not the eas­i­est to work with. Our clients have a mu­tual un­der­stand­ing with us and are in it for the long haul.

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