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.