Having over three decades of experience in the fit out industry, I can personally vouch for how technology now strongly influences not only the design and build of our fit out schemes, but also the client decision-making process. Technology used to be an afterthought; a package of works which could almost be retrofitted into the facilities manager’s overall vision once the building blocks were in place. Nowadays, however, it is increasingly at the forefront of our client’s minds.
One sector in which I have seen this develop rapidly is in the fitness industry. The growth of both public and private gyms continues to rise. According to research by The Leisure Database Company, the total market value was worth around £4.4bn in the UK in 2016, up by 3.2% from the previous year. A total of 191 new public and private facilities opened in the UK between 2015 and 2016. As the industry expands, companies are becoming more competitive in providing unique offerings to their customers. This is great news for the consumer - who can now benefit from a wealth of choices - but it also benefits the fit out contractor who can readily provide for this growing market.
Building long-lasting and trusted relationships with leisure clients helps us to better understand and cater for their technologically expanding offer. The industry has shifted in terms of the popularity of stripped-back and affordable gyms, which provide a no-frills approach. Brands like Pure Gym have excelled in this value space and have become one of the UK’s most successful fitness operators as a result. Conversely, we have also noticed an increased growth at the top-end of the market, where patrons are willing to pay higher subscription costs to access a wider overall offer, which includes advanced and specialist facilities. We have worked across the spectrum in terms of different market tiers, and have seen some incredible innovations along the way.
In the premium market, we have worked with the leading US high-performance lifestyle leader, Equinox, on its second exclusive club in London, E by Equinox, an intimate iteration of its existing portfolio. The company has 92 locations across the US and Canada, and is now expanding its presence further in the UK. Our project with Equinox involved restoring a historical building in Westminster – including its striking marble archways – and providing space for the company’s elite personal trainers, its signature Precision Running Zone, and a private Pilates studio. A spa area also provides treatments designed to enhance performance with sports massage, cryotherapy and compression therapy. This used to be available to only the world’s top athletes. Nowadays, anyone with an Equinox membership can have the same experience.
During the design process, our technology experts were consulted to implement the best solutions to help meet our client’s requirements. For E by Equinox, we called upon our in-house BIM and visualisation teams to generate an impressive 3D-printed model of a feature staircase to help the team visualise this key aspect of the project. We also used BIM to validate the feasibility of design concepts. Given the demand for leisure facilities and the overall lack of new space in major cities, many of our top-tier health spaces are fitted into established buildings, and these structures are simply not designed to withstand the demands of a highly advanced health-club environment.
In one such example for a leading gym provider, we installed 15 tonnes of new structural steelwork to support the additional loading of a 20-metre swimming pool. The new mezzanine level we created allowed for further space to be utilised underneath the pool where we installed the plant rooms. We have also made major structural changes in established settings to create antigravity yoga rooms, and laid new pipework for premium members to enjoy more powerful showers.
It’s important to note that leisure trends can happen quickly and contractors need to be close to the sectors they service. A key development in this sector is the increasing crossover between leisure and healthcare. E by Equinox is not just a fitness destination, it’s a science-backed holistic lifestyle destination, offering lifestyle management coaching, nutrition planning, scientific body data assessments and regeneration. This crossover further impacts on the types of facilities available to consumers, and the technology required to facilitate it.