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Ross Campbell on Why Fitness Entrepreneurs Need to Network

Ross Campbell

The fitness industry in Asia has experienced incredible growth in the last number of years. One man who is at the forefront of the latest trends in this region is Ross Campbell, the CEO and founder of FIT Summit, a B2B health and fitness events company based out of Singapore.

Ross joins Kevin to talk about the digitization of the fitness industry, independent boutiques and franchising in Asia, and the value of networking for a fitness entrepreneur.

You can find out more about FIT Summit here:


Kevin:How is it going everyone? Welcome to the Fitness Founders Podcast. I’m Kevin Mannion, VP Marketing here at Glofox. This week we talk to Ross Campbell the founder of FIT Summit, a health and fitness conference with events across Singapore, HongKong and Indonesia. Ross tells us why he founded the FIT Summit, talks about Asia’s highly competitive fitness market and explains how technology is powering real growth in the industry. Let’s get started.   

Ross Campbell, welcome to the podcast. 

Ross:Hey Kevin, good to be here. 

Kevin:Thanks for coming up. Maybe let’s kick off by telling everyone a little bit about yourself and about the FIT Summit.

Ross:I am the founder and the CEO of FIT Summit. We are a business to business network based in Singapore that covers the Asia Pacific market. We look at fitness, we look at wellness, corporate wellness and hospitality and our job is to create thought leadership around some of the trends we are seeing in those markets and then we host a series of networking events and though leadership conferences across Asia where we bring together business owners, and business investors, and business managers to come and meet each other and being better understanding about the businesses. I’ve been doing that in over the past a year and a half. We’ve had some tremendous growth across Asia because there has been no such network in the past that’s existed for the benefit of the business owner so very proud to wear that hat. Before I did wear that hat, I’m one of the catalyst for creating the FIT Summit. I was a gym owner myself here in Singapore, so I was the founder and the lead director of a HIT center martial art gym called The Jungle, still exist here in Singapore. Actually I was one of Glofox’s first customers in Asia we used the software. Yeah, it is a perfect software for us as we launched the business and we need technology input and you can talk about that later but technology for boutiques independents. But my initial forte into fitness was a gym owner and a head trainer and then as I progressed through the business I started to create more of a B2B network. As of two months ago I step down from The Jungle as a director, but I still going strong in the heart of the CBD still using Glofox, and still ensuring customers have a great experience. 

Kevin:Excellent, excellent. So tell me, what we are going to talk a little bit about today is just the general fitness landscape in Asia, and constantly just have people listening from all around the world, so maybe who we say Asia. What will be the main cities, Ross, that would have a boutique fitness presence or a lot of fitness businesses. 

Ross:Yeah, sure, and very good questioning. I’m all concerned, so very wide region here. I think it covers approximately 3 billion people. Strange enough that two largest marketplace is China and India probably have the least progressed boutique or independent sector. When we are looking about sectors of growth for the boutique market or certainly centers of innovation and excellence I would describe in no certain order but certainly Singapore, Bangkok, and Thailand, you have Malaysia through Kuala Lumpur, Indonesia again specifically through Jakarta, HongKong and the emerging centers in Manila, in the Philippines, and even Ho Chi Minh city in Vietnam would be your major players in the boutique sector. 

Kevin:So for those of us maybe listening from the UK or the US, you know, how boutique are these studios? Do they look like a HIT studio in London or New York? Do they have like technology and things like that or what they look like? 

Ross:We pretty much have every extreme, to give you an idea of Singapore and HongKong to look at those two as an example. You would have pretty much every replicate of potential boutique studio that is in the world, and whether that’s coming from HIT, to barre, to pilates, to Yoga, mixed martial arts, to aqua bag boxing, to circuit training, to cross fit. They are all here in Asia in some capacity. In terms of the scale of capital behind those and therefore I supposed what you may classify as the level of sophistication, the level of luxury, thus have some extremes that are some very low cost entry points into the independent market and then they’re rising all the way up to what we would call perhaps within premium luxury independent boutiques. So we do have a really wide spectrum and the independent sector traditionally I suppose is quite a young industry here. It’s maybe only been supposed growing in Asia for only about the past 5 years, so there is technology running through several of those studios and several of those brands. But I think up until recently it was all about experience class programming and perhaps facility design. Now, I think in the past 12 months just often to get this large influx of technology and investment and how the digital interface to the customer is affecting growth. 

Kevin:Okay, cool. So it runs the gamut then from independent studios right you through international franchisees, right? 

Ross:Yeah, absolutely. So if I was to classify the studios into two levels of independent, one I would call them simply just the independent boutiques and the other I would classify them as kind of franchise boutiques or franchise. What we are seeing in terms of some of the independent businesses there are non-franchise businesses. There are some incredibly strong players across Asia that have had big success with working with either dual modality or a multi-modality concept so whether that is boxing and yoga, yoga and HIT, barre and pilates etc. Some of those gyms and studios might sound familiar but given idea of some of those they are Absolute You in Thailand, BASE also in Thailand, [unclear – 05:12] in Singapore, UFIT in Singapore, Firestation in Malaysia, BoOm in Singapore, Core which is in HongKong, R-Fitness in Indonesia and FlyProject in Malaysia. So that had some really good success, these are brands that have built themselves their own pretty innovative structures but not necessarily single modality. So they are kind of hybrid their offering to make sure they are giving more to the consumer and they’ve had pretty good success from that. On the flip side what we’ve also saw, Kevin, is having some really strong brands that are focused on one modality as their niche. Yoga Movement here in Singapore is arguably one of the biggest boutique brands when it comes to Yoga in Southeast Asia. WeBarre of course focuses on barre has done some great work in Singapore and HongKong. And if you go into the Philippines you’ve got a great studio called Electric Studios which is a spin based concept in the Philippines, and they are focused on that one modality very very well and they’ve managed to successfully grow their brand. So we are all seeing some really interesting brands that are up and coming. For us personally the marketplace is wide open for growth for strong brands that have either of those niches. They got have a really strong offering. They can pivot into different modalities or they are focusing at the best in class in that one modality. 

Kevin:Okay, very interesting. And what’s the [unclear – 06:39] I suppose the consumer operates in these cities? Are they bouncing between different experiences or are they more likely to be loyal to a single studio or a single brand, or, what that’s like? 

Ross:Yeah, great question. If I was to take you back maybe 24 months ago I would say that consumer would have been incredibly loyal to their gym of choice. They know the team, they know the modality, they know the experience. What has happened I supposed and changed the marketplace in the last 24 months is the inclusion of these aggregators. Now, initially it was that company called GuavaPass which was a small take off from ClassPass in the US. People used to gravitate unto GuavaPass as almost kind like of pick and choose from these experiences. Now they had a relatively a reasonable degree of success. ClassPass launched in Singapore, take back the crown of being the platform for fitness aggregation and in the last twelve months ClassPass has grown extensively across Asia almost to the point now where as a boutique I would say that probably less than 5% of any boutiques that we know are not on ClassPass in Asia. ClassPass has got access to almost every major studio. To give you an idea of numbers of these studios ClassPass would classify these locations in a given city. In Singapore alone there are 421 locations on their map. When I look at somewhere Indonesia they have a hundred in Indonesia, 300 in Philippines, 220 in Malaysia, 200 in HongKong. So ClassPass has a humungous reach across Asia when it comes to boutique studios. Now, as a boutique studio owner this is either a great thing for you from the point of customer acquisition over the cost of it, of course very difficult to try and acquire customers when you are all going up against ClassPass. ClassPass strategies try to these classes to make sure you are in the platform. But we are seeing as a boutique studio owner it is very, very difficult to build our brand unless at some point you are leveraging off ClassPass. 

Kevin:Yeah, and I suppose just slightly related to what you’re saying there is this scope for I suppose big brands to come in and grow in Asia. But here in what you are saying it probably is highly competitive for independent studios to get going. 

Ross:It is becoming much more difficult to succeed. And I supposed what we have noticed here in Asia, and I know anywhere else in the world Kevin, there has always been a relatively low barrier to entry. However, what we are seeing in the past 24 months is in terms of guarantee your success as a studio that barrier point has got a lot harder for studios to get. It is a lot more difficult for you to keep customers on a long term basis. It is a lot more difficult for you to try and build a brand into a multi-site, even multi geography country given the culture, so very interesting dynamic. If you can solve those puzzles you can build a great business but what we are seeing now is the boutique owners, they are a lot more business savvy about general investment, and finance, and technology. Those are the ones that are really winning. The guys that are behind maybe more passion project driven businesses will always do a good business. But in terms of scalability they will struggle. 

Kevin:Yeah, that make sense, like everywhere. Again, related to that we spoke a little before the recording around like technology and innovations. And maybe tell us about some of the more interesting technology and innovations you’re seeing clubs and studios adopt. 

Ross:Yeah, sure. So we are seeing this digitalization if you will or fitness studios and even that is creeping into health clubs, into hotels and spas. Now, whether that is going on from key club 24-hour access because 24-hour gyms now in Asia are making a big splash. A lot of them are franchise base. Yeah, key access clubs are definitely up there, smart lockers for example that you are accessing with your phone or digitally is again another small increment. When it comes to the user interface of customers, customers are always almost on an app you know when that are apps for payments or bookings, something like Glofox for example. It is rare that we see a studio these days especially in Asia that is not leveraging some type of software for that type of interface for this client and those are trying to build their own solution in our humble opinion are fighting against the tide. It is really a challenge that, you know, they are not a tech company. They are either a lifestyle company or a fitness business. If you try move in to that tech base it is a very challenging market working, and as tech iterates on version by version it even gets more difficult for you to keep up with that pace. So for those people that have good CRM systems, and good payment systems, and good booking systems, and scheduling systems, those are the guys that don’t have to worry, and then you are really focused on that experience. Those that don’t have that faith in technology we see are starting to suffer or certainly it so much stressful situation for them. We also have to see people like having more heart rate monitoring, so in terms of what experience and attention to. We know that Myzone and Polar are up there. That they are in great ability to bring the clubs and centralized their stats in the big box capacity and also the small box capacity. We are all starting to see wearables. Other wearables apart from heart rate monitoring being used on a day to day basis. And then aside from that you’ve also got content are using this and also big box gyms but increasing in also small box gym. How do you utilize video content on your programming? How do you utilize video programming on your marketing and then embed that into your club? So all levels from the customer journey where we see technology play a big role. That those guys are savvy enough to invest in that experience will have success.

Kevin:Yeah, very interesting clubs. I suppose Asia traditionally is really a home of technical innovations so it’s no surprise that it’s going to be at the cutting edge when it comes unto the fitness side as well. Very good. Okay, so maybe tell us a little bit about your own business then and how it has grown over the last few years. 

Ross:Yeah, good question. In terms of the FIT Summit that we create B2B content analysis. Our job is to essentially look at the problems and the challenges that operators have and whether those challenges are capital, investment base, strategic base, technology base, operationally base. And the idea is you are bringing into this equal system of business leader best in class when it comes to them understanding the solutions available to them to build their business. Now, on the equipment side, even the equipment side for a gym or studio moves so quickly that it’s hard for a, especially a boutique or franchise owner to understand some of the solutions they can bring into their club that will not only increase experience but they can also increase their utilization of space. They can also increase the profit margin of the classes. And so we got to bring in these people that are experts in class design, program design, equipment design. On the technology, again, this is moving so quickly that I think some of the gym owners that we are hearing are aware of some of the parts of the ecosystem when it comes to tech. But in terms of either they adopt that into their long term vision for their club. How do they bring that in front of their clients? I still think there is a level of education and awareness that has to be done. It had to operate the level to make sure they are fully informed and fully believed what they are doing and investing and is worth the time. I think technology, innovation, and technology procurement is always seen as a cost. But of course it is a cost and an investment against profit. So I think we are starting to see a lot of business owners look at it more as an investment cost rather than an operating cost now. So we see this more savvy operator coming to market, and again coming back to the point made earlier, this is where we see success in the marketplace. We are starting to get more investors or venture capital and asset management and private equity. We are trying to find ways to look into the fitness and wellness space and whether that is through technology, equipment, apparel, nutrition, whether it is through franchise opportunity, whether that is through a boutique gym opportunity that are starting to understand some of the management teams behind those brands, some of the concepts those brands, some of the demographics and the economics behind these trends. So I think from a business owner perspective from my opinion and those in my team it is so important as an industry that we start to collaborate and communicate more because we all want to see more investment poured into this sector. We all want to see our brands do better, our customers get happier and healthier. We firmly believe that happens through communication and collaboration. A few businesses may not like the idea of that transparency but we believe that all major brands with a vision in the future they are held bank on collaborating and we are very proud to do that with them. 

Kevin:I know you are on three or four events during the year. How was kind of get to keep the network going throughout the year?

Ross:Yeah. So we run I suppose two types of events. One is what I would call a thought leadership conference, and they are very good at getting together the business owners to converse in front of each other about the challenges the sector has. The other one is quite simply networking all across Asia and the sole purpose of those is simply connectivity and business development. I think we want the fitness industry to recognize that it is part of a wider ecosystem. You know, you are part of a much greater purpose. I think sometimes as a boutique business owner, I’ve been there myself, you kind of isolated at times in your own business because sometimes all you can see is the competition around you rather than the other people that may be able to help you grow your business. But some of the best business advice that I ever found as a boutique business owner was by actually extending my network and talking to people that we’re in complementary businesses whether that was different parts of the ecosystem or even studios, you know, Yoga studios, barre studios, I wouldn’t go and talk initially to a HIT studio or a mixed martial arts studio. But there are so many other parallels of comparison that you can speak to these owners and find out how they are marketing social media wise. What tools are they using, what price points, what promotions are they ever using, what challenges they are having. We know what facilities you could co-share, what collaborative events could you join together. For the whole multitude of reasons I wish I had done that sooner as a boutique business owner. But there’s plenty of opportunities happening here in Asia and I suppose one of the things that I know that Glofox are doing themselves is the franchise market. I mean this is going to be our huge market here in Asia with only just being opened up. I know for example you with F45, they are quite an amateur company here in Singapore, but they have already launched another six franchisees or sold another six franchisees this year. And in HongKong the franchise is continuing. Again, the rise of franchise in Asia is a very interesting dynamic. Well capitalized, well branded, local and international brands coming into the marketplace we see that as a positive sign because it will increase the number of consumers in the market. Fortunately, I believe in time will just increase the size of the market. 

Kevin:Awesome, right. I got one more question but I think I just want to maybe say the takeaway from the last piece for me was really is for the independent studio owner. Sometimes you can see your competitor as the enemy and your competition but there is a lot of value in talking and collaborating. I think the takeaway for me is that sometimes your competitor is your friend.

Ross:Absolutely. Again, coming back to my old days is, I used to go around various studios with a small camera in my head looking at what was some of the best design, the best features of these studios. As a boutique owner you could seek inspiration from that. You may even want to borrow a few, Kevin. But in reality is that the single best bit of advice I could get is not by going to the studio, it is going to the studio owner and actually just having a very honest conversation saying, “Hey, look, does this work? I mean, you spent your extra $10,000 here on the bathroom facilities. What is your return of investment?” So these very simple conversation of business owners on what the greatest amount of value. 

Kevin:Awesome. I think that’s a very great lesson. They will probably tell you. You know, they are probably looking for someone to talk to and ask similar questions to themselves. Okay, we’ll wrap up. We kind of have this one last question we ask everybody on the show, Ross. So just tell me about the biggest mistake you’ve made in business and what you’ve learned from it? 

Ross:Oh, that is a very good one. I would go back a parallel in terms of before making any large scale investment decision I think it is not about knowing the competitive landscape, it is about knowing the business landscape. And so I think, again, when looking up this small fitness boutique sector, one of the challenges I think that would come up in the next twelve months will be boutique fitness owners or certainly owners of potential businesses will look at the current boutique fitness landscape and understand what’s going to be happening in that landscape and how they can be best of class. Now, that is a very important to be best of class. What they might not understand however is who else in the ecosystem is moving into their space. Now, in Singapore for example, you have massive investment coming in from big box gyms and franchise gyms. Now if you don’t plan around knowing the scale of the market not just the size of the boutique market you are going to think your opportunities perhaps much larger than it is. Or to a degree you haven’t calculated how much resource you’re going to have to put into your marketing plan to make that dream come to fruition. So from my mind it is understanding the wider ecosystem you invest in rather than understanding the niche ecosystem you think you are investing in. 

Kevin:Got it. Okay, food for thought. Alright, Ross, thank you very much. Before we go just tell people where they can find you and how they can get involved in your network. 

Ross:Yeah, sure, so everything is online, all one word, We are on Instagram under the same handle and so you can find us there. If you want to speak to me directly [email protected]. Feel free to give me a hold if you want any questions about the Asian marketplace and happy to share with you my insight as look forward to it. 

Kevin:Alright, Ross, thank you very much.

Ross:Thank you, Kevin. All the very best and thank you for listening guys. All the best.

Kevin:Thank you.                    

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