Emboldened by a UK presence that is picking up pace and strong performance in Singapore, Victorian-founded franchise Body Fit Training (BFT) is taking its progressive strength and conditioning program to more markets after signing contracts with partners in Spain and Malaysia.
Meanwhile, next weekend BFT is set to open its first studio in Hong Kong, while its partnership as the exclusive Asia-Pacific training centre for fitness race HYROX will be crystallised in the brand's first Australian event tomorrow in Sydney.
BFT was founded in 2017 by high-performance trainer Cameron Falloon, starting with four pilot studios before launching the business as a franchise the following year.
In October 2021 the company sold its intellectual property (IP) and North American operation rights to Xponential Fitness Inc (NYSE: XPOF) for $60 million, but this was no exit for the founder and his business partners Richard Burnet and Hamish McLachlan, as the original business effectively become a master BFT franchisor for all territories outside North America.
While continuing to grow the brand in Australia, New Zealand and Singapore, BFT also had to contend with legal battles at home and abroad against another Australian-founded global fitness empire, F45 - a move that eventually invalidated one of its rival's patents, thus removing a potential IP-based competitive threat.
Falloon tells Business News Australia the rapid global expansion underway would have likely happened regardless of the outcome of that case, with due diligence on all market development and franchise contracts many months in the making.
"I was in Spain late last year and spent a significant amount of time being on the ground and doing due diligence to see if we thought that was a viable market, which we believe it is, and we’re very excited that we’ve just signed our first multi-site franchisees in Barcelona," he says.
"We've got a fantastic group of people there, they’ve all got various experiences in the fitness industry over a long period of time, which gives us confidence that they'll do a great job with the brand.
"They’ve got three properties that have all been approved, so we expect that we’ll have a BFT open in Barcelona in the coming months, and they were only signed off just prior to some multi-site owners in Madrid."
As a result, the founder expects to have branches open in both cities in early 2024, with the team currently working on perfecting translations of operations manuals and assets to best suit localised markets.
The move to continental Europe follows the launch in the UK in September last year in the unlikely launch base of Leicester - a location that was selected for the first UK studio as BFT's British partners were locals of the Midlands city.
"It's been a fantastic thing for the brand, because if it’s going to work in Leicester, it’ll probably work anywhere in the UK," Falloon says.
"It’s a multiculturally diverse city, it’s low socio-economic so there are certainly challenges from a price point perspective, but we haven’t seen that and the team have done an amazing job building a community there.
"Leicester continues to grow with their member numbers, Battersea Park is kicking goals having only been open six months, and we have got multiple franchisees currently looking at real estate - Hackney just signed a lease last week, which is fantastic," he says.
For a UK entry that contemplates 50 openings in total, Falloon says there are currently 15 contracts underway and sold - including the first in Glasgow, Scotland - with "many more leads coming" with a footprint of three or four sites expected in and around London by early 2024.
Whilst this traction is encouraging, on the other side of the world Singapore is proving a boon for BFT. There are now 31 locations open in the city-state, alongside 50 contracts signed for new venues.
"There's only roughly a dozen territories left in Singapore and we’ll be sold out, which is exciting for our franchisees over there," Falloon explains.
"The brand’s really resonated with the Singaporean market, and it’s close to if not our highest performing region in the world from a member number and a yield perspective."
BFT's sales lead in Asia is from Malaysia, so it is no surprise this is also a market in the company's sites, with two contracts signed to open up studios in the country.
"There's a lot of interest from Singaporean franchisees [in Malaysia] given it's only a couple of hours up the road," Falloon says.
"They’re already looking at real estate and hopefully signing leases."
The company is also gearing up to open its first studio in Hong Kong - a market which Falloon notes will probably end up being smaller than Singapore or Malaysia for the company, likely with 15-20 locations.
"There's a lot of buzz about it. They're really buoyed by our HYROX partnership and what that brings in terms of added value for their members," he explains.
"HYROX is going crazy in Hong Kong, so that’s been fantastic timing, and we’re really looking forward to opening that up."
For the uninitiated, HYROX is a standardised fitness race that started in Germany as a way for gymgoers around the world, regardless of the brand of gym they attend, to benchmark themselves.
"It's standardised much like doing a triathlon or a marathon - that's how they see themselves in the fitness landscape, using machines and doing exercises that are common in any gym setting," he says.
"You can do it as an individual, you can do it in pairs, you can do it in teams. And then there are elite male and female categories as well."
He says the HYROX events, which in the UK and Europe can attract 8,000-10,000 participants plus a similar number of spectators, will help build fitness communities in the Asia-Pacific, including Australia.
"We're really excited with the first event is in Sydney tomorrow on 12 August, and then the first Melbourne event is on 26 August - over two-thirds of the people participating in Melbourne are BFT members, which is really exciting," he says.
"The [partnership] agreement is for 18 months, and we’ve got some milestones along the way that way we’ll review and/or meet, to then further extend that we’re looking for opportunities in Europe together. Both parties are extremely happy in the early stages of the agreement."
BFT currently has 250 studios open of which 175 are in Australia, with 46,000 members in total including 31,000 in Australia.
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