[Editor’s Note: Tony De Leede with be presenting on wellness trends in Club Industry’s free virtual event, Future of Fitness: Trends in 2022. You can register for the event, which is March 16-17, 2022, by going here.]
Only about 20 percent of the world’s population are members of health clubs while the remaining 80 percent have eluded any efforts—however minimal—that the fitness industry has undertaken to attract them. But COVID-19 has highlighted the importance of fitness and wellness. So now may be optimal for enticing this market to join the other 20 percent.
Last year, Tony De Leede launched a new wellness concept, Club W, in Australia that speaks to this 80 percent. He plans to franchise the concept in the United States.
De Leede sat down with Club Industry in early December 2021 to talk more about plans for the brand. (The full interview can be viewed in the video above.)
De Leede, an Australian, was the former owner of Australian Body Works, which he sold to LA Fitness in 2000, and he helped build Fitness First in Australia. He launched a wellness resort, Gwinganna, in 2005 in his native country.
His newest brand, Club W, includes a wellness lounge, wellness collective and wellness co-working. De Leede created the brand with people like his 67-year-old sister in mind. Despite her brother being in the health and wellness industry for about 40 years, De Leede’s sister was part of the 80 percent of the population who had never been a member of a health club, he said.
“I've always thought about the other 80 percent that I term the ‘forgotten generation,’” De Leede said, noting that many of these people are over the age of 50. “These are people throughout my history in the fitness industry—and I've had hundreds of clubs—who have either been uncomfortable, intimidated, scared, just didn't feel right about what they perceived to be this fitness industry and all the beautiful people and the fit people.”
These people don’t want a six-pack stomach or a big set of muscles, but they do want to live longer and live better, he said.
“We believe that the aging demographics are the ones that are most neglected,” he said.
You might think that catering to an older market would mean less focus on technology, but you would be wrong. Much of the experience at Club W revolves around technology.
As De Leede studied the evolution of digital classes, he found that many women over the age of 55 were afraid of interaction with instructors because they had not grown up going to health clubs.
In 2016, De Leede launched two brands, Move 123 and Mind 123, and started filming instructors offering content as on-demand classes in small bites of 10 minutes, 20 minutes or 30 minutes. Since then, his company also now produces five-minute content and plans to offer three-minute content.
“We think that whereas fitness people will go into a club and do a one-hour Body Pump or a one-hour Zumba or 45-minute Spin [class], people who've never done fitness but they want to do activity are scared to death about doing anything that's even 30 minutes,” he said. “But they will try things that are 10, 20, five and maybe 30, but they'll also try it if it's on a screen.”
That was the foundation for Club W, he said. De Leede decided to take small bites of pre-programmed content delivered on a big screen in small immersive rooms where six to eight people could participate without ever interacting with a live instructor—instead, they would watch instructors on-demand.
The 5,000-square-foot Club W in Cronulla, Australia, a suburb of Syndey, consists of immersive rooms divided into Yin rooms that house scheduled mindful classes such as breathing, meditation, stretching, humming and chi, and Yang rooms that house scheduled active classes such as dance, cardio, boxing and strength.
None of the classes are high intensity. Instead, the club offers basic classes in small bites because this demographic just wants “little snacks” so they can try different experiences, De Leede said.
Club W also offers wellness pods with breathing and meditation chairs, massage chairs and infrared saunas with salt bricks among other offerings.
The brand’s Zen rooms, which are about 10 feet by 10 feet, allow people to curate their own on-demand wellness experience rather than taking one of the scheduled classes in the immersive rooms. In the Zen rooms, they can choose to work out alone or with a partner, and they can choose the type of on-demand content, the length of the experience, the color of the LED lighting and even the scent in the room
“We're trying to do everyday wellness for everyone,” De Leede said, which is why he strives to make the environment comfortable, community-oriented and affordable to the masses.
When De Leede brings the concept to the United States—and plans are to open a facility in Atlanta first—memberships will run around $30 per month for the basic lounge membership with an additional charge to access other elements of the club, such as the infrared sauna, LED light therapy and other premium products.
About 800-square-feet of the club is a lounge that offers a community space with a café. A co-working space is also available for a fee.
Expansion of the brand in the States will come through franchising with footprints between 8,000 and 10,000 square feet, about two-thirds of which will be for co-working.
De Leede also envisions putting Club W locations adjacent to or even within big-box clubs that want to offer wellness.
Whether this small bite approach to wellness will attract the 80 percent of the population reticent to step inside a club remains to be seen, as does the longevity of the co-working offering, but De Leede is willing to take that gamble.
“We've done things that nobody's ever imagined, and we put it all together in this community wellness center called Club W,” he said.