GET FIT TECH
Sign up for the FREE digital edition of Fit Tech magazine and also get the Fit Tech ezine and breaking news email alerts.
Not right now, thanksclose this window I've already subscribed!
The Leisure Media Company Ltd | Fit Tech promotion
The Leisure Media Company Ltd | Fit Tech promotion
The Leisure Media Company Ltd | Fit Tech promotion
features

Profile: Thierry Delsol

The CEO of The Club Company is working both to rebuild and expand the business, with ongoing acquisitions happening and the launch of a new lodge product. He talks to HCM

Published in Health Club Management 2020 issue 9

It’s still early days, but Thierry Delsol, CEO of The Club Company, is quietly optimistic about the group’s recovery, following the coronavirus pandemic.

There’s no doubt that these last few months have been the toughest of his 23-year career with the company, yet in some strange way, he says that the situation has made him even more determined to make the company as successful as possible.

“The first six weeks post-lockdown were absolutely dreadful,” he says. “We were facing something completely beyond our control and had no idea how long it was going to last. It was hugely frustrating. But as we started to put plans in place, it felt as though we were building a new business. Don’t get me wrong, we could have done without it, but there’s no point in moaning; we just have to embrace the situation and do as much as we can to get the business back to where it was as quickly as possible.”

The company is recovering better than anticipated, says Delsol, but it is going to take time and no one knows when it will fully recover.

“What we do know is that our members have always been, and continue to be, very loyal to our clubs, which gives us optimism about the future,” he explains.

Company evolution
The Club Company started life in 1996 as a public golf operator, with five sites. It quickly grew to 25 golf clubs across Europe. In 1998, the group acquired The Tytherington Club in Cheshire, its first golf and country club. Following the acquisition, the company decided to focus on the golf and country club format and over the next few years disposed of its European assets as well as those sites in the UK with no planning opportunities for health and fitness clubs.

A management buyout took the group into private ownership in 2004, by which time its portfolio consisted of four clubs combining golf with health and fitness facilities, and six golf sites with planning for health and fitness offerings. Today, the company is majority-owned by the private equity firm Epiris – its fourth investor – and has 15 golf and country clubs.

The family-orientated clubs are located in affluent areas across England. All sites offer championship-standard golf courses and premium health and fitness facilities, which include large gyms, extensive group exercise programmes, swimming pools and sauna and steam facilities, along with bars and restaurants. Some sites also offer tennis courts, the company’s health and beauty brand Aura Spa and accommodation.

The group had some 40,000 members as of 1st March 2020, 80 per cent of which were health and fitness members. Almost three-quarters of golf members use the health and fitness facilities regularly.

“Most of our members want to belong to a club, rather than a gym,” says Delsol. “They often join with another member of their family and respond well to the other activities we provide. People spend a lot of time in our club lounges with their friends and family; it’s almost as important to them as the exercise.”

Golf is booming
The golf side of the business has enjoyed something of a revival since reopening on 13th May and has already recovered 1st March levels.

“The combination of the great weather this summer in the UK and the fact that there were so few other leisure activities people could do when golf clubs reopened, has meant that our golf business is doing better than ever,” says Delsol. “We’re attracting younger people to the club and even today, after the other facilities have opened, we’re still joining new members. It’s been really positive to see new people discovering or re-discovering the fun and enjoyable aspect of golf.”

The health and fitness business is also starting to pick up. “Sales are going well, but I expect health and fitness will take longer to recover. I think we’ll see more traction in a few months’ time, when people realise exercising is an important part of the fight against coronavirus; the physical and mental benefits have been explained repeatedly over the last weeks and months,” he says.

Like many operators, The Club Company launched a digital offering in lockdown, which proved very popular. It also communicated with members every week and hosted a Friday night quiz for staff and members to keep engagement high. Prior to reopening, the company invited members to take part in small focus groups to visit the new set-up of local clubs, which provided valuable feedback for the team.

“After the success of the focus groups, we invited members to take a guided tour of their club to see the changes we’d made,” says Delsol. “We did 2,000 tours in 10 days. It really helped to reassure people, and now whenever we talk to members who are unsure about returning, we invite them on a 15-minute tour.

“During lockdown we retained approximately 7 per cent of our workforce,” he says. “They all worked extremely well to maintain the clubs and golf courses, which also made it easier for the sites to reopen quickly.

“Visiting the clubs since reopening has reaffirmed the importance of a quality team. It has been so interesting to see how our team members connect with members. They’re genuinely pleased to be back, to catch up with members after four months of lockdown.”

Entering new markets
The crisis has not stopped the company progressing its plans for growth. Every year it invests in improving its existing facilities and looks to expand its estate through acquisition. In 2019, the company invested £1.5m in the refurbishment of The Tytherington Club and added two new sites to its portfolio: Chesfield Downs Golf and Country Club in Hertfordshire, once part of the Eddie Shah empire, and Cams Hall Estate Golf Club in Hampshire.

This year, the company has invested just over £2m in the revamp of Chesfield Downs and The Essex Golf and Country Club near Colchester, and is due to open a 65-bed hotel at The Tytherington Club before the end of the year. In addition, it’s developed its first collection of luxury holiday lodges in the grounds of The Essex Golf and Country Club. Launched in October 2020, the two and three-bedroom lodges are available for rent, as well as private ownership, and guests have access to all of the club’s facilities.

Meanwhile, planning permission has been secured for a 63-bed hotel at Witney Lakes Resort in Oxford, as well as an 18 holiday lodge development at Benton Hall. Two further sites are currently going through the planning process for more lodge developments.

“Our evolution has been about adding different, but complementary activities to our offering to expand the business and increase the profitability of our sites. From golf clubs we have evolved to include health and fitness, spa, hotels and now luxury lodges. The strategy has worked well for us, but ensuring we have the right skills in place to deliver to a consistent standard across all elements of the business is critical,” says Delsol.

The company embarked on a rebranding exercise earlier this year to reflect its identity as a provider of a diverse range of leisure products and services founded on a legacy of sporting and leisure experiences and expertise.

“We wanted to introduce consistency and familiarity, while pulling all of our clubs under one umbrella,” says Delsol. “While the clubs retain their individual names, collectively we’re looking at renaming the group to better represent the business we’ve become.”

The sector’s challenge
“One thing this pandemic has taught us is that we can’t afford to be complacent. Even if you think you are in a great position, you have to stay focused,” says Delsol.

His immediate priority is bringing member numbers back up to where they should be and developing the hotel and holiday lodge arm of the business.

As the UK health and fitness industry works to return to business as usual, Delsol believes now is the time for the sector to play its trump card.

“ukactive has done a brilliant job of supporting the industry during this crisis,” he says, ”and I’ve been impressed by how the sector has come together over the past five months. We need to continue to work together to show the public that being physically active is the best way of withstanding this pandemic.

“This is not about selling memberships; it’s about starting people on their own personal exercise journey. It could begin with them taking a walk and it may end up with them booking a spin class, a tee time on the golf course or joining the gym. As a society, we all need to make a conscious effort to be more active and our industry is in the best position to help people do that.”

Sign up here to get Fit Tech's weekly ezine and every issue of Fit Tech magazine free on digital.
Gallery
More features
Editor's letter

Into the fitaverse

Fitness is already among the top three markets in the metaverse, with new technology and partnerships driving real growth and consumer engagement that looks likely to spill over into health clubs, gyms and studios
Fit Tech people

Ali Jawad

Paralympic powerlifter and founder, Accessercise
Users can easily identify which facilities in the UK are accessible to the disabled community
Fit Tech people

Hannes Sjöblad

MD, DSruptive
We want to give our users an implantable tool that allows them to collect their health data at any time and in any setting
Fit Tech people

Jamie Buck

Co-founder, Active in Time
We created a solution called AiT Voice, which turns digital data into a spoken audio timetable that connects to phone systems
Profile

Fahad Alhagbani: reinventing fitness

The team is young and ambitious, and the awareness of technology is very high. We share trends and out-of-the-box ideas almost every day
Opinion

Building on the blockchain

For small sports teams looking to compete with giants, blockchain can be a secret weapon explains Lars Rensing, CEO of Protokol
Innovation

Bold move

We ended up raising US$7m in venture capital from incredible investors, including Andreessen Horowitz, Khosla Ventures, Primetime Partners, and GingerBread Capital
App analysis

Check your form

Sency’s motion analysis technology is allowing users to check their technique as they exercise. Co-founder and CEO Gal Rotman explains how
Profile

New reality

Sam Cole, CEO of FitXR, talks to Fit Tech about taking digital workouts to the next level, with an immersive, virtual reality fitness club
Profile

Sohail Rashid

My vision was to create a platform that could improve the sport for lifters at all levels and attract more people, similar to how Strava, Peloton and Zwift have in other sports
Ageing

Reverse Ageing

Many apps help people track their health, but Humanity founders Peter Ward and Michael Geer have put the focus on ageing, to help users to see the direct repercussions of their habits. They talk to Steph Eaves
App analysis

Going hybrid

Workout Anytime created its app in partnership with Virtuagym. Workout Anytime’s Greg Maurer and Virtuagym’s Hugo Braam explain the process behind its creation
Research

Physical activity monitors boost activity levels

Researchers at the University of Copenhagen have conducted a meta analysis of all relevant research and found that the body of evidence shows an impact
Editor's letter

Two-way coaching

Content providers have been hugely active in the fit tech market since the start of the pandemic. We expect the industry to move on from delivering these services on a ‘broadcast-only’ basis as two-way coaching becomes the new USP
Fit Tech People

Laurent Petit

Co-founder, Active Giving
The future of sports and fitness are dependent on the climate. Our goal is to positively influence the future of our planet by instilling a global vision of wellbeing and a sense of collective action
Fit Tech People

Adam Zeitsiff

CEO, Intelivideo
We don’t just create the technology and bail – we support our clients’ ongoing hybridisation efforts
Fit Tech People

Anantharaman Pattabiraman

CEO and co-founder, Auro
When you’re undertaking fitness activities, unless you’re on a stationary bike, in most cases it’s not safe or necessary to be tied to a screen, especially a small screen
Fit Tech People

Mike Hansen

Managing partner, Endorphinz
We noticed a big gap in the market – customers needed better insights but also recommendations on what to do, whether that be customer acquisition, content creation, marketing and more
More features
Core Health & Fitness: level up your HIIT game
Core Health & Fitness
Looking to level up your HIIT game? Meet the dynamic duo that’s about to revolutionize your workouts: the StairMaster HIIT Rower and HIIT Ski! Read more
PSLT Fitness Solutions manufacture, remanufacture and buy back commercial gym equipment. We supply and maintain ...
The TVS Group supply and install sports and fitness flooring to a wide range of ...
Flooring
Spa software
Salt therapy products
Lockers
Digital
08-10 Oct 2024
Malaga - FYCMA, Malaga, Spain
PSLT Fitness Solutions manufacture, remanufacture and buy back commercial gym equipment. We supply and maintain ...
The TVS Group supply and install sports and fitness flooring to a wide range of ...
Core Health & Fitness: level up your HIIT game
Core Health & Fitness
Looking to level up your HIIT game? Meet the dynamic duo that’s about to revolutionize your workouts: the StairMaster HIIT Rower and HIIT Ski! Read more
Get Fit Tech
Sign up for the free Fit Tech ezine and breaking news alerts
Sign up
Flooring
Spa software
Salt therapy products
Lockers
Digital
08-10 Oct 2024
Malaga - FYCMA, Malaga, Spain

latest fit tech news

Boutique fitness software platform, Xplor Mariana Tek, has launched in-app gamification to help studios motivate more members to reach their ...
news • 09 Jul 2024
A UK-based technology has created a sensor-enabled performance running track with advanced sensors, paired with cameras, to generate real-time data ...
news • 08 Jul 2024
F45 Training has become the first health and fitness operator to make its functional/HIIT group workouts available on Strava, the ...
news • 27 Jun 2024
Nike and recovery brand, Hyperice, have partnered to create two tech-driven recovery products – a vest and boots – ahead of Paris ...
news • 22 Jun 2024
Apple has previewed the upcoming watchOS 11, which has more health and fitness insights and offers more personalisation than ever ...
news • 12 Jun 2024
Noraxon’s next-generation motion capture system, MyoMotion, can be used by PTs to enable custom training programmes, minimise injuries and help ...
news • 11 Jun 2024
New research shows that following social media health influencers motivates young people to exercise more vigorously and eat more fruit ...
news • 28 May 2024
Peloton has secured a critical US$1bn five-year loan to shore up its finances. The loan has repayment terms which are ...
news • 24 May 2024
Peloton Interactive Inc is believed to be working to get its costs under control in a bid to align with ...
news • 08 May 2024
HoloBike, a holographic training bike that simulates trail rides in lifelike 3D, is aiming to push indoor cycling technology up ...
news • 08 May 2024
More fit tech news
features

Profile: Thierry Delsol

The CEO of The Club Company is working both to rebuild and expand the business, with ongoing acquisitions happening and the launch of a new lodge product. He talks to HCM

Published in Health Club Management 2020 issue 9

It’s still early days, but Thierry Delsol, CEO of The Club Company, is quietly optimistic about the group’s recovery, following the coronavirus pandemic.

There’s no doubt that these last few months have been the toughest of his 23-year career with the company, yet in some strange way, he says that the situation has made him even more determined to make the company as successful as possible.

“The first six weeks post-lockdown were absolutely dreadful,” he says. “We were facing something completely beyond our control and had no idea how long it was going to last. It was hugely frustrating. But as we started to put plans in place, it felt as though we were building a new business. Don’t get me wrong, we could have done without it, but there’s no point in moaning; we just have to embrace the situation and do as much as we can to get the business back to where it was as quickly as possible.”

The company is recovering better than anticipated, says Delsol, but it is going to take time and no one knows when it will fully recover.

“What we do know is that our members have always been, and continue to be, very loyal to our clubs, which gives us optimism about the future,” he explains.

Company evolution
The Club Company started life in 1996 as a public golf operator, with five sites. It quickly grew to 25 golf clubs across Europe. In 1998, the group acquired The Tytherington Club in Cheshire, its first golf and country club. Following the acquisition, the company decided to focus on the golf and country club format and over the next few years disposed of its European assets as well as those sites in the UK with no planning opportunities for health and fitness clubs.

A management buyout took the group into private ownership in 2004, by which time its portfolio consisted of four clubs combining golf with health and fitness facilities, and six golf sites with planning for health and fitness offerings. Today, the company is majority-owned by the private equity firm Epiris – its fourth investor – and has 15 golf and country clubs.

The family-orientated clubs are located in affluent areas across England. All sites offer championship-standard golf courses and premium health and fitness facilities, which include large gyms, extensive group exercise programmes, swimming pools and sauna and steam facilities, along with bars and restaurants. Some sites also offer tennis courts, the company’s health and beauty brand Aura Spa and accommodation.

The group had some 40,000 members as of 1st March 2020, 80 per cent of which were health and fitness members. Almost three-quarters of golf members use the health and fitness facilities regularly.

“Most of our members want to belong to a club, rather than a gym,” says Delsol. “They often join with another member of their family and respond well to the other activities we provide. People spend a lot of time in our club lounges with their friends and family; it’s almost as important to them as the exercise.”

Golf is booming
The golf side of the business has enjoyed something of a revival since reopening on 13th May and has already recovered 1st March levels.

“The combination of the great weather this summer in the UK and the fact that there were so few other leisure activities people could do when golf clubs reopened, has meant that our golf business is doing better than ever,” says Delsol. “We’re attracting younger people to the club and even today, after the other facilities have opened, we’re still joining new members. It’s been really positive to see new people discovering or re-discovering the fun and enjoyable aspect of golf.”

The health and fitness business is also starting to pick up. “Sales are going well, but I expect health and fitness will take longer to recover. I think we’ll see more traction in a few months’ time, when people realise exercising is an important part of the fight against coronavirus; the physical and mental benefits have been explained repeatedly over the last weeks and months,” he says.

Like many operators, The Club Company launched a digital offering in lockdown, which proved very popular. It also communicated with members every week and hosted a Friday night quiz for staff and members to keep engagement high. Prior to reopening, the company invited members to take part in small focus groups to visit the new set-up of local clubs, which provided valuable feedback for the team.

“After the success of the focus groups, we invited members to take a guided tour of their club to see the changes we’d made,” says Delsol. “We did 2,000 tours in 10 days. It really helped to reassure people, and now whenever we talk to members who are unsure about returning, we invite them on a 15-minute tour.

“During lockdown we retained approximately 7 per cent of our workforce,” he says. “They all worked extremely well to maintain the clubs and golf courses, which also made it easier for the sites to reopen quickly.

“Visiting the clubs since reopening has reaffirmed the importance of a quality team. It has been so interesting to see how our team members connect with members. They’re genuinely pleased to be back, to catch up with members after four months of lockdown.”

Entering new markets
The crisis has not stopped the company progressing its plans for growth. Every year it invests in improving its existing facilities and looks to expand its estate through acquisition. In 2019, the company invested £1.5m in the refurbishment of The Tytherington Club and added two new sites to its portfolio: Chesfield Downs Golf and Country Club in Hertfordshire, once part of the Eddie Shah empire, and Cams Hall Estate Golf Club in Hampshire.

This year, the company has invested just over £2m in the revamp of Chesfield Downs and The Essex Golf and Country Club near Colchester, and is due to open a 65-bed hotel at The Tytherington Club before the end of the year. In addition, it’s developed its first collection of luxury holiday lodges in the grounds of The Essex Golf and Country Club. Launched in October 2020, the two and three-bedroom lodges are available for rent, as well as private ownership, and guests have access to all of the club’s facilities.

Meanwhile, planning permission has been secured for a 63-bed hotel at Witney Lakes Resort in Oxford, as well as an 18 holiday lodge development at Benton Hall. Two further sites are currently going through the planning process for more lodge developments.

“Our evolution has been about adding different, but complementary activities to our offering to expand the business and increase the profitability of our sites. From golf clubs we have evolved to include health and fitness, spa, hotels and now luxury lodges. The strategy has worked well for us, but ensuring we have the right skills in place to deliver to a consistent standard across all elements of the business is critical,” says Delsol.

The company embarked on a rebranding exercise earlier this year to reflect its identity as a provider of a diverse range of leisure products and services founded on a legacy of sporting and leisure experiences and expertise.

“We wanted to introduce consistency and familiarity, while pulling all of our clubs under one umbrella,” says Delsol. “While the clubs retain their individual names, collectively we’re looking at renaming the group to better represent the business we’ve become.”

The sector’s challenge
“One thing this pandemic has taught us is that we can’t afford to be complacent. Even if you think you are in a great position, you have to stay focused,” says Delsol.

His immediate priority is bringing member numbers back up to where they should be and developing the hotel and holiday lodge arm of the business.

As the UK health and fitness industry works to return to business as usual, Delsol believes now is the time for the sector to play its trump card.

“ukactive has done a brilliant job of supporting the industry during this crisis,” he says, ”and I’ve been impressed by how the sector has come together over the past five months. We need to continue to work together to show the public that being physically active is the best way of withstanding this pandemic.

“This is not about selling memberships; it’s about starting people on their own personal exercise journey. It could begin with them taking a walk and it may end up with them booking a spin class, a tee time on the golf course or joining the gym. As a society, we all need to make a conscious effort to be more active and our industry is in the best position to help people do that.”

Sign up here to get Fit Tech's weekly ezine and every issue of Fit Tech magazine free on digital.
Gallery
More features
Editor's letter

Into the fitaverse

Fitness is already among the top three markets in the metaverse, with new technology and partnerships driving real growth and consumer engagement that looks likely to spill over into health clubs, gyms and studios
Fit Tech people

Ali Jawad

Paralympic powerlifter and founder, Accessercise
Users can easily identify which facilities in the UK are accessible to the disabled community
Fit Tech people

Hannes Sjöblad

MD, DSruptive
We want to give our users an implantable tool that allows them to collect their health data at any time and in any setting
Fit Tech people

Jamie Buck

Co-founder, Active in Time
We created a solution called AiT Voice, which turns digital data into a spoken audio timetable that connects to phone systems
Profile

Fahad Alhagbani: reinventing fitness

The team is young and ambitious, and the awareness of technology is very high. We share trends and out-of-the-box ideas almost every day
Opinion

Building on the blockchain

For small sports teams looking to compete with giants, blockchain can be a secret weapon explains Lars Rensing, CEO of Protokol
Innovation

Bold move

We ended up raising US$7m in venture capital from incredible investors, including Andreessen Horowitz, Khosla Ventures, Primetime Partners, and GingerBread Capital
App analysis

Check your form

Sency’s motion analysis technology is allowing users to check their technique as they exercise. Co-founder and CEO Gal Rotman explains how
Profile

New reality

Sam Cole, CEO of FitXR, talks to Fit Tech about taking digital workouts to the next level, with an immersive, virtual reality fitness club
Profile

Sohail Rashid

My vision was to create a platform that could improve the sport for lifters at all levels and attract more people, similar to how Strava, Peloton and Zwift have in other sports
Ageing

Reverse Ageing

Many apps help people track their health, but Humanity founders Peter Ward and Michael Geer have put the focus on ageing, to help users to see the direct repercussions of their habits. They talk to Steph Eaves
App analysis

Going hybrid

Workout Anytime created its app in partnership with Virtuagym. Workout Anytime’s Greg Maurer and Virtuagym’s Hugo Braam explain the process behind its creation
Research

Physical activity monitors boost activity levels

Researchers at the University of Copenhagen have conducted a meta analysis of all relevant research and found that the body of evidence shows an impact
Editor's letter

Two-way coaching

Content providers have been hugely active in the fit tech market since the start of the pandemic. We expect the industry to move on from delivering these services on a ‘broadcast-only’ basis as two-way coaching becomes the new USP
Fit Tech People

Laurent Petit

Co-founder, Active Giving
The future of sports and fitness are dependent on the climate. Our goal is to positively influence the future of our planet by instilling a global vision of wellbeing and a sense of collective action
Fit Tech People

Adam Zeitsiff

CEO, Intelivideo
We don’t just create the technology and bail – we support our clients’ ongoing hybridisation efforts
Fit Tech People

Anantharaman Pattabiraman

CEO and co-founder, Auro
When you’re undertaking fitness activities, unless you’re on a stationary bike, in most cases it’s not safe or necessary to be tied to a screen, especially a small screen
Fit Tech People

Mike Hansen

Managing partner, Endorphinz
We noticed a big gap in the market – customers needed better insights but also recommendations on what to do, whether that be customer acquisition, content creation, marketing and more
More features