Dave Nuku, Founder Of FIRE Station Malaysia and Singapore On: Building a Luxury Boutique Gym Chain In Asia

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Since its launch in September 2015, FIRE has made a mark on the Malaysian Boutique fitness industry. Expanding to Singapore in August 2017, FIRE 3.0 occupies a prime location in the Telok Ayer area with the aim to ‘ignite and fuel its customers’ inner motivation’.

Offering both personal training and small group training classes, today the core of FIRE’s workouts revolve around HIIT incorporating the FIRE Trainer — a patented piece of fitness equipment allowing users to leverage their own body weight as a form of strength training.

Raising close to $170,000 (USD) following the completion of its first Equity Crowdfunding Campaign, earlier this year with PitchIN, the capital – which supported the brand’s move to Singapore — will fuel ongoing developmental plans. In the meantime, the brand’s product the FIRE Trainer, its FIRE Threads apparel line and FIRE Escape retreats, which launched in Bali earlier this year are keeping Founder Dave Nuku and his team on their toes.

Having trained as a PT straight out of high school in New Zealand, Nuku is not a new face in the fitness industry. Leaving the antipodean nest, he moved to Hong Kong in 2002 with Fitness First to head up its Personal Training Department, learning vast amounts about program development, operations and business skills. The entrepreneur then spent two years as the ‘blue team’ trainer on the Biggest Loser Asia TV Show before shifting his focus to FIRE.

Here the 39-year-old shares his journey into the fitness industry, why building a passionate team is so important and how he’s launched and grown a luxury boutique gym chain in Asia…

Dave Nuku, Founder Of FIRE Station Malaysia and Singapore On: Building a Luxury Boutique Gym Chain In Asia

Image: Dave Nuku

On the journey into boutique fitness…

I had a lot of ideas around training, equipment and client engagement. I left my job in 2014 and started by developing a new suspension trainer – the FIRE Trainer. This is a piece of equipment which is one of the mainstays of our program development for the classes we operate at FIRE now. Mutual friends convinced me that starting our own boutique fitness space would be the next steps.

On following your gut instinct…

We had our patented FIRE Trainer and programming completed within 12 months, which became the segway towards building our own boutique space. Next, we launched FIRE branded equipment. This wasn’t my original intention but as I had been tracking the boutique trends in the US carefully, my gut told me it would be a worthwhile investment – FIRE 1.0 in Plaza Batai opened in August 2015 and it’s been an amazing success.

On working with mentors…

I’m so fortunate to have worked with some of the best fitness minds within SEA, and I’ve learnt a lot from them. Some key people have always been there for me and have supported my decision to develop our own brand of fitness. On a personal note, I have a “coach” that I speak with on a monthly basis and this helps to maintain perspective in a fast-changing environment.

On turning concept into a reality and building a passionate team…

Funding for the first two stations was by private investment. As the footprint of the spaces is not large, operations have been manageable at a facility level. Building a team was easy for us — we knew who we wanted on the team and they wanted to be a part of FIRE from the get-go. Since then, we have attracted like-minded people to our “fan-based” culture.

We are also fortunate to have highly skilled team members for our program and people development. I know this is often an area that might be more challenging for other operators looking to start their own boutique fitness operation. We recognised this as a potential challenge early on in the business and solidified early strategy around bringing the best into the business.

On Asia’s evolving fitness industry…

When we started FIRE classes, people were coming with no idea about what “boutique” and “small group classes” meant. I believe we are the first movers for boutique fitness in Malaysia and now there are more and more boutiques starting up.

The boutique model challenges the business practices of the mainstream health club industry which offers contracts and memberships while we offer packages and the flexibility that goes with them. But, what that also means for us, is we are challenged on a daily basis to maintain the highest service level possible, in order to grow and retain our fan base.

On FIRE’s equity crowdfunding campaign…

12 months into the opening of FIRE Batai (Fire 1.0), we had a large number of FIRE fans ask us how they might be able to invest. This was the catalyst for exploring the crowdfunding route. It worked out, as we were able to successfully open our in Singapore station, FIRE 3.0 in August 2017.

Dave Nuku, Founder Of FIRE Station Malaysia and Singapore On: Building a Luxury Boutique Gym Chain In Asia

On the key to the success of FIRE Singapore…

Honestly, we would have loved to have been in Singapore sooner as there are a handful of successful boutique brands already operating. In Malaysia, our customer-base is largely built from “word-of-mouth” as well as via digital/social media. And, the fact our classes are waitlisted, speaks to FIRE’s success.

Our Rockstar Trainers are also our frontline business — their excellence in coaching an outstanding experience every time is what keeps our fans coming back.

On staying focused…

Like any startup, you will have a thousand ideas of all the things you want to do and implement. I’m not sure that we could call it a mistake but we put into motion so many activities and collaborations, we experienced some “burn out” (no pun intended). We’ve now been able to identify the best practice for us and stay true to the course.

On incorporating personal passions into business…

I love fitness, that’s a given. And I still teach classes, so I enjoy the interaction and the delight I see on customers faces at the end of each workout. My personal goals are to create a legacy of fitness experiences and provide the best life I can for my family.

On leaving an imprint on the wellness industry…

I’d love for FIRE to be at the forefront of people’s minds when they think of successful boutique fitness in Asia. It would be awesome to be the benchmark that others aspire to achieve and then collectively, the wellness and fitness industry would be left better than when we started.

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