LONDON, United Kingdom — This August, UK-based boutique operator Digme Fitness is set to unveil two new locations, bumping its portfolio to eight, as its founders eye the “enormous opportunity” to consolidate the boutique fitness sector post lockdown.
The two new London studios, which were initially acquired from Another Space — the boutique studio arm of full-service club operator Third Space — in January, will be re-opening under the Digme brand, delivering its signature cycle, HIIT and yoga classes.
As the company continues with a phased reopening of its seven London studios and one Oxford site, its co-founders have also revealed the digital service they cultivated under lockdown will continue to play a core role as part of its future “omnichannel” business model.
Digme on Demand
“This crisis has resulted in a major strategic pivot to being a genuine omnichannel business – a brick and mortar studio business seamlessly integrated with a digital business,” co-founder Caoimhe Bamber told Welltodo.
“It means we can connect with our community in more ways and more frequently than simply studio visits, and that is a very exciting evolution for our brand.”
Prior to the pandemic, Bamber admitted, Digme had no plans to go into the at-home fitness market. “Yet necessity is the mother of invention and, within 24 hours of shutting our studios, we had our first live classes up and running,” she explained.
The response from the Digme community has been overwhelmingly positive. “Digme on Demand has received absolutely incredible reviews. Some of the feedback has been so touching, and not only from people who were loyal members prior to lockdown.
“It has been moving to see our community flourish even while we are physically separated from one another. We aim to build on this over the coming months and have some really exciting plans in the pipeline.”
On Saturday 25th July, along with the majority of the gym and boutique studio sector in England, Digme welcomed members back to its predominantly residential-based studios in Richmond, Ealing and Oxford, in what Bamber described as an “emotional day”.
“As one member said to me, ‘We had more smiles than a toothpaste commercial’,” said Digme’s co-founder. “We had tears of joy too. It’s been a really hard few months for many people and the sense of returning to something like normal life is a huge relief and a joyful moment for many.”
Fellow co-founder Geoff Bamber, Caoimhe’s husband, added: “Lockdown has been extraordinarily tough in many fairly predictable ways but we prefer to focus on the positives, of which there have been many.
“We’ve grown a whole new business line with Digme on Demand which has engaged, strengthened and even expanded our community.
“Our team has pulled together and worked extremely well under incredible pressure to deliver amazing results.
“Our company and community will emerge from this episode more unified, more motivated and more powerful than when we went in, and we are grateful for that.”
Now, with central London gradually reopening and commuters returning to the capital, Digme is looking forward to unveiling the former Another Space sites within the next few weeks.
On 10th August the new Covent Garden branch will open, followed by Bank Studio in the City of London on 17th August.
While acknowledging the challenges coronavirus has presented to the fitness sector since March, Geoff Bamber is bullish about the opportunities to consolidate the boutique fitness market as the UK emerges from lockdown.
“Going into the crisis, the boutique studio sector struggled with a lack of scale,” he told Welltodo. “As such, from an industry perspective, this crisis is likely to accelerate consolidation. As an acquisitive company, this presents an enormous opportunity for us.”
He added: “We continue to explore opportunities for deals where it makes sense for both parties.”
“Exciting franchise opportunities”
Last year Digme also announced it would also be franchising its business model to help widen its reach further.
At the time Geoff Bamber explained: “Not only can we offer somebody the chance to own a high yielding business, but our franchisees will attract new customers and join in our mission to change lives by bringing the joy of exercise to the world.”
While no deals have yet been signed, he hinted that the company is in advanced talks for “two exciting franchise opportunities”, suggesting Digme could follow in the lead of the likes of Hotpod Yoga and F45 in rapidly expanding its national or international footprint.
“We are in advanced discussions on two exciting franchise opportunities. Naturally, discussions were paused due to the Covid-19 crisis but as the economy re-opens our negotiations are progressing again,” he told Welltodo.
In October last year, Digme raised £3.3 million as part of its second Enterprise Investment Scheme (EIS) fundraise, to “support the rollout to multiple new sites in prime locations over the next 12 months”.
The brand, which launched in 2017, has also said previously that it hopes to open “15 more studios across the UK by 2023 to become the UK’s largest “pay-as-you-sweat” boutique fitness studio”.