James Forrester, Co-Founder of UFIT: From Running Bootcamps To Supporting LinkedIn, Disney and Lucasfilm

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UFIT dominates the Singaporean bootcamp scene, hosting 70 sessions per week, across 10 different local communities. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg for this ever-expanding wellness hub.

Since its humble beginnings in 2009 as a small bootcamp business, UFIT has grown into a 10 outlet operation across Singapore, offering Personal Training, CrossFit, Physio and Exercise Rehab, Pre and Post Natal Physio, Kids’ Coaching and Nutrition Consulting – effectively servicing people across all ages and levels of fitness.

Additionally, with the mission of becoming a global force, UFIT has added to its repertoire by offering UFIT Performance – a service focused on corporate and sports teams, supporting international businesses and schools including LinkedIn, Disney and Lucasfilm and the Australian International School, UFIT Education – a fitness accreditation platform, and UFIT Retreat – for those looking to combine fitness and travel. The business continues to break boundaries in the local market and beyond, by positioning itself as a holistic wellness hub offering everything from nutrition consultations and personal training to physiotherapy.

It’s no surprise to see that rehabilitation services are one of the top priorities for the brand — from a UK national athlete to the Co-Founder of UFIT, James Forrester, now 32, was forced to retire from professional rugby due to a knee injury at the age of 28.

Offered the opportunity to coach rugby in Singapore, Forrester soon spotted a massive gap in the market for a holistic wellness offering. So, with 5 different qualifications under his belt, he started out with a small PT and rehab studio and has worked tirelessly ever since to raise the bar for health and wellness service providers in Singapore.

Following the recent launch of a third physio clinic, plans are afoot for another gym, as well as expansion outside of Singapore. With the support of Forrester UFIT is steadily cementing itself as one of Asia’s most comprehensive wellness brands.

Here, the rugby professional turned Co-Founder discusses his experience of building a thriving business in the midst of Singapore’s ever-evolving fitness and wellness industry……………

On leveraging other people’s expertise……

We had a pretty established team of coaches and clients when we first launched. To finance the launch, we did raise some money from key people in our community who added some value, and who could support us in areas where perhaps we lacked some experience. For example, one of our first investors was a global CFO at a major financial institution, so he helped us with the finance side of things until we were in a position to hire our own CFO.

Wellness businesses are often started by people who are very passionate about the industry but may lack key skill sets in certain areas. Selecting key individuals who could help us strategically certainly helped a lot when raising money. Initially, we did a lot of personal training and boot camps until we could fulfil CEO/COO roles. Additionally, many of our clients are very senior in their industries and it’s amazing the advice you can pick up from taking these people for a coffee.

On Singapore’s shifting wellness landscape…..

The industry has evolved a lot in the last few years. A lot of mid-level membership models have gone bankrupt or have had to refinance and merge with competitors. Consumers today either buy on price for very cheap memberships or they go higher-end with luxurious facilities. In our area, there are certainly more boutique studios in Singapore. The companies that do well are those that offer high-quality services and exciting brands that people can relate to and engage with.

James Forrester, Co-Founder of UFIT: From Running Bootcamps To Supporting LinkedIn, Disney and Lucasfilm

Image: UFIT

On competition within the boutique fitness sector…..

We definitely want to stay up to speed with changes and new ideas in the industry, but having come from an elite sport background, I believe that with proper preparation and by staying true to our values, our success will continue. We have had competitors open very close to our original gym and all we say to our guys is ‘if you continue to offer outstanding service to your clients, go beyond their expectations and show you care deeply about them, then why would they ever leave’?

There are some competitors who specialise in certain training forms such as HIIT, but nobody offers the holistic service we do. Clients can come to UFIT for services such as PT, rehab, CrossFit and bootcamps, they can visit our clinics for physio, osteopathy and massage. Our customers can see our fully trained nutritionists and dieticians, they can take fitness qualifications with our UFIT educations business and their kids can attend our Academy or Holiday Camps. We have many examples where clients’ whole families attend various UFIT offerings.

On UFIT’s funding and investment strategy…..

UFIT has almost entirely self-funded its expansion of 8 facilities and 12 entities –– we have only raised money to fund the first two of our entities.

With self-funded expansions, you are accountable only to yourself and for your own success, and you retain more equity. It’s a positive when things go well, plus you don’t have to answer to investors if things don’t go so well. However, not everyone has the luxury of taking that position. The bottom line is if you truly believe in your ‘product’ then be responsible for your company’s success as much as possible.

Additionally, get people who are passionate about your brand to buy shares. We started the business with shareholders who were all loyal clients, so they referred a huge amount of people and supported us in terms of advice and expertise. We now have passionate client shareholders outside of the management group (in the parent company) –– this has been invaluable to us, particularly in the early years, when we had less ability to borrow money and also spend money on marketing.

Finally, we talk about this internally as “intra-preneurialship” –– we have employees turn shareholders in our separate entities. We’ve found this has been the best way to retain and motivate our top talent to perform, and we encourage our guys to think outside the box as much as possible.

On expansion into new realms……

With UFIT Performance, we are increasing accessibility to our high-quality wellness services, and through shared experiences helping businesses/individuals to build and add value to their own communities. We provide gyms along with specialists and expertise to deliver an all-encompassing health and wellness program to corporate clients, sporting associations, schools and top-level athletes.

On the corporate side, we have an in-house UFIT branded gym at LinkedIn, complete with a full-time UFIT coach who trains and provides nutrition to employees. Additionally, we also run weekly bootcamps exclusively for Disney and Lucasfilm employees to help them become more active and bond with their colleagues. We’ve also run team-bonding events and presentations for Hewlett Packard Enterprise management conferences in Hong Kong and Las Vegas.

At the Australian International School, we have provided a UFIT branded gym with a full time-coach available to train its 700 employees, parents of over 2,700 kids, and provide specialist coaching to talented students.

We also provide coaching, physio and nutrition support to prominent rugby clubs and athletes visiting Singapore for games and competitions – as well as supporting athletes to help them meet their goals.

James Forrester, Co-Founder of UFIT: From Running Bootcamps To Supporting LinkedIn, Disney and Lucasfilm

Image: UFIT

On doubling down on marketing…..

UFIT initially grew via referrals. However, we needed to improve the way we marketed ourselves and shared top quality content, to reach out beyond our traditional demographic. To address this, we grew the marketing team from one part-timer to a team of 6 full-time employees who manage marketing, public relations and an events team. Within 6 months of the establishment of the team, the content quality has really helped drive new traffic.

On drive and passion……

Honestly ‘getting up’ each day has never been a struggle for me and I am very grateful for that. Rugby was my passion from the age of 7 years old, and I was lucky enough to be paid to play it for 10 years.

I have spent the last 7 years building a business in the fitness industry surrounded by amazing people. But what drives me is creating a really special brand that we can be proud of, and one that delivers amazing, life-changing results for people, which of course provides for my 3 beautiful kids.

On future expansion……

Across this year we are planning on opening our 3rd physio clinic, along with another gym. Additionally, we are planning on expanding outside of Singapore.

We are currently working on our central functions, a new website and, CRM system. We have built a license agreement which gives us the ability to partner with people in other locations who want to invest in the brand, and our ultimate goal is to have a PT and physio presence in all the major SE Asian cities and beyond.

UFIT will be joining the Welltodo Summit on 28th June as an official partner. To hear more industry insights, business strategies and advice from the brand’s Co-Founder James Forrester, you can purchase your tickets here.

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