Gym Owner Monthly magazine interview with ESP Fitness CEO, Dr. Vern Neville February 3, 2019 – Posted in: News

Gym Owner Monthly magazine interviews Dr. Vern Neville about ESP Fitness and the future of the Fitness Industry

How did you get into the fitness industry?

Sport and fitness has played a major part in my life since early childhood. I have been fortunate to have experienced a career as a Pro Athlete, a Coach, and as a Sports Performance Director in both Rugby and America’s Cup sailing and have consulted for athletes and/or teams in professional Netball, NBA, NFL, F1, Rugby, Sailing, Athletics and multiple other Olympic sports. I have been intrigued with how to maximise athletic potential which led to a Doctorate is Sports Science and the creation of the first online training recovery app called Restwise™. My obsession with athletic performance has taken me to visit and train in over 1,000 gyms and sports centres around the world, from the best performance centres in the NFL, NBA and F1, to Olympic training centres, USA College gyms, and high performance centres in Europe, Asia, and Australasia. It is probably inevitable that I would have ended up designing gyms and gym equipment.

Tell us more about ESP FITNESS?

I founded ESP Fitness 7 years ago, just prior to the London Olympic Games, out of frustration that there wasn’t any high quality, user centred, strength training equipment on the market. I felt that the majority of fitness centres and strength equipment (in the UK) did not understand the requirements of the high performance athlete. Even Loughborough University, which was regarded as the UK’s best performance centre, and the home of Team GB, was outdated and nowhere near world class at that time. Together with Olympian Weight Lifter, Tommy Yule, we first designed a Power Rack and Olympic Lifting Platform specifically for Team GB at Loughborough, and from there the ESP range of strength products evolved into our current range of over 150 products. Today, ESP strength equipment and acoustic gym flooring is used world wide by many of the best athletes and teams, including the UFC in Las Vegas, England Football Team, Manchester City FC, Liverpool FC, Milwaukee Bucks NBA, the English, Walsh and Scottish Olympic Training Centres, and hundreds of others. ESP primarily focuses on 3 main areas; 1) the future proof design of high performance gyms and fitness centres, 2) the design and manufacture of innovative, heavy duty, user centred strength and power training gym equipment, and 3) the design and supply of noise free acoustic gym flooring.

What sets ESP apart from it’s competitors?

ESP Fitness is about winning, it’s about being the best and demanding the best. We want to inspire everyone to become a champion and to be the best version of themselves. And so, we strive to create equipment and facilities that inspire the individual to push themselves harder and further than they ever though possible. The ESP company slogan, “WINNING IS EVERYTHING”, defines ESP’s approach to everything we do. Our management team are all either Engineers or Sports Scientists, and all have had prior careers as professional athletes, which gives ESP an exceptionally unique understanding and expertise in high performance. This, together with our goal to add more value to our customers than anyone else, is what sets ESP apart. We want every one of our clients to have the best training facility and equipment possible. Our aim is to provide our clients what no one else can provide within the fitness industry. Not only is ESP Fitness strength equipment the best in the world, but we design fitness training facilities to be future proof. We don’t believe in the typical 5 year cycle of gym equipment and layouts; we believe in designing gyms today that will still be current in years to come, with equipment that will last a life time. Every item of ESP equipment carries a lifetime warranty on the steel frames. 

What are your biggest challenges you face in your business?

We manufacture almost all of our products in the UK, and the cost of labour and materials is extremely high when compared with products imported from Asia. As a result we have a far smaller margin than many of our competitors which can be challenging, and demands that we be extremely efficient and creative in how we manage our cashflow. The up side is that our clients get to benefit from extremely high quality and specific customisation. We look to tailor our designs to the specific requirements of each client and by having control over the manufacture process allows us to provide a bespoke service and greater value for our clients. But, probably our greatest challenge, is that as an innovation company, with over 50 first-to-market designs, we are continuously being copied by almost every one of our competitors. Whilst it is extremely frustrating, it further confirms ESP’s status as a market leader and drives us to continue to push the boundaries of innovation in everything we do.

What’s the most valuable lesson you’ve learned from the fitness industry?

We are continually learning. The fitness industry has become extremely competitive and one has got to disrupt the norm and differentiate ones self from the competition to be successful. The industry is evolving at such a rapid rate that it is now necessary to have a thorough understanding of what is important to the end user and how one can add tangible value to their life. Everyone in the industry knows that understanding the end consumer is key, but how many take the time to really understand what is important to the target market, and how to add value to their life through products and services? Everything we do is customer focussed; our clients are all fans of the ESP brand and all share the same winning philosophy, which is why we regard all our clients as Team Members. We have also learned the importance of sticking to our core values of, Winning is Everything, which is how the market defines our brand. But above all else, high quality products and services with as much added value as possible are what is most important. 

What’s next for ESP?

We are creating a global fitness brand. We have a clear vision of where we want to take the brand and how we are going to achieve this. ESP is a winning brand for winners, and we are looking to expand our brand philosophy globally. We are currently focussing on the international market and will be soon opening offices in South Africa, and in Asia later this year. We are launching 16 new products this year including our sound-proof acoustic gym flooring, GYMflor™. GYMflor™ is a new high performance sound-proof flooring system that can reduce noise and vibration of dropped weights by up to 96%. GYMflor™ is the ideal solution for mitigating noise in gyms in inner-city office buildings, residential buildings, hotels and home gyms. Although our focus has been on creating the best sports performance and fitness training facilities on the planet, market leading commercial gyms, such as Virgin Active, are beginning to see the long term value of investing in best-in-class equipment in specific areas [ESP Fitness is the official supplier of Strength & Power equipment to Virgin Active UK]. This has opened up a market for ESP in providing customised solutions to top-end Boutique, Hospitality (Hotels) and home gyms.

In your opinion, what is the current state of the UK fitness industry and what is the future?

Health, energy management and longevity are hot topics at the moment. We all value, more than ever before, the importance of being healthy, having greater energy, being able to work longer and harder, and trying to slow the ageing process. Exercise and eating a ‘healthy’, low calorie, low sugar diet has now become a high priority to a larger percentage of the UK population, evident by the booming fitness industry, and new gyms are opening almost on a daily basis. But this growth isn’t sustainable, and the market is becoming extremely competitive which is leading to more diversity and creativity within the industry, and a greater demand for ’different’ and boutique gyms. I predict the growth rate of high volume, low cost facilities will begin to drop rapidly, and the larger midrange commercial gyms will need to micro diversify their standard services into boutique segments to remain current and competitive. The boutique gym market will continue to expand, as will the demand for high-end personalised executive facilities and services. What is now becoming most critical to the gym owner, is the efficient and profitable utilisation of floor space. Traditional gym layouts with large CV areas, lots of strength machines and rows of bench presses is being replaced by more efficient allocation of space and more versatile equipment. For example, most strength selection machines cost between £5k and £15k, use up 10m2 of floor space and can only train one exercise (one muscle group) by one person at a time, therefore prudent selection of machines is becoming necessary. Equally, the large footprint required for a Bench Press, an Incline Press, a Shoulder Press, and a Decline Press (all only train one exercise by one person) can be replaced by a compact and versatile ESP Utility Stand, which can train all of these exercises in the space of only one ( http://esp-fitness.com/shop/esp-utility-stand/ ). In addition, wet areas (indoor pools, saunas and steam rooms) are another area to consider, as they take up a considerable amount of floor space, have high maintenance and staff costs, and are becoming less popular in most markets (apart from the hospitality and high end executive markets). In most facilities that we design, a profitability audit of the wet area demonstrates very poor returns, and even losses, which often guides the reallocation of this floor space to other, more popular and profitable services.

Contact the ESP Fitness Design team on Tel: +441509 606226 or Email: team@esp-fitness.com