Whether Team GB’s record medal haul at this summer’s Rio Olympics will inspire more of us to head to the gym remains to be seen, but it certainly won’t harm an industry already worth more than £60bn globally. One business benefiting from a growing awareness of the advantages of a healthy lifestyle is London-based Virgin Active, which saw membership at its 276 international health clubs reach 1.5m this year. The company, led by group chief executive Paul Woolf, 51, now has clubs in 10 countries, offering classes from yoga and boxing to Iron Zuu, a combination of weightlifting and circuit training.
The UK is Virgin Active’s second-largest market after South Africa, despite selling-off 35 clubs – almost a third of its UK estate – to Nuffield Health for an undisclosed sum in June. The sale will allow the business to upgrade more of its remaining 60 sites to its luxury “Collection” group, including a new £6.5m club in London’s Mansion House opening later this year, creating 80 jobs.
The UK overhaul follows the sale of the company last year to Brait, the South African investment group that also owns a majority stake in New Look and Iceland and is backed by retail billionaire Christo Wiese. The purchase from previous owners CVC Capital Partners valued the business at £1.3bn, with Brait now owning 80% and Virgin Group’s Sir Richard Branson 20%.
Amid public debate about how to tackle Britain’s increasing obesity epidemic, the new owners will continue to promote initiatives such as its Active Inspiration campaign, which aims to encourage 500,000 children across the UK to become more active.
Latest results showed operating profits up by 29% to £68.1m in 2015, despite a marginal drop in sales to £630.5m. The group now plans to significantly increase its presence in South East Asia, investing £150m in up to 40 new clubs in Thailand and Singapore.
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