INTERVIEW: This Fitness Startup, Elite Fitness, is franchising gyms in Uganda

Elite Fitness, a fitness and health startup, wants to help more Ugandans with fitness and health problems through running a country and later continent-wide chain of fitness gyms.

How are they planning to do so? They enter into a partnership with a property owner, set up and run a gym with the same standards as their other run gyms - basically, the way any franchise you know works. Think Chicken Tonight, KFC, Mr. Tasty and all in the same category. This, they are looking to replicate across Uganda.

The whole idea of going into fitness seems to be good after all. With the growing buzz about the rising middle income in Uganda and Africa, there's no doubt interest in fitness and healthy lifestyle has spiraled overtime. The interest has also been fanned by the need to match up what the western world media has defined as the trendy and ideal lifestyle.

We caught up with Assey Kiwanuka, a co-founder of Elite Fitness, for more details about Elite Fitness.

Startup Digest Africa: What's Elite Fitness? 

Assey Kiwanuka: Elite Fitness is Uganda’s premier International chain of fitness centers featuring personalized transformation plans, state of the art equipment, certified personal trainers, a diverse group exercise program and a supportive, motivating environment.

Currently, Elite Fitness delivers the most dynamic fitness experience in the industry. Our experience also includes Elite’s STUDIO. This gives members access to boutique-style classes all under the same roof.

More than a mere gym, it combines coaching and a community. Between the people running it, we have a combined 15 years of fitness expertise to help people around the African Continent achieve their potential through fitness.

SDA: Why did you come up with it?

AK: The current health club business models in Africa have a crucial gap. They do not encompass medical science and consumer experience. Hence losing out on the bigger picture of what really makes a good health club.

The Elite Fitness franchise model is filling that gap. The trend that we are setting up is not just about Fitness, but also a broader spectrum of physical activity and wellness encompassing healthy living, sports, and health for not only the body but also the mind.

SDA: Ever since you started, what are some of the successes the business has had to date?

AK: Our premier health club partner has been Marcos Gym & Spa located in Namugongo near Quality Mall. It's a unique growth story. We have also recently signed up 5 new franchisees whose rollout is scheduled for January 2018.

I would say that we are experiencing tremendous growth in terms of consumer numbers and franchisee numbers. This has actually kept us ahead of our growth projections.

SDA: What kind of clients do you focus on?

AK: We look at clients in two angles; that's investors and the consumer themselves. For the investors, the ideal for Elite Fitness franchise owners has a passion for the fitness industry. They should also be people looking for an outstanding investment opportunity that would benefit themselves and their families.

On the side of consumers, I would say that our focus is on health-conscious and fitness-minded people. Adults and, or,  their children looking for an all-inclusive lifestyle change that is in-tune with current events and changes in nutrition and exercise science. We have these ranging from the top athletes in town to people who have been living a sedentary lifestyle.

SDA: While doing all this, have you brought in any form of external funding? if yes, then how much is it?

AK: Actually, we have not sourced any external funding yet. That's if you're asking in terms of loans or grants or equity investment. Though, we plan to do so during this month of December. The main objective of raising the external funds will be to set up our company-owned Health Clubs. Currently, we hold full P&L [Profit and Loss] responsibilities for health club investments exceeding USD$500K in value.

SDA: It must be quite challenging self-financing it. But, what are the other challenges involved in running a business like yours in Uganda?

AK: First and foremost, there is the challenge of manpower. One of the biggest challenges in the fitness industry today in Uganda is finding certified trainers, nutritionists, and other certified fitness staff.

Part of this challenge comes from how the fitness industry has evolved in Uganda. For years, a gym instructor has been just a bodybuilder of ripped muscle or someone who can make people sweat and tire during an aerobics session.

Not anymore. Now, more than ever, fitness consumers expect hands-on help to achieve the results they want. They need professionals who know how to coach them to long-term behavior change, healthier eating habits and regular physical activity.

Actually, one solution we have adapted to the above problem is sponsoring talent by sending them to Nairobi for a 6 Months foundation program. They are then accessed and certified by the American Council of Exercise. Though we are also in the process of establishing a fully-fledged Fitness academy too. It will offer a range of NCCA-accredited programs for persona; trainers, group fitness instructors, health coaches and medical exercise specialists.

Our staffing plan is based on empowering street children and orphans to take up fitness related jobs and grow them into professional fitness practitioners all the way to managerial level.

SDA: Aside from the challenges, what are the positive lessons you have learned from this experience?

AK: I have learned that your team is everything: You can't get far with your startup without a fantastic group of people with you along the journey. One needs to also let their employees grow into positions while providing them with guidance and accountability. When it comes to hiring, do it slowly and fire fast. I have learned to pay close attention to what makes each person tick.

[caption id="attachment_3094" align="aligncenter" width="579"]Assey and his co-founder Godfrey Kakembo Assey and his co-founder Godfrey Kakembo[/caption]

Another important lesson is that starting a business can be full of heartaches. Running a startup is very tough. Don't underestimate the need to hit streets and knock on doors. You need to be ready and willing to work long hours. Stay humble. Be patient.

SDA: Now, what do you think is the future of Elite Fitness? Maybe 5 Years from today.

AK: Our objective is to make people better versions of themselves. Whether they aspire to be professional athletes or lose a few kilograms. We, therefore, plan on growing as fast as possible in of new locations to serve as many people as possible. The expansion is going to be both local and international. We project a strong and exceedingly profitable footprint in emerging markets across the African continent in the coming 5 years.

SDA: Well, that's incredible. However, achieving what you have stated above requires one to have partnered with others. Have you already signed any key partnerships yet?

AK: Oh year. We have a couple of partnerships. We are proud to work with a number of strategic partners to meet our objectives. Each one has been selected as they are best in class and collaborate extensively to make our facilities what they are. So far, we have AAR, ICEA insurance, Technogym, Life Fitness, and Precor.

SDA: We are coming to the end. But I would like to find out if there is any other key information people should know about Elite Fitness?

AK: Elite Fitness considers innovativeness and uniqueness as its value-generating aspects. Our workout methodology is rather a new form of fitness programming in East Africa, its value proposition being absolutely the newness, as a great deal of the fitness trends come and go. It is evolving in nature.

Digest Africa


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