By : Manny Ita
i-Fitness is Nigeria’s first and fastest growing fitness chain. With a plan of committing N2Billion investment in the Nigerian fitness industry, i-Fitness is spurred by the desire to create an awareness on the importance of fitness in the pursuit of life’s goals and aspirations.
Founder and CEO of the fitness center, Foluso Ogunwale bared his mind on the lofty project which also provides employment to many Nigerians at the opening of the Magodo branch of the fitness chain recently. Smile International Magazine was there.
What is the vision behind i-Fitness?
To be Africa’s most preferred fitness chain. As opposed to 10 years back when world class fitness centers were luxury, scarce, and expensive; i-Fitness is now changing that narrative. We are making fitness common, affordable, entertaining and convenient. This is our own way of promoting the culture of health and wellness amongst many thousands, perhaps millions of people.
i-Fitness was borne out of the desire to provide a solution to two problems. First of which is the non-availability of convenient/decent fitness centres and second was the loss of a friend’s younger brother due to a heart condition & diabetes. These two unanswered problems touched me deeply and gave me a “sense of mission”. Providing a fitness chain was the solution! That is; making fitness common in Nigeria by providing a chain of decent, convenient and affordable fitness centers. It was and is still my desire that the existence of this chain touches many lives (perhaps thousands and millions) and promotes healthy living as a way of life.
Good to know we have the 10th branch of i-Fitness opening today, how has the journey been so far?
Challenging and exciting at the same time. We started from a very small 150sqm outlet on Admiralty Lekki Phase 1 in 2015. Gradually, we grew the network, not just in number but also improving the look and feel of each branch. Making them more youthful, more functional and World Class.
The exciting part of building and scaling i-Fitness is the ability to touch many lives. We have become a strong channel through which thousands of people imbibe healthy living.
Any plans going forward? How many more branches should we look forward to? Within Lagos, or outside Lagos?
If we have not adequately covered every urban community in Nigeria, then our mission remains on paper only. We’ll be excited to see i-Fitness in any urban community with up to 25,000 residents within a 5km radius.
With the population size of Lagos and the need to massively promote this culture of health and wellness, our initial plan is to have 22 branches in Lagos alone.
It’s i-Fitness goal to make fitness common, doing this one community at a time, What advice do you have for people on making fitness a lifestyle?
According to a report in 2018 by the World Health Organization, the average life expectancy of the Nigerian male is 54years and Female 55years. This is quite disturbing. Non-communicable diseases e.g. heart related diseases, diabetes are largely avoidable if fitness (physical activity and nutrition) is checked. Paying attention to one’s health is not luxury, it is not something we do as a one-off, it’s what we do all our days. At i-Fitness, we make fitness interesting so it becomes easier for people to make it a way of life.
Describe i-Fitness in one sentence? (what people will remember when they think i-Fitness)
My neighborhood gym, my happy place.
How much has i-Fitness invested since 2017?
i-Fitness is committing N2Billion investment in the Nigerian fitness industry. This investment is enabling us provide a network of convenient and affordable fitness centers, thereby promoting a culture of health & wellness.
How many employment opportunities have you created since you commenced operations?
So far, we have created over 250 jobs. With our expansion plan, we are creating another 180 before the year runs out. These are jobs cutting across various functions, from Sales, Marketing, Personal Training, Customer Service, Accounting, Human resources etc.
How affordable is i-Fitness and how convenient have you made the place for people?
Since convenience is one of the values we offer to our members, we operate a multi-location based system. Meaning that with one membership, our members can have access to any of our branches.
Affordability is also crucial. With multi-location access, group fitness classes, best in-class equipment, certified fitness instructors, our members have the flexibility to make monthly subscriptions from as low as N13,900. This is very different from what was obtainable 10 years back when fitness membership in a standard gym was as high as N700,000 per annum without monthly payment options. i-Fitness is changing that landscape, we are making fitness common and more affordable.
How many people have registered with i-Fitness since you commenced operations?
Close to 10,000 members. We are projecting 20,000 by year end and over 100,000 by 2024.
In this era of COVID-19, how important is regular exercise?
Absolutely, exercise boosts the immune system. Furthermore, those who passed on from COVID are largely those with underlying medical issues; meaning the stronger your immune system, the more likely it is to survive a COVID infection. This just reminds us not to compromise on health and wellness.
In terms of creating value, how would you evaluate i-Fitness?
We see value not on our own terms, but in terms of those we are serving. i-Fitness is currently serving thousands of Lagosians. Offering an enabling environment for people to exercise, get motivated to adopt fitness as a lifestyle.
With up to N2B committed investment, hundreds of jobs are also being created. We are challenged and excited with the opportunity we have to touch lives.
What are some of the challenges that come with running a fitness gym?
One of the biggest challenges was the fact that the fitness industry is still emerging and in its early stage. In fact, it was almost non-existent 10 years back. This puts pressure on us to create the path, the standards which first movers would usually put in place. Meaning that we had to create our own path and forge ahead through the pain, errors, and mistakes without getting weighed down by the enormity of the task. There were tough questions we asked ourselves, some of which even gave me “cold-feet”: Were people going to embrace fitness if we start-off our fitness chain? Was the market deep enough for the investment we were making? Where would we get skilled human capital? How easy would it be to raise funds with a young business in an untested industry? Where do we learn the operations to support the scale at which we wanted to grow? What if we failed altogether?
Over time, we have scaled over these challenges. We needed to create the right standards and keep scaling them year on year, in line with best practices outside of the county. We didn’t have a choice, we needed to show some proof of concept to everyone in order to be taken seriously. I remember when we approached a firm to invest some years back; and they thought we were a bunch of jokers. The same firm called us back 10-months after they heard we had grown from our first branch to the 4th in just 11 months. They saw the traction we were gaining; they saw the commitment and zeal to do something different. It’s not new for people to not take you seriously at the beginning.
Up until now, we still have a lot of work to do. We have to keep raising the bar and challenging ourselves to do better, always. That’s the only way we can attract and retain our members and by so doing, we are bridging the gap in health and wellness.
Looking forward, what should we expect of i-Fitness?
We are working to see iFitness becoming the preferred fitness destination for the average urban youth; that is, we want to be the preferred neighborhood gym for the average urban dweller.
Making fitness common is crucial to us. The more common it gets, the more access there is to more Nigerians. No doubt, when people live a healthier lifestyle, they become more productive to themselves, more productive in their workplace, subsequently more productive to the nation at large. Most importantly, they are available to live happily with their family. Can you imagine what life would be like for the wife and kids if a young man dies in his 40’s due to a preventable heart condition, or high BP? What of the guy in his 30’s that goes down with a stroke, what happens to his family? Can you really quantify that in naira terms? We will be touching thousands and millions of lives by God’s grace. We are Nigeria’s preferred fitness destination.
What are your core brand values and philosophies?
I’ll shorten them to 4 words: Convenience, Fun, service, community. These philosophies all point to our mission – that is: providing a fun, youthful and functional fitness experience that promotes a culture of health and wellness. Our expansion is not in itself just a spread of branches.
We keep thinking about engagement, what makes people feel a sense of community. There must be an experience in each of our centers that goes beyond just coming to the gym. How can we make fitness not feel like doing a chore? Rather we make if feel like having fun. A place where you meet other friends, a place where you challenge yourself to get stronger and you see progress day to day. A place where you just have fun and you always look forward to your next session.