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UKAA Roundtable: Gym & Spa Trends – Leisure Facilities in BTR presented by Motive8

Thursday 2nd May

As we constantly think of ways to offer an exceptional customer experience, leisure facilities within developments become a key element of the draw.

Motive8 will be presented a roundtable session to build on your experience or indeed, lack of experience with gyms, pools and other leisure facilities within the Build to Rent sector. We explored why leisure facilities are such a useful tool in attracting residents.

The roundtable took place on Thursday 2nd May 2019 presented by Rob Clarke of motive8.

Agenda: 

  • Why include a leisure facility in your development and what type of facilities should you include?
  • What’s hot and what’s not when it comes to fitness and leisure
  • Costs: installation and on-going
  • Management and maintenance solutions

If you were unable to make it on the day, you can read the write-up here:

It was a glorious sunny morning at the BCLP offices on London Bridge and the roundtable attendees took their place at the roundtable with a river view! Motive8 Presenter, Rob Clarke – Head of Operations opened by explaining how gyms are a great place to build relationships in organisations and communities, illustrating this with a story about improved communications between CEO and receptionist – a much healthier version of the traditional bonding in staff smoking rooms!

The BTR Community

Rob, Head of Operations for Motive8 began the session with the importance of the BTR developments creating a sense of community. This feeling is at the heart of BTR developments and is one of the characteristics that distinguishes a BTR development from a Buy-To-Let rental block. This feeling come from many sources enabled by gym facilities and staff, ranging from offering team sports tournaments for residents to compete against one another, to specialist sports such as squash which has proved surprising popular in one London development.

Are Gyms Actually Popular?

Research by Savills (see slides) indicated gyms are more popular than a concierge. From a show of hands at the roundtable, it appeared that 60%-70% of attendees had gym membership and c50% would pay for a gym in their BTR development.

Rob enlightened us with the facts and figures of surveys evidencing how much residents will pay for a gym, enabling operators / owners to generate additional income. Compared to a commercial gym, the cost per unit is usually relatively low.

This extra offering of a gym or a swimming pool also leads to having healthier residents, but crucially, when a BTR operator offers a gym then it must keep up with the standards of those in surrounding areas!

A representative from Fresh Property Group asked if saunas and steam rooms were growing in popularity in BTR. Robs view was that there isn’t enough data to demonstrate a trend but there has been a significant increase in demand.

Swimming Pools

Swimming pools are extremely expensive, even before staffing. Costs start from £300k to install plus £100k for staffing and management. For obvious reasons, pools are most popular in premium developments where cost is not an issue.

Surprisingly you are not required to provide a lifeguard, but just to have a ‘rescue’ trained staff member on site. Remote-sensing anti-drowning technology exists which monitor the movement of swimmers and use algorithms pick-up if someone could be struggling or drowning. This technology has apparently been around for 20 years and has saved many lives.

Recreational Rooms

Recreational rooms are multipurpose and a great use of space, some of the challenges repeatedly seen is the overlooked need for storage space! If you are including a recreational room you must think about storage space within the room.

Resident’s views:

Pools and Spas:               

These are very expensive but popular, often particularly so with families, as local authority pools continue to close.

Virtual classes:

These are becoming more and more popular but are still relatively new in residential. Typically, they cost around £130 a month, allowing residents to use popular fitness classes on demand.

Virtual classes also save costs compare to real instructors (up to £50 an hour) and fitting them out is low cost as essentially the equipment comprises is a TV.

Treatment rooms: 

This is a great opportunity to make use of rooms without windows. Residents could either bring their own therapists or operators could partner with a therapist to offer treatments

Games room:

Rob talked about a scheme in East London where this proved to be very popular, particularly as such spaces allow residents to mix in a social setting.

Café or bars within gyms:

This hasn’t quite caught on yet, but “smart” bars are being installed which use card technology for payment and the drinks are poured for you, essentially a vending machine in a bar with no staff costs.

Outside exercise:

These are very popular and offer the obvious advantage of making to easy to move indoor classes outside in good weather.

Fixed gyms situated outside do not have a good level of resistance in their equipment and are therefore better suited to post-retirement developments

Squash courts:

As described earlier this is proving surprisingly popular in one development in London, despite a general decline in the sport’s popularity. It should be noted though that they require a 5m high ceiling.

Golf simulator:

These were very popular a few years ago but has slowed down

Some systems can also double up as a shooting range

Note that these need significant height too.

Kids room:

To be popular and ensure optimum use, these should not be bookable

These was discussion about a development where a ten-pin bowling alley is being installed, but no one around the table, including Rob, has experienced this before

Rob also advised that it is difficult to sell both a gym and a studio space as most developments can’t do both well, however all depends on the design and budget.

BTR has been tailored for the younger demographic in contrast to private sales aimed at an older demographic. This translates into different gym equipment and experiences – younger gym users tend to be more willing to try new things such as free weights while the older users prefer fixed, traditional gym cardio exercises.

A representative from JLL asked about if there were any regional trends in BTR gym installations, however but again BTR is too new to have enough stats at this stage in our sector. However, Rob felt that London is becoming more holistic with Yoga and Pilates very popular, though these haven’t caught on in the regions yet.

Utilisation

A JLL representative raised the wide-spread concern that BTR gyms are used to attract people to move in and buy into the ethos of the building, but then gym use and class attendance is low. Rob advised to look at the experience and classes being offered. Gyms look good in brochures with use of CGI’s etc., but need to be in a physical location where residents can see them. Equipment needs to be of high standard and residents should be asked regularly what classes they would like.  Care should also be taken to ensure that the instructor has a good rapport with the residents.

Rob stated that in-scheme gyms will probably never see attendance at the same level as commercial gyms and that about 20% participation was the maximum in his experience. Opportunities to increase usage include inductions, personal training, classes, monthly challenge and other incentives to encourage a sense of competition amongst residents.

Communications platforms exist, following Facebook models, enabling residents and staff to communicate and encouraging everyone to embrace technology.

As an operator you could set up clubs to encourage residents to work out together and walking or running clubs are popular. Making the gym space multi-use is useful as equipment can be placed around the sides to free up space in the middle of the room for other activities.

Space utilisation

A Grainger representative asked about trying to squeeze in spa and gym space into limited space. Rob advised that to be effective in a limited space requires a focus on design efficiency and it is often best to it is best go for a studio rather than a gym. The discussions witched to how to optimize the number of people using the studio space. Rob suggested setting a timetable with hourly intervals and outside of these hours, just leave it free. Online booking systems can be introduced to ensure the space does not become overcrowded and to monitor the popularity of classes. Spinning classes are very popular but present the problem of needing extra space to push the bikes out the way when not in use.

Costs

Cardio equipment is the most expensive part of a gym so avoid a gym full of treadmills and cross trainers for a cost-effective solution.

Gyms do not need full-time staff unless you have a swimming pool. Usually the concierge staff can cover checking the gym, with suitable training and processes,

If installing a sauna or steam room, some local councils require you to check these every 30mins, which could be impossible for concierge staff to do.

For BTR developments, part-time staff arrangements often work well enabling residents get to know staff and build a community feel.

A representative from CBRE asked about leasing equipment rather than buying and whether leases existed that allow for equipment to be swapped if not used. Rob discussed leasing broadly and its pros and cons but advised that the details of the lease are key. Most leases are essentially financing options and do not allow equipment to be swapped.

Acoustics

Planning! Companies such as motive8 must be brought in at planning stage to avoid problems in operation. There are developments where the gym is on the 15th floor and the residents do not hear a thing. However, where equipment is bolted to the concrete frame, there is a significant risk that equipment noise will become a problem for residents.

At what point do we specify a gym?

As early as possible! An early, short conversation should take place between the gym specialist such as Motive8 about objectives and layout with the Architects. Then full engagement should start c.18 months before PC.