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interview


EUROPE EUROPE FOCUS


RENE MOOS


The CEO of HealthCity International speaks to Kate Cracknell about growth plans and balancing a portfolio of brands


T


he middle of a global economic crisis, with bank debt hard to come by and caution the generally accepted


watchword, might not seem an obvious time to dramatically expand a company through acquisition. Yet that’s precisely what Netherlands-based HealthCity International has done. In July of last year, the company –


led by CEO Rene Moos – acquired the 32-site budget club operation BasicFit. That was followed in November by an announcement that Fitness First would be selling its 57 Benelux-based clubs to the HealthCity group. However, even prior to these deals


the story of the company has been one of growth. Leaving school at 16, Moos started out as a full-time professional tennis player. “But I was never very successful – OK for Holland but not good enough for the international stage,” he says. “So I started teaching tennis and, over fi ve or six years, grew my business into a big tennis school with lots of coaches. “One of the owners of the club where


I was based decided to open a new club and offered me the chance to buy a 25 per cent stake, and that’s really where it all started, 26 or 27 years ago. One tennis club turned into two, then three, and my percentage share grew until I had 100 per cent ownership. I then grew the company until we had eight sites. “At that time a friend of mine, Eric


Wilborts, had three facilities in the south of the Netherlands, while my now business partner Dennis Aarts


26 Mid-market HealthCity is positioned between BasicFit and HealthCity Premium Read Health Club Management online at healthclubmanagement.co.uk/digital february 2011 © cybertrek 2011


was renting space in my tennis clubs to deliver fi tness services. We decided to bring it all together to create a chain of 11 clubs with a lot of tennis, plus some fi tness. That was about 14 years ago, and from that moment on we started to grow the company into a fi tness chain. “The market is very fragmented in


the Netherlands, so we’ve generally grown through small buyouts – one, two, maybe three clubs at a time – as well as our own new builds, which account for about a third of all our sites. We’ve gone from 11 sites to over 200 clubs and we still have the appetite to grow.” That growth has been helped by the


sale, in 2005–2006, of 50 per cent of the company to Dutch private equity company Waterland. “It’s an aggressive private equity company,” explains Moos.


“They leave us to drive the company forward, but they’re keen for us to be constantly growing.”


on a budget HealthCity now has three levels of offering: the all-inclusive HealthCity clubs, budget offering BasicFit and, at the luxury end of the scale, HealthCity Premium, where facilities include tennis/ squash courts, swimming pools and so on. But Moos is unusually candid when I ask about HealthCity’s USP: “It’s very difficult to say what’s different about us, because all health clubs look pretty much alike – if you create something new, somebody else will copy it in a month. So our business has been more about copying than bringing something completely new and unique to the


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