Richard Bilton is the Founder and President of Companhia Athletica, one of Brazil's biggest names in the fitness industry. Graduated in Business Administration from FGV (1987), he served on the board of directors of IHRSA and was pivotal for bringing the IHRSA/ Fitness Brasil in 2000. He has completed a four-year term as the director of IHRSA in June 2014. He’s also the co-founder of the ACAD (Brazilian Association of Gyms), founded in 1999.
Companhia Athletica serves more than 200 companies in Brazil, through contracts and partnerships. Thirty five thousand (35.000) gym members and corporate customers attend regularly to their 17 gyms spread across Brazil, in 13 different cities.
Running since 1985 the health clubs add up to more than 70 thousand square meters of built area altogether,nearly all in shopping malls. Their service is Premium and provides a benchmark for the Brazilian fitness market. The Gym Business also operates one of the largest water parks in the country, with 25 swimming pools, 13 of which are semi-Olympic.
Indoor Informatics - Everyone knows how enormous the Brazilian Fitness industry is. It employs hundreds of thousands of business and health professionals thus it’s absolutely relevant for the country’s economy and society. Nevertheless, we know every place has their own obstacles. So, in your opinion what’s the biggest challenge a Fitness entrepreneur faces in Brazil? That sort of challenge that was already there before covid-19 outbreak.
Richard- We’re currently facing many challenges in Brazil. Challenges ranging from the still small percentage of people who have/or can afford any sort of gym membership (compared to the country’s population), to the bureaucratic regulations that we have to deal with on a daily basis. In addition to that, the taxation burden hit gym businesses hard. What has just happened now is that our challenge grew bigger, since we’ve all been facing (companies, families, government, etc), the worst health and economic crisis in the last 100 years.
Indoor Informatics - We’ve been noticing how fast paced the changes in our societies and businesses worldwide are due to the current pandemic. In your view, what major changes gym businesses in Brazil are undergoing at the moment?
Richard - First of all, in order to remain standing once it all has passed (and this shall pass), any business must be looking for smart ways to cope with the costs associated with real-estate and payroll. The question is whether we'll overcome this hard time in the first quarter of next year or later. At the same time everyone had to come up with solutions during the lockdown. We must ponder over the online services whether it will remain so important in the post-pandemic when we get things solved.
Indoor Informatics - Before covid-19 what were the main pain points a gym goer faces in a gym in Brazil? Has it changed with the Covid-19?
Richard - I think this is a broad question and it certainly depends on one's experiences and type of gym. The main current concern during the ongoing pandemic is customer and employees safety. Prior to covid-19, people used to prioritized good gym membership deals, now they prioritize safeness, the safer the better. Crowded gyms now represent higher risk.
Indoor Informatics - Is told that this pandemic has changed the way we live, has nurtured more technological and data driven business worldwide. Have you noticed or have you been using any tech that made your life easier and more efficient as a manager?
Richard - Yes, everyone had to “reinvent themselves” and adapt their lives in many ways like, workplace, daily commute, and so on. For instance,we started using Zoom for our weekly meetings and that was an efficient replacement for the face-to-face sessions. Face-to-face is important too, but there will be a few of such, if compared to pre-covid scenario. I also believe that traffic jams will decrease a lot from now on, even when everything has passed, because companies will be offering employees the option to work from the office, remotely, or alternate between the two. So, there will be less people out on streets, less traffic, thus it will be positive for everyone and for services offered on site, like gyms.
Indoor Informatics - Have you ever employed any technology that substantially made your gym customers’ lives easier and happier? If not yet, what's holding you back?
Richard- Yes, always, from the “CIAON” app that allows the gym members to train at the gym with everything on their cell phone, with the Cia Result with all the data passed directly from the German SECA scale already integrated into our CiaOn with all the member’s body composition data etc. ... now with COVID-19 to quickly implement in our CiaOn the scheduling by day, time etc ... instant online graphics, real time, frequency of customer both in the “video walls” at the main entrance of the gyms and mobile apps. we also have our own system for monitoring the heart rate of customers on screens in the rooms for spinning classes and so on. We developed along with Samsung a watch that already comes with the Cia Athletica weight training option installed and that also connects with our heart rate control system in the spinning classes.In short, we don’t stop bringing in new services to our customers.
Indoor Informatics - What are your expectations, personally and professionally speaking, about the post-covid-19 in the country’s gym businesses?
Richard - Speaking of not only the Brazilian market but the global health club industry, I believe that we can all have a greater positive impact in people’s lives, attracting new customers that have never really seen the need to stop being sedentary and become physically active. COVID-19 made it clear that individuals who are overweight or obese, sedentary,with diabetes or high blood pressure are at higher risk than people who are physically active. We all must consider it thoroughly and see it as an opportunity for working together, so that we can all afford healthier lives.
Thank you so much Richard, for your valuable insights!
Interviewed by Marcos Vinicius, Sales Manager at Indoor Informatics.