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Turning Your Fitness Goals Into A Profitable Business: Allison Pickford, Founder and Director, BodySmart In conversation with Allison Pickford, founder and Director of BodySmart, a targeted body shaping studio based on HYPOXI technology, with four branches across Dubai.

By Tamara Pupic

You're reading Entrepreneur Middle East, an international franchise of Entrepreneur Media.


Earlier this month, HH Sheikh Hamdan Bin Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai and Chairman of the Dubai Executive Council, announced the Dubai Fitness Challenge, a month-long initiative to encourage residents to commit to a minimum of 30 minutes of daily activity. Living in a cosmopolitan city has taken its toll on their health, it has been stated. A recent study by the Dubai Health Authority and Dubai Statistics Centre revealed that about 30% of the city's population (36% of men and 30% of women) were overweight, with 11.9% being morbidly obese and nearly 36.1% having borderline obesity. Conversely, the city's more physically active residents have cultivated the fast-pace lifestyle and mentality which has caused them to struggle to achieve their fitness goals. "Fitness is no longer exclusive to athletic people who can afford the frequent long hours in the gym required to sculpt the body; we all work very hard but still want to look good with the pressures of the lifestyle of Dubai," explains Allison Pickford, founder and Director of BodySmart, a targeted body shaping studio based on Hypoxi technology, with four branches across Dubai.

Invented by sport scientist Dr. Norbert Egger, Hypoxi is a stationary exercise bike machine that combines compression and vacuum technology to help you achieve fitness results- faster and easier. However, back in 2003, when Pickford moved to Dubai and invested GBP50,000 into two Hypoxi machines to bring the benefits of this technology to the city's fitness enthusiasts, she faced obstacles in getting her business off the ground. "My biggest hurdle was getting premises for the studio," she says. "I tried to get into many hotels in the area, but nobody took me or the concept seriously. Finally, I approached Haiyya, which was a subsidiary of Emaar Hospitality, and they did it. I rented a space from their health club, and in May 2006, I set up my first dedicated Hypoxi studio, BodySmart, in The Meadows Town Center. That's how my story with BodySmart began. To this day, I still have my first clients from my house coming to BodySmart. After that, getting my business license was easy, but getting a quota for the staff was not. Then, it was time to find the right staff, and it all took a bit longer."

As an international brand, Hypoxi is present in 50 countries across the world. It is scientifically proven to be up to three times more effective at targeting stubborn fat and cellulite on the belly, buttocks, hips and thighs than regular exercise. BodySmart offers free trials, after which clients are encouraged to subscribe to some of their membership packages that include 12 or 15 30-minute-long sessions and are often offered at very attractive discounted rates. The BodySmart team also offers a complimentary body composition analysis and nutritional advice prior to the commencement of each package.

The Entrepreneur Middle East team visited BodySmart to review Hypoxi technology- in just a comfortable gym t-shirt and knee length tights, we were asked to wear a compression skirt and to have a heart rate monitor strapped around our ribcage and a thigh, before entering a vacuum chamber from the waist down. During the following 30 minutes, we were not only pedaling -which was what we had come for- but also checking our emails and making a few phone calls. In a couple of sessions, not only did we achieve our body shaping goals, but the whole experience seemed to be a multitasker's dream.

BodySmart, a targeted body shaping studio based on Hypoxi technology, with four branches across Dubai.
Source: Bodysmart

"Dubai is home to a broad range of nationalities, a high number of whom are professionals with plenty of disposable income," Pickford says. "Our market is reflected in much the same way that the major gyms and personal training facilities' are segmented. Hypoxi attracts a diverse clientele ranging from 20- to 65-year-olds who may be perfection seekers, new moms, frequent travellers, or fitness fanatics looking to supercharge their results, as well as overweight individuals in need of gentle exercise to kickstart their weight loss journey."

In July 2014, Pickford acquired the exclusive distribution rights for Hypoxi in the UAE which gave her the platform to four authorized Hypoxi studios, while the opening of the fifth Hypoxi-only studio is expected before the end of 2017. Furthermore, due to it being a repeatable business model that is easy to roll out, Pickford is currently in talks with investors to expand BodySmart further throughout the GCC.

To those looking to start their own business in the health, wellness and fitness industry or to gain competitive business advantage as a one-stop-shop for all fitness and wellness needs, BodySmart provides all round support in training, servicing, maintenance and marketing to ensure that their business is a success. "Hypoxi is a simple and profitable model for anyone looking to pursue a business in the health and wellness industry," Pickford says. "It can be set up as a standalone business, or be incorporated within an existing business. The startup investment for a shop-in-shop starts at AED275,000 with an ROI within 18 months. Entrepreneurs can approach health clubs, spas, wellness centers or aesthetic clinics to set up an authorized Hypoxi studio in a space of 300-500 sq. ft within their facilities to increase footfall and optimize revenue per square foot for the existing business. We have a very strong sales process with nothing less than 50% conversion which has made us very successful."

However, observing younger entrepreneurs, Pickford has noticed them being too risk averse. "The biggest challenge is finance. Everybody wants to open up their own business, but very few are willing to invest or take risks," she says. "Yet, they are quick enough to spend twice as much as our investment on a top-of-the-range fancy car that generates no money, but don't want to start their own business. There's one thing that I know, machines and space make money. You have to be a risk taker to be an entrepreneur."

Related: A "Cool" Way To Get Fit: CRYO Health Dubai

Tamara Pupic

Entrepreneur Staff

Managing Editor, Entrepreneur Middle East

Tamara Pupic is the Managing Editor of Entrepreneur Middle East.

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