Five minutes with Peter Roberts

Five minutes with Peter Roberts

Peter founded Pure Gym in 2009, with a mission to get more people into the gym.

“We believe we have made a real contribution to the community by offering affordable exercise,” he says. “35% of our members have never been to a gym before.”

In just 6 years, Pure Gym had grown into a nationwide network of 160 fitness clubs, with more than 800,000 members, making it the largest gym operator in the country.

“We foster an ethos of encouragement within the business”

We believe in an open culture, where ideas can flow from top to bottom, and vice versa. We encourage the people in charge of individual gyms to think of the gyms as their own business so there is a two-way dialogue between management and the gyms. They are encouraged to come up with ideas and to be involved with how their particular gym is run. That means that every person in our business is incentivised both financially and mentally, and is invested in their career progress. I think that culture has paid off and people really feel that they can progress their lives through the business.

“A vibrant economy starts from the bottom up”

I have always been a great believer in the entrepreneurial spirit. A lot of people tend to forget that something like 80% of our GDP comes from companies with fewer than 10 people working in them. That element of our business culture is so important and has grown recently, especially over the last five to 10 years. For me, they are the people that drive the vibrant economy more than the bigger national or international companies.

“I’m very encouraged by young people looking at their future on a more entrepreneurial basis”

I’m involved with a lot of entrepreneurial forums, particularly in the North, and I’m very encouraged by the fact that more and more people are starting at university. Universities in the North East are very proactive in encouraging young people to look at their future on an entrepreneurial, self-employed basis, and we see that follow through in the local community. Those forums are not only motivating but are also supporting a great deal of companies in that smaller sector.

“Your employees are your ambassadors”

In terms of the personnel we employ, it is fundamental to the success of the company that they have the right qualifications and the right attitude. As soon as they come on site, they are your ambassadors, the public face of your business.

“The government must continue to support growth at the grass roots”

To be absolutely honest, one of the main reasons why people are prepared to take a risk on investing in smaller businesses is because they are getting a reasonable tax break, which encourages them to put money into more high-risk investments than they would otherwise feel inclined to. The support that EIS and SEIS offers has been absolutely vital in encouraging the growth of smaller companies and of the investment community in the last five years.

“In our business, our prices are all there online for you to see”

We had to convince people that low cost didn’t mean cheap and low standards. People were used to traditional mid- and upmarket gyms where you could only become a member if you had a trial run. We were upfront about our prices and open about what we were and what we cost. We couldn’t have done that without online: we wouldn’t have been able to carry out the same business plan 15 years ago; 98% of our customers now join online.

“There should be more mentoring between businesses”

It’s about encouraging people to get together – being an entrepreneur can be quite a lonely job. The more people feel that you are part of a group, and part of a society, the bigger the difference you can make as you learn from others and share experiences.

“Big businesses have lost a lot of their entrepreneurial spirit”

Most of the bigger businesses that I talk to ask about what they have to do to get their own entrepreneurial spirit back. I think there’s a dichotomy there in that some big businesses want to behave like smaller businesses but find it very difficult to do that once they have added layers of management and process. I’m not sure that there’s a magic answer other than maintaining a business development element that allows your business to think outside of the box.

“Business should interact with the community”

It’s important for business to get involved on a local level. We get involved with local charities and hospitals, or we encourage people to set up an outdoor running space. It’s the combination of operating at both a local and national level that is really important – your customers are in the society that you’re talking to.