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Bridges acquires énergie Fitness

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Bridges Fund Management has completed a deal to buy franchise gym operator, énergie Fitness.

The private equity firm has acquired a majority stake for an initial consideration, with an earn-out based on énergie continuing to hit its targets for the 2019 and 2020 financial years. The numbers have not been released at this point.

The current énergie management team, led by CEO Neil King, will stay in place following the deal, while founder and chair Jan Spaticchia will reinvest and remain with the business as a shareholder and non-executive director.

In an exclusive interview, Spaticchia told HCM: “This is a very proud day for énergie, its franchisees, staff, team and shareholders. Bridges has plans that will enable énergie to accelerate its growth plans as it leverages its position as the market-leading, low-cost fitness franchisor.

“Most importantly, Bridges is committed to the culture of inclusion that has been at the centre of énergie’s mission since we formed the company more than a decade ago.

“I’m very excited to be investing alongside our new investors as the business enters this exciting new chapter.”

Bridges has significant expertise in the health and fitness sector. It was part of the drive to introduce the low-cost gym concept to the UK in 2007, by backing John Treharne in launching The Gym Group, which is now a FTSE-listed business worth around £360m.

Since then Bridges has also successfully invested in Impact Fitness, a US-based Planet Fitness franchise with 27 locations; and Spain’s Viva Gym, which it has since brought together with Portugal’s Fitness Hut (developed by Nick Coutts) to create the biggest low-cost gym operator in the Iberian region.

énergie's franchise portfolio currently includes more than 100 sites and 150,000 members across the UK & Ireland and it’s expected the investment from Bridges will enable the company to accelerate its growth plan.

énergie has granted 60 franchises in the past year and with Bridges' support, is aiming to roll out another 30-40 new gyms per year.

énergie’s strategy is to target a gap in the market for small-box format owner-operated gyms in catchment areas with smaller populations – this has allowed it to expand into areas that previously had limited access to health and fitness provision.

The company has spent much of the past two years preparing for the sale, undergoing a major rebrand that saw its low-cost sub-brand Fit4Less consolidated under the énergie brand.

It also developed a boutique club-in-club concept, Thé YARD, to respond to the increased demand for boutique experiences.

Bridges CEO, Philip Newborough, who has led all Bridges' health and fitness investments, will join the énergie board, along with investment manager Alison Price.

Mark Heappey, who also chairs Viva Gym Group, is joining the business as chair, while Ivan Schofield will join as a non-executive director.

Bridges is unusual as a private equity house in that it explicitly targets investments that can deliver both financial returns and measurable social and environmental benefits.

The investment in énergie is in line with Bridges’ Healthier Lives impact theme, which focuses on businesses that improve physical and mental health and wellbeing.

The company is also a big player in social outcomes contracts (SOCs), whereby it supports mission-driven organisations to deliver social programmes for Government via outcomes-based contracts.

"Bridges was an obvious choice to support us in the next phase of our growth," said King.

"The team has substantial experience of successful roll-outs in the sector, which will be very valuable to us as we think about how to improve our member offering and find more great sites.

Newborough added: "We know this sector very well and believe énergie has identified a clear gap in the market: smaller-format, high-service gyms that can operate in areas where the large box gyms would not be able to.

"This allows énergie to tap into demographics that would not otherwise have access to health and fitness facilities, driving better health outcomes for these underserved populations.

"énergie has built a great team, and we're looking forward to working with them to prove this model in the UK and then potentially look at expansion opportunities overseas."

Clearwater International advised énergie on the deal. The Clearwater team was led by partner Richard O'Donnell, senior associate Zack Goddard, and associate Paris McNicol-Outch.

In 206, énergie raised money for growth via a crowdfunding initiative via CrowdCube. At the time, the 257 investors raised £546,050, taking 3.23 per cent of the equity, with one investor taking a £100k tranche.

To read an interview with the énergie top team in HCM magazine, click here.

• To read an interview with Philip Newborough, CEO and co-founder of Bridges, click here for the January 2019 issue of HCM

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Bridges Fund Management has completed a deal to buy franchise gym operator, énergie Fitness.
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