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Tim West

I think we have an opportunity to do for boxing what F45 has done for functional training

Tim West, co-founder UBX UXB
UBX aims to bridge the gap between group classes and 1-2-1 UXB
Boxing helps develop full-body functional strength UXB
UBX has been developed as a membership model UXB
There are plans for more than 1,000 new clubs in the UK, Ireland and APAC UXB
West still owns his own club UXB
UBX aims to be the world’s largest boxing community UXB
Four-times world boxing champion, Danny Green, oversees UBX programming UXB

What’s your elevator pitch?
We started UBX (you-box) with one aim in mind: to let everyone experience the transformational power of boxing.

We realised the biggest challenges people face with exercising are the inflexible nature of group fitness and the high cost of one-on-one training, so we designed a model that combined individualised boxing workouts with convenience.

A UBX workout consists of 12 rounds of boxing-led strength and cardio training, delivered by expert trainers who advise on form and technique and adapt the workouts to suit people of all fitness levels – we train anyone from professional athletes looking to push themselves to the limits to new parents getting back into exercise.

How did you come up with the idea?
I grew up boxing and loved the sport. As I moved through roles as a strength and conditioning coach, personal trainer and gym owner, I used boxing as a conditioning tool for myself and my clients. In my experience, boxing is the ultimate workout.

Despite its proven effectiveness and popularity, however, no one had developed a product that combined all the benefits of boxing with a science-based strength programme. My clients also struggled with committing to a workout programme, as life often got in the way.

I wanted to create a place where people could experience world-class boxing and strength training workouts at any time that they wanted, so I approached Danny Green (four-times world boxing champion) for feedback on the concept. He embraced it, saying: “This is the way I trained throughout my entire career” and invested in the company as co-founder.

What makes UBX different from other boxing franchises?
My early research suggested that consumers were intimidated by the idea of a traditional boxing club, where the ultimate outcome is to step into the ring. The other alternative available at that point was repetitive boxercise-style offerings, which only included a token strength programme.

I wanted UBX to appeal to people of all ages and abilities and knew I had to develop a concept that was non-contact and incorporated a full-body functional strength training programme.

Boxing is the world’s largest niche, and it is yet to truly scale to its potential. For example, in the US the only major boxing boutique has taken more than a decade to build 167 clubs, while functional strength and HIIT providers in the same market hit 1,000 or more clubs in the same timeframe.

That’s why we’re excited about our concept. Together with Danny, we re-imagined how boxing could scale as an uber-flexible, disruptive challenger in the fitness marketplace.

How do consumers respond to UBX?
We’ve found our concept is sticky and has created raving advocates. A huge proportion of new members come to us via a referral from an existing UBX member and our first 15 franchisees came from participating members and staff from the first club.

Will you customise for local markets?
Franchises generate value through consistency, so core elements such as the brand, technology, equipment and workout won’t vary globally, but localisation will occur in areas such as marketing and real estate.

What was the creative process that led to the development of the concept?
It was very organic. I had climbed through the levels of the fitness industry and wanted to create something innovative that would compete against incumbents and future entrants. I started with the problems I’d faced and as I addressed them, the model emerged.

From there I launched an MVP (minimum viable product) in the most competitive area I could find, because if I was going to fail, I was going to fail fast.

I interrogated members for feedback and iterated the concept – sometimes daily – to improve the offering. As I recruited, staff were also involved in the creative process and helped me build systems around the concept to a point where the outcomes were repeatable and scalable.

What innovations are you planning next?
Our roadmap for the next 24 months includes increases in member value that will remove all barriers to training through club upgrades, and the development of our App to offer training on demand.

We’re also looking to gamify staff performance by providing our coaches with additional tools to help them streamline club management. Franchisees will get access to greater insights and automation, allowing them to spend their time where they’re going to have the biggest impact.

What are your global rollout plans?
The global rollout started in 2019 with the expansion from Australia into New Zealand and Singapore. Later in the same year, we started to explore options to open our first UBX club in the UK and the US. These plans were paused due to the pandemic.

As we ramp back up, we’ve identified the UK, Ireland, the US and Canada as priority markets. By the end of this year, we’ll start to explore more opportunities across Europe and APAC.

How many locations are you aiming for?
I think we have an opportunity to do for boxing what F45 has done for functional training. We’re set to open more than 1,000 clubs across the UK, Ireland and APAC and believe 5,000+ clubs is realistic when you add North America and Europe into the equation.

There’s increasing consumer demand for boxing, thanks to promoters such as Eddie Hearn from Matchroom and next-generation streaming platforms such as DAZN. This increasing demand, coupled with our concept means we could unlock boxing for the masses.

What’s the business arrangement with Empowered Brands and RM Funds?
In order to grow in a new region you need to have a great product, support infrastructure, and you need to make funding available to franchisees. That’s the formula this deal brings. Empowered Brands holds a Master Franchise Agreement for the UK and Ireland and RM Funds provides access to the capital required.

What kind of franchisees do you look for?
Team players with a passion for boxing, committed to exceeding members’ expectations, and with the capital and competencies to operate a successful business.

We expect them to be personal trainers looking to step up into bricks and mortar, existing fitness businesses looking to diversify their portfolios and ‘corporate refugees’ – individuals leaving the workforce and rethinking their career path.

How big are their territories?
We use a data-driven GIS mapping to determine the territory size based on what’s required for a long-term successful franchise.

We provide one-to-one support through the onboarding, pre-sale and operation phases. Franchisees also benefit from the community of franchisees in their region.

What returns can they expect?
UBX is a low-to-moderate CAPEX model with a very low break-even point, so there is a great opportunity for franchisees to get strong returns. Scale-focused franchisees will look to minimise risk and maximise returns by establishing multiple clubs across a cluster of territories.

Is UBX a membership model or pay-as-you-go?
We are very much a membership model. The vast majority of revenue comes from recurring memberships, with the balance made up of retail and a small proportion of ‘pay-as-you-go’ business.

What upsells are available?
Clubs can retail boxing equipment and apparel, with this range set to expand significantly and work being done as we speak on different kinds of seasonal and limited edition offers.

Tell us about the tech that underpins the business
Our view of the role of technology in the fitness industry is that it should be used to simplify or amplify a human experience.

We’ll continue to look for opportunities to reduce process friction, provide a seamless physical to digital experience for members and simplify operations.

Most of our tech is proprietary and built in-house. Where we’ve partnered, we’ve looked for market leaders such as AWS, Google, Myzone, ASUS and Stripe to ensure we have scalable, global capabilities.

What role does Danny Green play?
He advises on boxing content, equipment design and programming in the ever-changing workouts. It goes without saying that he has the last say on anything boxing-related.

What are your personal inputs?
My role as MD is to drive strategy, innovation and partnerships. I’m no longer involved in daily operation but work closely with the team on planning and implementation. To stay connected, I still own a club and train there each morning.

How has trading been during the global pandemic?
Challenging and contradictory – in some cases, it feels as though we’ve lost the COVID years but in others, we’ve been hyper-productive and have been able to implement change at a more rapid pace than would have been possible under normal conditions.

In 2019, network club numbers grew by 41 per cent but during 2020 and 2021 this dropped to 14 per cent per year, which was still above expectations, but a decent drop from the year prior.

We recruited well and released both our ‘coaching screens’ and digital offer, among a myriad of upgrades, optimisations and updates.

We’re optimistic about the future. Our ability to not only survive but grow during the lockdowns prove the resilience of the model, and with heavy investment in our team and technology, we’re primed for growth.

What have you learned in this time?
That I’m more creative and productive when I step back from operations and consider the business as a whole.

Of the team, I’ve learnt that they get better with pressure and I’m proud of the way they stood up and did what needed to be done to support the members and the franchise network. Sharing adversity creates a bond, and our team and business are stronger for the experience we’ve been through during COVID-19.

What’s the end game?
Given that international expansion started in 2019 it is still very early days for us. The next five years will be focused on accelerated growth and the continued evolution of the product to cement our position in the global fitness landscape.

We remain open to strategic partnerships with groups that align with our core values, culture and ambition. By making boxing accessible to everyone we are hoping to create the world’s largest boxing community.

Who do you most admire in business and why?
Elon Musk – because of the sheer size of his ambitions – and my grandmother, who’s successfully run a diverse range of businesses. We still discuss business matters regularly, and her obsession with customer service and focus on excellence is as relevant as ever.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
When I was 19, a client shared this Jim Lovell quote with me: “Be thankful for problems. If they were less difficult, someone with less ability might have your job”.

This re-frames challenges as opportunities to put distance between you and your competitors.

Anything else to share with HCM readers?
Do you box? If not, you should give it a try! It conditions the body and sharpens the mind and learning a new skill is addictive.

Our members tell us UBX has made them fall in love with the sport and with exercise. Those who liked boxing before joining like it even more now, and those who were indifferent have developed a new affinity for it. This is proof to us that we’re on the right track.

Originally published in Health Club Management 2022 issue 1
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