Marketing Advice that Packs a Punch, from a Successful Dubai Gym Owner

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Framed in dark black and yellow, the sign reads: “Shut up and Squat”. That is probably one of the nicer statements on the wall of the gym at The Circuit Factory (TCF). Originating at 24 Hour Fitness in Al Quoz, TCF is a high-intensity group exercise class founded by Phil Parkinson, a former Dubai personal trainer turned entrepreneur. In spite of the preexistence of other similar classes in Dubai prior to the establishment of TCF, Phil and his team have managed to create a large customer base and a wide following.

If you have ever read Phil’s blog, or interacted with the man behind TCF, you would know that most of what he says could not be published here. To use one of Phil’s favorite words, he keeps it very “real” – which might upset some people. Phil applies the same mentality to training at TCF – you will rarely enjoy the process. How could you when Phil thinks Dubai is the perfect place for a Goodyear commercial and you hear the word “pathetic” more than most people can handle? However, you will definitely be able to handle the “results” – another one of Phil’s favorite words- some of the TCF’s regulars have noted losing up to 20 lbs in 2 months.

Phil is a British expat who moved to Dubai in 2010 with a mixed-martial arts background. Following a general trend he saw in Dubai, he decided to become a personal trainer and quickly worked towards a National Association of Sports and Medicine Certification. He quickly realized that what was being offered to clients was not serving their needs. He came up with TCF as a way to fill that gap in the market and has already opened in two locations across Dubai since starting in August of this year.  

As Wamda chatted with Phil Parkinson about TCF’s experiences, he highlighted two important factors that have contributed to success so far: a deep understanding of customers’ needs and wants, and a very strong social media campaign and brand.

Why understanding your customers is critical

According to Parkinson, his success in the personal training industry began when he finally realized that “99% of people do not care about your credentials or extensive knowledge of anatomy. It all doesn’t matter. At the end of the day, all people care about is seeing results – so its’ best to keep it simple.” After this point, Parkinson developed a “black and white” definition of personal training which meant two things: make people train hard and eat clean - everything else was “just noise.” As important, Parkinson learned to segment customers into those that wanted to lose weight and those that wanted to get fit.  Parkinson clarifies, “fitness is an interest, weight loss actually impacts the quality of your life – there is a tangible need there”. As a result, Parkinson believes that when looking to expand TCF’s customer base in the future, his team will need to focus on people interested in being fit as they are the “real challenge”.  In startup terms, Parkinson was able to locate his early adopters and market to them first – a key step for any upcoming venture.

The power of honesty in branding 

It is probably no surprise to most people that Parkinson listed social media as one of the main drivers behind TCF’s success, however; it is still worthwhile emphasizing the reasons social media worked so well for a service that is not provided online.

The most distinctive feature of TCF’s media campaign is that it is video-heavy. TCF had 32 videos on their YouTube Channel at the time of writing. According to Parkinson, “these videos are extremely effective. I usually get around 10 email inquiries per video and the result is almost instant. I would say that 90% of our results come from our videos, and to think that producing each one of these cost less than one of my dumbbells!”

In response to whether he would ever consider using traditional TV ads, Parkinson pushes the idea aside. He adds, “There are just too many advantages to producing your own videos. You have complete creative control; you can put the links to all your social media platform right there, embedded into the video for people to click on it. TV is antiquated.” A distinctive feature about TCF’s video content is the constant use of customer footage and testimonials. Parkinson elaborates, “What’s great about social media platforms like Facebook, and videos on these platforms, is that you don’t have to put on a corporate face. People want real people they can interact with and relate to – that is exactly what you give them online!”

Commenting on TCF’s use of social media, a customer said: “I think its incredibly important - without the Facebook Group and the YouTube videos TCF wouldn't be what it is.  The videos have been inspiring to others, the group has been a focal point for new members (and old) to share information, ideas etc. and also its been a useful communication tool from Phil and his team to the members.  I think with TCF its not just about social media promoting their product, but it’s also about keeping it relevant, keeping it thriving and solidifying the existing member base.”

Again, in startup terms, the trick is to use social media to create real communities that go beyond marketing and promotion.

Finally, we asked Phil if he had any advice for all the entrepreneurs out there trying to stay fit and healthy. Here is what he had to say:

“If you want to get in great shape, look in the mirror. When it comes to staying healthy and getting in shape, what is working today, has been working for the past 100 years. You do not need anything new. The fact is that you need to train hard and eat really clean. Stop looking for the next new health product that’s going to solve your problem.”

Sage advice, in company terms as well- there’s no silver bullet that substitutes for working hard and building a product that delivers.

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