Features | 10 Nov 2023

‘The best day of my life’: gym owner gets hench with Vodafone Business’s V-Hub

Apex Gym, the passion project of small business owner Amelia Lawes, has received much needed digital strength training from Steven Bartlett and the Vodafone Business V-Hub.

As soon as you step through the door, it quickly becomes clear that Apex Gym in Bishops Stortford is different from other gyms. It’s not aimed at the usual hypercompetitive gym crowd, posing in front of mirrors. Indeed, there are no mirrors at all, with Apex’s welcoming atmosphere attracting customers usually put off or intimidated by gyms, from people with special educational needs to those with confidence issues.

It all stems from the experiences of Amelia Lawes, the founder of Apex Gym. “I used to be a support worker and I took this guy with Down Syndrome to a gym, and he didn’t really like it. He didn’t feel as though he ‘fitted in’ in his words,” Amelia told Vodafone UK News.

“It was from that moment I wanted to create a place where everyone, no matter their abilities, feels welcome to train.”

This unique selling point led to a community forming around Amelia and Apex Gym, a community which proved to be a vital lifeline when Amelia had to use crowdfunding to overcome rent arrears exacerbated by the pandemic.

Even with those financial difficulties sorted, Amelia sought to prevent a repeat by contacting the Vodafone Business V-Hub team for advice on how to improve her operations. Help arrived in the form of entrepreneur and Vodafone Ambassador Steven Bartlett, as documented in the first episode of the Digital SOS miniseries.

“He was so easy to talk to and the knowledge that he has was incredible,” enthused Amelia.

Steven Bartlett partners with Vodafone Business on new documentary series helping SMEs embrace digital technology

Following new research from Vodafone Business revealing 36% of UK SMEs fear going out of business over next two years which could lead to a £49bn hit to the economy.

Steven and Vodafone Business’s team of V-Hub advisers helped Amelia fully embrace digital and online tools for Apex Gym’s operations, doing away with the heaps of paper cluttering her office. For example, she now uses a multi-user to-do list app to quickly and easily delegate tasks to others at the gym.

But the software that has made the biggest difference is the personal trainer (PT) app Amelia now uses to devise personalised training plans and goals for each of her customers. Rather than laboriously printed out on sheets of paper only to be lost or mangled, they’re instead instantly delivered to customers’ phones.

The benefits of these new ways of working are manifold. “I feel a lot more organised and less overwhelmed. I feel like I have more time,” says Amelia.

Amelia admits that her previous non-digital ways of working was due to more than just an attachment to the feeling of pen against paper: “I didn’t actually know what to do or where to start in becoming more digital. I didn’t have the confidence to try and learn it, because to me it was like oh, there’s too much to do.”

“And I suppose in a way, I didn’t really know the true benefits of it. I didn’t know half of the stuff that was out there that could actually help or has been helping me. But it’s not as hard as I thought; not as scary as I thought.”

V-Hub: Helping small businesses become the best they can be

Nick Gliddon, Vodafone's UK Business Director, reflects on the success of the company's advisory service for small businesses as it celebrates its third birthday and a million users.

Steven and Vodafone Business V-Hub advisers also helped overhaul Apex Gym’s marketing strategy as Amelia freely admitted that she originally didn’t have one, having leaned on word-of-mouth and leaflets.

Acting on their advice, she now takes a more methodical approach to social media with more consistent posting schedules and different types of content for different services, such as fun-themed posts on Instagram. A new website, optimised for mobile devices and with better search engine optimisation, is also in the works.

Word-of-mouth hasn’t fallen by the wayside though, as Amelia revealed: “Some of the advice that Steven gave me was to utilise your members. So, I’ve been trialling different methods. Such as offering my members £30 every time they bring in someone new who then joins – actual cash, as it’s more appealing than just money off your next membership payment because they don’t notice it when it comes out of their bank.”

Amelia’s aspirations extend beyond just gaining more members in the near term, important as that is.

“It could be possible to actually branch out and have an Apex Gym elsewhere, so people can go and train in a place, no matter their ability, whether they’ve got Down Syndrome or they’re autistic, where they feel like they belong.

“You guys have actually given me the belief that this is possible.”

Her words of advice to other small businesses reluctant about using digital tools is straightforward: “Do it because it’s so much easier than you think… it’s not as hard and it’s not as scary”.

Reflecting on Steven’s visit and the advice from himself and the Vodafone Business V-Hub advisor, Amelia’s judgment is unequivocal: “That day was the best day of my life”.

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