Losses increase at Fitness First as owners pour in more cash

Oliver Gill
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The largest gym operator in Britain is now the low-cost chain Pure Gym (Source: Getty)

Operating losses at Fitness First spiked nearly six times for the year to October 2015 according to recently filed accounts.

The Poole-based operator burnt through £25.7m of cash during the year, offset by drawing down on £47.5m of loan facilities. "Over the past three financial years, cash flows have been significantly impacted by the capital refurbishment programme, particularly in the UK and Australia," the directors' report said.

Operating losses were £14.4m compared to £2.5m in 2014.

At one point the largest gym operator in Britain and still operating across 16 countries, Fitness First has had a troubled time ever since private equity funds Oaktree Capital and Marathon Asset Management took control in 2012.

Recently, the owners have been selling off assets on a piecemeal basis. The Sunday Times reported that Virgin Active are among a number of interested parties in Asian and Australian operations while the sale of the British business to JJB's former owner, Dave Whelan is nearing completion.

Fitness First opened seven new sites in Asia during 2015 and revenues were almost double that generated in the Britain during 2015 - £144m compared to £75m. Asia also generates a healthy 10 per cent operating margin.

While the UK and other operations make an operating loss Australian and German operations - also larger than those in Britain - generate a smaller operating margin of around three per cent.

Former owners BC Partners were rumoured to be planning to float the business for around £1bn in 2010.

However, after struggling to restructuring a £550m debt pile in 2012, it was forced to hand over the keys to Oaktree and Marathon.

The owners originally invested heavily in revamping and refurbishing sites. But in the face of competition from low-cost operators in Britain in particular, it has continued to struggle.

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