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Fitness platform Squats primed for brick-and-mortar expansion; targets 120 'wellness' centres countrywide by 2020

Sulekha Nair
Squats co-founder Jitendra Chouksey says their goal is to help the 'Skill India' objective by providing 1,00,000 jobs in the fitness industry.

The Indian fitness industry is undergoing a transformation, all thanks to the fact that almost everyone, from children to grown-ups to senior citizens, now aspire to lead a healthy lifestyle. According to a 2016 FICCI-EY report, the wellness industry is staring at industry-wide growth for the rest of the decade, with gyms and fitness centres expected to log an 18 percent expansion.

Fitness and nutrition are bywords for health now and that has spawned online health, fitness and nutrition startups in India. From starting off as an online health/fitness consultation platform to rolling out an offline model, startup Squats has been able to swing the tide in its favour. Breaking even in the first month of its roll out, Squats' online business model has taken-off quite well. Emboldened by that success, Squats -- founded in 2016, opened a fitness centre each in Pune and Mumbai on 8 July 2018.

The franchisee-based model requires no investment. Instead, the franchisee pays Squats a royalty for advice and suggestions. "We are not looking to generate profits, but instead to make the model sustainable and reach out to a wider audience," said 32-year-old Jitendra Chouksey, the co-founder with an 80 percent stake in the startup.

The startup now plans to roll out over 10 offline 'diet and wellness centres' across Tier 1 and Tier 2 cities like Hyderabad, Bangalore, Pune, Mumbai, Delhi and Raipur in its first-phase of growth, to cater to the customer segment that prefers face-to-face counselling. Over the next two years, more centres will be opened where people can opt for either an online or an offline consultation package.

A software engineer, Chouksey, who has worked as a certified database administrator in blue chip MNCs has always been a fitness enthusiast. But he did not foresee that his hobby would result in his taking up health and fitness as a career and becoming an entrepreneur.

Chouksey had an alternate career in the offing when a friend shared his angst about not being able to become fit in spite of joining the gym and eating a particular diet. Chouksey decided to break the myth of 'eating right', he said, as an ISI-certified nutritionist. "The guy was eating right but as I am passionate about nutrition, I was able to tell him what was wrong with his diet and also suggested a diet plan for him. It worked and then word got around." Soon Chouksey was flooded with queries on health, fitness and nutrition from friends and unknown people at the gym he was frequenting.

As a first step, he created a Facebook page in 2016 to enable friends and others to come together as a community and address  challenges in the fitness industry, where "misinformation, distrust, unsatisfactory results, quick-fix solutions, and fad diets' impact the industry's reputation.

When the FB page 'exploded' with queries and suggestions from many to charge for a service instead of getting it gratis, Chouksey was ready to dive in having tested the waters on an online forum. Thus Squats was born, in January 2016, to help not just members on its Facebook community page but anyone seeking information on how to lead a healthy lifestyle. The platform now has 400,000 members.

Spending around Rs 90,000 from his savings to startup, Chouksey had 149 paid clients in the first month and a revenue of Rs 10 lakh. It started with over with 40 trainers - all trained by Chouksey - and now has 130 trainers.

"I realised the idea would click," says Chouksey as the startup broke-even in the first month itself. Currently, the online model generates revenues of around Rs 2.5 lakh a month and has 3,000 clients.

Squats' fee structure starts at Rs 6,000 for a  three months subscription. To become a member, a client has to sign up. Then, a trainer tailors a diet and exercise plan suited to the individual. Weekly diet and training plans are provided to the client based on their health history, current lifestyle, and goals. The interaction happens over the phone and via text messages. Weekly plans are uploaded to the individual's profile on the website. If clients are unhappy or not satisfied with the services, they have the option to ask for a full refund within 30 days of enrolment or can request for a shuffle of their consultants.

Headquartered in Pune, the firm's clients range from the young to 70 year-olds. 30 percent of its clientele comprises of non-resident Indians (NRIs). "Our goal is to help the 'Skill India' objective by providing 1,00,000 jobs in the fitness industry," said Chouksey.

Talking about Squats' expansion plan, Jyoti Sehrawat Dabas, Director - Strategy and Planning, said: "While we will be launching over 10 centres across Tier 1 and Tier 2 cities in the current fiscal to reach out to segments that are inaccessible for a variety of reasons, we are targeting over 120 centres across India including in Tier 3 cities, all by 2020. Our motive is to make the task of staying fit and healthy extremely easy for even someone sitting in Surat or Aurangabad.

"Our members should be able to open a website to access their diet or training plans, and simultaneously meet their fitness consultants for any queries related to their fitness goals."

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