The inside story on London’s most ‘grammable gym
Like many of the best ideas, BLOK started by accident. Reema Stanbury and her husband Ed were looking for offices for their construction company when they stumbled across a derelict Victorian tram depot in Clapton.
“We fell in love with the space,” says Stanbury, “We knew we had to do something with it, but we didn’t know what.”
At first they imagined the industrial building with beautiful brickwork as the perfect location for a photo studio and this is when fashion photographer, Max Oppenheim, joined as a partner. But then the vision flipped. While training together at the local leisure centre it dawned on the trio that the space could become home to the perfect gym.
“Just a few months later we opened the doors to BLOK…and the response to it was amazing,” says Stanbury. “It happened so fast.”
But it didn’t stop there. Three years on, the team now head up a multi-site, award winning gym with six sites earmarked to open by the end of 2020. Most recently, BLOK partnered with Puma to create a range of limited edition merch to sell at its sites on top of its existing merch range, which we’ve been proud to print for them here at ICON Printing.
As BLOK grows to become a gym with one of the strongest aesthetic identities around, and it expands to become as much a lifestyle brand as a place to work out, we spoke to Stanbury to find out more about the story behind it, as well as how they created a business that seems to effortlessly stand out in such a crowded market.
BLOK has an incredibly distinct design aesthetic – what was your inspiration?
Our vision for BLOK has always been very clear from the start and all three of us are design led in everything we do. We love beautiful things and beautiful spaces and knew that if we were going to build a gym it needed to reflect this. We wanted to create a space where customers were proud to be part of and somewhere they wanted to hang out. We had previously been to Berlin and loved the industrial but laid-back feel to the city and the way you can stumble across a utilitarian industrial estate, open a door and you’re in the most beautifully designed restaurant or club. We wanted our spaces and brand to reflect this – clear, utilitarian, bold.
We regularly spend our weekends at gallery’s such as White Cube, the Tate Modern, and Newport Street Gallery picking up inspiration and have been heavily influenced by artists such as James Turrell, Dan Flavin, Richard Serra, Donald Judd, Larry Bell and of course our resident artists Ben Cullen Williams and Arran Gregory. We also spend a lot of time at places like Dover Street Market, turning to up and coming and more established designers for influence.
Tell us about BLOK x Puma – how did this come about and what impact do you hope it will have?
We have always seen BLOK as a lifestyle brand, and we’re lucky enough to have built great relationships with dozens of major sportswear and fashion brands over the past three years. We’ve worked with Puma, Adidas, Reebok, Nike, Calvin Klein, LNDR, Monreal and many more.
We’ve had a good relationship with PUMA for a while now and when the opportunity came along to appear at Balance Fitness Festival, PUMA felt like a great fit for the event and so we approached them with a proposal for a partnership. We are really excited to be working with them for this event and have produced a range of limited edition co-branded items which will be available to purchase at both BLOK Shoreditch and BLOK Clapton until the end of the month. This will be the first of a series of these sort of collaborations with some really exciting brands.
How else have you used merchandise to help promote BLOK?
We have been fairly conservative with our approach to BLOK merchandise as we wanted to build an edit of items over time that we considered right for the BLOK customer. Good quality items, which they would use in and out of BLOK. We started with a small range of bags, bottles and boxing wraps and are currently working on a full range of BLOK branded clothing which will launch this summer.
Beyond design, what else do you think makes BLOK stand out against its competitors?
I don’t believe it is just one thing. We build beautiful gyms, in amazing spaces. We have the widest offering of classes for boutique fitness in London with 25 different types of class. We have the top instructors from all disciplines, running classes that they get to shape themselves, and we focus on technique and progression, so you are always building skills, not just burning calories. All these things are driving us ahead of our competitors and make it hard for them to replicate us. It’s all very well having a USP but but if you only do one thing differently then it makes you easy to copy. We try to do everything differently.
Was it difficult to grow BLOK? What are your expansion plans?
Our growth has been pretty fast. We launched Clapton with just two small studios in early 2016 and the response from customers was amazing, and so we took an additional 2000 square foot just six months later, doubling our capacity. A year after that we signed the lease for BLOK Shoreditch, which opened in January 2018 and following an incredibly successful Crowd Cube raise last year, raising nearly £1m, from 571 investors – mainly from our own customers, we pledged to open a further 4 sites by the end of 2020. So far we are on track with Manchester launching this summer and three more amazing sites in the pipeline. We don’t just see BLOK as a gym but as a global lifestyle brand, and our plans go way beyond the traditional boutique fitness model.
How did you go about building a community around the gym?
Boutique fitness is often transitory, with gym tourists hopping from one soulless studio to another to get their fix of different class formats. We wanted to break this mould and create a place where people would genuinely want to spend time. Somewhere you could learn a whole range of skills, get fit, meet friends, hang out, do some work, even come to talks and events.
I think this really resonated with people and before we had even opened the doors to our Clapton branch in 2016, we had 3000 registered customers wanting to join. On the morning we launched, we opened the doors at 6am having been up all night finishing the build, and people were queuing down the street waiting for us to open. We were blown away. Three years on and a lot of those same customers are still coming every day and there is a real sense of community when you walk into one of our gyms. I think the customers can see how much everyone who works here, from the owners to the instructors and the front of house team all care that BLOK is always the very best it can be. We always work hard to ensure that we are giving them the very best experience, and they really appreciate that effort and reward it with loyalty to the brand.
We recently launched our #BUILTBYBLOK campaign which showcases the BLOK journey some of our customers have been on. Seeing them progress and hearing how BLOK has helped them physically and mentally makes it all worthwhile and knowing that we are genuinely making a difference to people’s lives is what it’s really all about.
To find out more about BLOK – or see the gym for yourself – visit bloklondon.com
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