Meet the brains behind the city's fitness boom. 

The new year always brings with it a surge in gym memberships and class sign-ups, but this time around, expect something a little different. Thanks to city-dwellers’ constant thirst for new and exciting ways to work out, the boutique fitness industry is booming, creating more opportunities for fitness startups than ever before. The global fitness economy is shifting away from traditional year-long memberships with big brand gyms towards specialized high-end classes, pick-and-mix schemes and shorter commitment periods—and Bangkok is no different. In fact, we’re just catching up to the boutique fitness phenomenon, signaling an exciting time where our workouts will be diversified and companies will rely more on customer service and experience than corporate brand name reputations. We spoke to some of the pioneers instigating Bangkok’s fitness and wellness boom about what it’s really like to be in the health business and why our city is warming to the idea of high-end workouts.

 


See also: Fitness hubs close to top co-working spaces | The best gyms for early and late sessions


 

Ploy Bhinsaeng

 

Ploy is the co-founder of Tribe indoor cycling studio and is the only female member of the Thai national polo team.
 
 
Briefly tell us about your business.
Our boutique fitness studio offers indoor cycling, yoga, barre, pilates and boxing to the beat. Fashion, wellness and music guide our approach, but our community is what truly motivates people to come back.

Why did you decide to start a fitness business? 
I found going to the gym monotonous and boring, so along with two friends we opened a studio we were passionate about that’s fun and exciting to go to.

How has the fitness industry evolved since you launched?
Fitness used to be about working out, but it’s developed into something that encompasses mind 
and spirit. 

Tell us about some of the highs of running a business
Changing lives for the better gets me up every day. My journey is one from hating exercise to loving it and I truly love helping others follow my path.

What has been tougher than you expected?
Striking a balance between staff happiness, a strong company culture and a healthy business.

What are your predictions for Thailand’s wellness industry over the next few years?
We’ll see more of a shift towards the non-exercise elements of wellness such as nutrition, spirituality and meditation.

Do you have any advice for budding fitness entrepreneurs?
It’s hard! Just because wellness is seen as a booming and exciting industry it doesn’t mean you can make easy money here. Follow your heart and calling, but bring your brain with you! Make sure you study it, live and breathe it—if people feel your passion, they can’t help but buy into it, too.

Tribe, President Tower, 973 Phloen Chit Rd., 02-656-0203. 
www.tribebkk.com

Erik Verspui

Following the global financial crisis, Erik left his corporate career in finance and put his entrepreneurial streak to good use by co-founding Paleo Robbie with his brother.

 

Briefly tell us about your business.
Paleo Robbie tricks people into eating healthier by offering a weekly meal plan and grocery service that’s easy to use, tastes great and is unprocessed.

Why did you decide to focus on healthy food?
Back in 2013, if you wanted to eat healthily in Bangkok you basically had no choice but to cook yourself. We simply wanted to eat healthy food every day and we soon found out that we weren’t the only ones.

How has the competition evolved since?
Bangkok’s food delivery options have grown exponentially since we launched. Now, eating whole, real foods is starting to become mainstream thinking, though it’s still hard for consumers to get to the truth of which options are truly good for them.

Tell us about some of the highs of running a business
Setting new sales records is always a high, but also hearing from customers who we’ve helped with their health and solving chronic issues.

What has been tougher than you expected?
Keeping the team stable—finding new staff that fit in well and have common sense is one of the toughest challenges. My advice is to treat your staff well but don’t spoil them, and keep them on a growth trajectory.

Has Bangkok’s attitude towards health and fitness changed?
On the surface, yes, but I’d like to see more Thais reading up and educating themselves so they become life-long converts. 

What are your predictions for Thailand’s wellness industry over the next few years?
As chronic diseases become even more ubiquitous, functional medicine, nutrition and health coaching will rise in popularity, especially e-coaching. We’ll see a rise of personalized meal plans based on an individual’s genetics, which is an exciting area.

Do you have any advice for budding fitness entrepreneurs?
It needs to be your long-term passion, not a get rich quick scheme. Consider having a 10 year outlook when starting from scratch with your own funds, especially if your business model is both asset- and people-intensive. If you can’t handle the stress of losing key staff or making a loss in low season, then don’t do it. Work with partners that you respect and get along with socially. Have fun! 
www.paleorobbie.com 


Khemika “Lynn” Chivapornthip 


Khemika “Lynn” Chivapornthip is the CEO of Physique 57 Bangkok. A former international tax consultant, Lynn worked and lived in the US for 15 years before moving back to Bangkok. 

 

Briefly tell us about Physique 57.
We teach barre, which is a low-impact, high-intensity workout that really lets you feel the burn, targeting the muscles in your arms, thighs, seat and abs to the point of fatigue then stretching them for relief. It’s highly effective without being hard on your joints.

Why did you decide this was the right trend for Bangkok?
My friends and I, four female entrepreneurs, wanted to start something we had a passion for, was new to the Thai market and had a positive impact on others. Barre ticked all these boxes.

How has the industry evolved since you launched?
Four years ago, there were just a handful of boutique fitness studios. Though we’re still the only barre studio, many gyms now offer barre classes and it’s getting more attention. People now educate themselves more about their health and nutrition, not just their body image goals.

Tell us about some of the highs of running a business?
Now, I don’t care if it’s Friday or Monday as I love my work and I enjoy doing it every day. I have more control over my schedule and I get to meet great people. 

What has been tougher than you expected? 
Getting people to exercise regularly! Rather than competing with other fitness studios, we should collaborate to help educate and inspire people to exercise. Our main competitors are the restaurants and bars, which we’re ultimately competing against for our clients’ time. 

Are Thais’ attitudes towards health and fitness changing?
The definition of beauty for Thai women has evolved.  Four years ago, beauty was skinny without muscle; nowadays, beauty is to look healthy and strong with well defined muscles.

What are your predictions for Thailand’s wellness industry over the next few years?
We’ll see many more boutique and specialist studios open up with a focus on effective, fun exercise and outstanding customer service. Expect to see more technology that will allow people to take their favorite workout class in their own time, anywhere in the world.

Do you have any advice for budding fitness entrepreneurs?
I believe in having a good understanding of what you want to do, getting a good mentor, having a strong action plan and executing it with passion and positive attitude. Reach out to the fitness  business-owner community for help, we are typically nice people. Have fun and get ready to ride a lifelong roller coaster of highs and lows.

Physique 57 Bangkok has branches in Chidlom, Sukhumvit and Sathorn. 
www.physique57bangkok.com

 


Teresa “Yves” Sihanatkathakul

With a background in boutique spas and beach resorts, Yves founded Beatroot yoga studio in 2015. 

 

Credit: www.facebook.com/beatroothome 

 

Describe Beatroot. 
Beatroot is a mini hideaway for weary minds and souls to come and recharge with yoga, massage and cold-pressed juices, smoothies, and tea in our green gathering space. 

Why did you decide that’s what Bangkok needed?
I was looking for a low-key place to get fit, chill and recharge but I couldn’t find one, so I opened Beatroot for myself and others who felt the same.

How has the fitness industry evolved since you launched?
A lot of boutique fitness studios have opened up since we launched, each offering interesting ways to stay fit. It’s now very trendy to take care of yourself and invest in fitness and wellness.

What has been tougher than you expected and what lessons did you learn?
Finding staff with the right energy, style and dedication to creating a recharging experience is hard. I’ve also learned that you cannot expect each instructor to be everything—instead, focus on their individual strength.

What are your predictions for your industry in the next three to five years?
Studios will continue to develop from just offering “exercise classes” to becoming destinations—places where people gather and form a community.

Do you have any advice for budding fitness entrepreneurs?
Understand the experience you want to deliver to your target customer, because you can’t be all things to all people. Know what your goal is and your unique value proposition, and truly live by them.

Beatroot, 1747/9 Chan Kao Rd.

 


Naya Erlich-Adam

After spending 15 years in the restaurant game in Indochina and Myanmar, Naya returned to Bangkok to kickstart its vegan movement by founding vegan eatery Broccoli  Revolution.

Credit: www.facebook.com/broccolirevolution

 

Briefly tell us about Broccoli Revolution.
It’s a socially and environmentally conscious vegan restaurant and cafe in Bangkok with a focus on fun and casual dining.

Why did you decide to open a vegan restaurant?
After experiencing the positive impact a vegan diet had on my mind and body, I wanted to share this with others. Combined with my passion for the restaurant business, opening a vegan restaurant was the obvious option.

Have you witnessed Bangkok’s vegan scene grow since?
The vegan movement has continued to expand with more restaurants, cafes and vegan choices on menus. 

What has been tougher than you expected?
Working abroad brought many big challenges and made me realise that communication is so important. I’ve found it much easier setting up a business in my homeland.

Do you have any advice for budding fitness entrepreneurs?
Create an original concept you believe strongly in. Once you have this, don’t think about it or plan for too long—get your ideas down and start implementing! Don’t be afraid of failure as you can only learn from your mistakes. Be original. Be creative. Be bold. Don’t just follow trends, create them with confidence and passion.

Broccoli Revolution, 899 Sukhumvit Soi 49. 
www.fb.com/broccolirevolution 

 


Vilasa “Fa” Phongsathorn

Fa is the founder of Balls and Juices, which aims to bust the myth that healthy, plant-based food has to be tasteless or boring with their homemade raw, vegan, nutrient-rich products.

 

Credit: www.facebook.com/ballsandjuicesbkk

Why did you decide Bangkok needed your business idea?
What was once a hobby, making raw snacks for family and friends, then progressed to selling at the Bangkok Farmers’ Market. At first, few people understood what energy balls were and the high calorie count was a barrier to overcome, but since the health industry in Thailand has begun to pick up, our business has grown.

What has been tougher than you expected? 
As a very small home-based business, ensuring that our production capacity can keep up with growing demand is definitely a challenge. 

How are Thais' attitudes towards health and fitness changing?
I think celebrity and “influencer” endorsements for the health/fitness industry have had a tremendously positive impact on people's attitudes toward health.

Do you have any advice for budding fitness entrepreneurs?
In order to form a genuine business-customer relationship in a very competitive industry, you need to be true to your customers by ensuring the high quality of your products and services.

www.fb.com/ballsandjuicesbkk

 


 

Akkharaphol ‘Ote’ Chabchitrchaidol

Ote is the CEO and founder of FitFest, an online platform and series of year-round fitness events. Ote works alongside Woody Milintachinda on projects like S2O to combine the fun and scale of music festivals with health and fitness.


Credit: www.fb.com/FITFESTASIA


Tell us about some of the highs of running a business
Many people share with us the changes they have made after viewing our content or experiencing our events—these results make it all worthwhile.

What are your predictions for Thailand’s wellness industry over the next few years?
I think Thais are just getting used to the idea of spending money to take care of their health through a healthy lifestyle—it’s tough to change the mindset that staying healthy is a luxury rather than an investment, as healthcare has always been at hospitals after people get sick.
 

Do you have any advice for budding fitness entrepreneurs?
If you’re trying to get rich, you’re in the wrong industry! Do it because you derive some greater enjoyment from it. When you introduce something to the market, make sure it’s something that will really benefit consumers. Also, try to localize your offering a little and tailor it to the Thai market.

www.fitfest.asia

 


About the author: Jack Thomas is the founder and CEO of BASE, voted Asia’s Gym of the Year in the Fitness Best Awards 2018.