Opening at the turn of the millennium, The Third Space gym in London’s Soho was at the leading edge of the generational shift from hedonism to health. When work-hard, play-hard media types and reformed Britpoppers said they were going to “the club”, they no longer automatically meant The Groucho. With its glass floor and live DJs, the Third Space was one of the first to identify and fill the premium gym gap. Hitherto a necessary, utilitarian evil, they could be pleasurable rather than merely functional – and even a lifestyle choice.
“At the time, most of the gym operators had more similarities than differences, “ says new Third Space CEO Colin Waggett. “Even in terms of price, the bottom end was £30 a month and the top end was maybe £70. Whereas now, you can go from £14 to £300.” Colin’s own career trajectory mirrors the trendifying of the wider industry: between 2004 and 2012 he was CEO of mainstream chain Fitness First, but left to co-found hip boutique spin studio Psycle. As of April 2015, he’s been charged with building The Third Space brand, which has set its sights on dominating the luxury exercise sphere like a grunting, musclebound guy in the free weights area.
“With its glass floor and live DJs, the Third Space was one of the first to identify and fill the premium gym gap”
“This is where the opportunities are,” Colin tells Amuse. “There are still a lot of unmet expectations for fitness-savvy but fashion-conscious people who want a good training session, but also want to go to a nice place.” In order to fulfil those, The Third Space has taken the Reebok Sports Club in Canary Wharf and 37 Degrees in Tower Bridge under its revamped umbrella brand. A cavernous space with serious wow factor, the latter has undergone a total body transformation: the work-in-progress after-picture looks more like an Ace Hotel or Soho House, all brushed concrete and copper piping. (The changing rooms—spread over two floors—would make some five-star establishments blush.)
It’s a trick that Colin picked up at Psycle. “All of our design references were from hotels, bars and restaurants, not the fitness industry,” he says. “I wanted a completely fresh approach. If you want to be different, you’ve got to do things differently.” The hotel or member’s club comparison is apt, not just aesthetically: the original concept of The Third Space was somewhere to spend time other than work and home, where—as at Tower Bridge—you can hang out in the lobby, supping a smoothie from the protein shake bar as you upload a suitably smug post-workout selfie.
“All of our design references were from hotels, bars and restaurants, not the fitness industry”
In fact Colin has seen a concomitant rise in members coming in at weekends, even in Soho. But other things have changed since the iconic original. As well as modern branding and interior design, the Tower Bridge branch features notably fewer pec decks and treadmills, replaced by up-to-the-minute amenities like sprint tracks and sleds, plus dedicated spin and hot yoga studios.
But Soho is moving with the times too. “If you were to look at where the space allocation was a year ago to where it will be in April, there will be a dramatic reduction in pin-loaded and cardio machines, and an increase in free weights, functional training and studios,” he says. “Gradually you’ll also see a slight shift in the aesthetic of Soho to bring it in line with the vibe at Tower Bridge. But the fabric of it has aged very well: elements like the glass floor and the dojo don’t look dated.” Unlike some of those Britpoppers.
That’s the thing with fitness: once you’re in good shape, you have to maintain it. But while an Islington outpost is in the copper pipeline (there’s also one in Marylebone), Colin is more concerned with remaining lean and agile rather than getting big and bulky. “We’re not on a mission to have 50 clubs,” he says. “We’re on a mission to have all of our clubs be really good.”