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‘When we opened in Zuidas 11 years ago, people said we were crazy’ - Marjolijn Meijer, founder of Clubsportive

In 2005, Marjolijn Meijer and her husband Han Doorenbosch celebrated the grand opening of Clubsportive in Zuidas. 'It's hard to imagine these days, but back then this was all pasture', Marjolijn recalls. 'Everyone said we were crazy, but I had a good feeling about this location.' That feeling proved to be spot-on. Today, 11 years later, she's putting the nishing touches on Clubsportive Premium. It's set to be the ultimate tness club, spanning more than 2,500 m2 in the former convention centre on Gustav Mahlerlaan.

Was Clubsportive an instant success 11 years ago?

'Not at all. For the rst year and half we were posting losses and things were really tough. Now the situation has changed and the neighbourhood is booming. The reason we have a location here in the heart of Zuidas is all owed to our willingness to take a gamble. Doing business is about having the courage to fail. My golden rule is: if you're afraid to lose, you're certain to lose. My gut instinct proved right, because now Clubsportive is bursting at the seams.'

Time for an expansion, in other words?

'When we were approached about this project, my husband Han and I agreed that for one more time we'd pull out all the stops. The ultimate gym experience, that's what we are aiming for; the mecca of fitness. Straight away I realized we'd need a swimming pool, and not just one for show, but a full 25-metre pool. We don't want to make any concessions. Every detail has to be perfect. This club is going to set a new standard. It will be both urban and luxurious. For example, we're installing a 100 private lockers. That means that every client will have his/her own locker, where they can leave their sports clothes after working out, which we will return freshly laundered and pressed the next day. On top of that, they can choose their own fragrance by Zenology, wrapped in a nice leather sachet.

It doesn't sound like your run-of-the mill Dutch gym.

'True. Zuidas is the only place in the country where this concept could work. This location has this cosmopolitan feel, with people from big cities from all over the world working and living here. Walking around Zuidas, I get a real Manhattan vibe. Professionals in Zuidas are working at the top of their game, and they bring that same mentality to physical tness. They have so much drive and ambition. Our goal is to make their lives easier in any way we can. This new club has been inspired by our travels around the globe, from New York to Brazil. Everything, from the lighting to the changing rooms, has a story behind it.'

You used to work in education. How did you end up in the Fitness world?

'Han and I moved from Brabant to Amsterdam. For a while we lived in anti-squat housing, which was a blast. I was working as a teacher in special education and Han was a PE teacher. He also used to play competitive ice hockey and box at a high level. When we discovered the All Sports gym in Amstelveen, we were hugely impressed. It was big and modern and way ahead of its time. One day, Han turned to me and said, 'I want to start a gym'. We grabbed a phone book and rang up a gym that was for sale in Hilversum. That became our rst Clubsportive. Things developed from there, and soon we opened a second location in Amsterdam.

What was the secret to Clubsportive's success?

'We brought a different approach to everything we did. Even in the early days we travelled a great deal and brought all kinds of international in uences back with us. We loved the big city lifestyle, for example, and injected that into our tness clubs. When we had four clubs in Amsterdam we invested in things like self-defence for gay men and kama sutra yoga. In that respect, we've always pushed the envelope. The same thing goes for marketing. We asked our most distinctive members to model for our campaigns. Photography is a big thing for me. It's what draws me to other brands as well, because it communicates who you are.' The photos for our new campaign are shot in the atrium of our new club by Petrosky and Ramone, two renowned photographers who also do campaigns for premium brands such as Nike and who also earned their spurs in artistic photography.'

Only nowadays there's only one Clubsportive left. Why is that?

'At a certain point there was a glut of budget tness clubs like Fit For Free and Basic Fit, and our pro t model was no match for that kind of competition. It was no picnic, but in the end we came through. In 2011 we got a very good offer and sold four of

our locations. Five other locations were renovated to t our new concept, TrainMore, where you pay less the more often you work out. We hope this will give people an incentive to get more exercise. We've now already got eight TrainMore clubs across the country. For our one remaining Clubsportive in Zuidas we've decided to go a totally different route. Here, it's all about the ultimate tness experience. And that's a perfect t for Zuidas.'

What's your view on the growth of budget tness clubs like Fit For Free and Basic Fit?

'They're tough competition, for sure, but really I'm proud of what they've accomplished. Bear in mind that gym memberships used to be out of reach for a lot of people. Fit For Free and Basic Fit have opened up the market and made tness accessible to everyone. The key thing in this sector is to de ne and project a clear image. Otherwise, it's game over.'

What's it like to run a business with your husband?

'Han and I make a good team. He's the strategic thinker and good at plotting a course. I'm the soft, creative one, always bursting with ideas. We complement each other and that makes the perfect match. When you're partners in both love and business, it's important to keep work separate from your relationship. Obviously, we both make mistakes sometimes, but you have to be able to criticize each other without taking it personally. That's the only way to carry your business to a higher level.'

Have you got any tips for other entrepreneurs?

'Nurture the child in yourself. You'll be able to look at things with a much more open mind, instead of just seeing limitations. My own kids come up with the most brilliant solutions; it's incredible - things so simple they just never occur to me. So my tip would be to listen to your inner child every now and then!'

How do you practise what you preach?

'I'm a big fan of change. That's one thing I love about our economy: something that's hot one day may be old news the next.
You can't just stick with what works; you have to roll with the
punches, and that suits me ne. If I had to pack up and move to another country tomorrow, I wouldn't think twice. I'm not afraid to dive into the deep end. Naturally you've got a major responsibility towards the people working for you, and I take that very seriously. By continuing to educate myself, for example. At the moment I'm nishing up a master's degree in Culture and Change, which is all about understanding organizational culture, change and dynamics.'

Are you planning to open any more Clubsportive Premium locations?

'No, Zuidas is it. This is really our baby and we want to concen- trate on honing the concept on this location to perfection. Recently I attended a lecture by Bo Burlingham, the author
of Small Giants, about companies that focus on being great instead of being big. I see Clubsportive as a 'small giant' too. We want to be the very best at what we do by being 100% focused on quality. That said, running a gym in New York City would be awesome...'