*Declan Ensko and Conor Mullen.
HUSTLE FITNESS continues to grow from strength to strength with the opening of a new Shannon facility now bringing their lean operation to a wider base.
Founded six years ago, Hustle Fitness now have commercial gyms in Ennis, Galway and Shannon and has a reputation as an industry leader in the West of Ireland.
It started in 2017 with Ennis, the Galway gym opened in June 2021 and on October 9th 2023 the doors of the Shannon facility in the Western Business Park right at the entrance to the Industrial Estate officially opened.
In 2017 the vision for Hustle was clear in the eyes of owner Conor Mullen. “We thought Ennis deserved a really top-class facility but at affordable prices, I always thought there was a gap in the market in Ennis, six years ago we took a punt and since then thank God we’ve gone from strength to strength and the Clare people have backed us, we’ve managed to reinvest in the facility so it has definitely improved year on year and thankfully we’ve been in a position where we’ve been able to grow the group, we expanded to Galway two and a half to three years ago so luckily enough we’ve opened in Shannon”.
Opening in Shannon was always part of the plan. Attempts were made in 2019 but the premises they had eyed up were bought by NAMA. Then the focus shifted to Galway. “I work daily in Galway so I felt if we could replicate the Ennis model in Galway that we could do quite well, luckily enough we’ve managed to do that and we’ve a strong gym there. Shannon was always on our radar, particularly because the Ennis gym is so busy now, we’ve a lot of people in Newmarket-on-Fergus, Quin and Shannon travelling into Ennis, Shannon is such a budding place from a work perspective and we’ve a lot of members who are working in Shannon.
“We like to say Ennis is a decent facility but it is a busy facility, we thought by opening a top-class facility in Shannon that we could cater to the people of Shannon but also to our current members with a dual-membership, it is a double-barrel attack so to speak so luckily enough we’ve managed to get a facility at the entrance to the Industrial Estate. It has taken about six months, we got planning granted and Clare County Council were great to deal with, luckily enough we’ve done a fantastic build and managed to get the doors open,” Mullen continued.
Across the three facilities, Hustle Fitness employs 18 people. Conor admitted that the drive of their tertiary manager, Ennis native Declan Ensko is one of the main reasons the Shannon facility has come into being. “You’re only as good as your people in business and business is incredibly hard at the moment to keep the wolf from the door and make sure you run things successfully so you are only as good as who you have got, I reached out to Deck who has been with us since day one as the manager in Ennis since we opened, he is an unbelievable manager, a brilliant people person and he is loved by everyone. I asked if he fancied going again with another greenfield site because it is very hard to open a business from scratch, he jumped at the opportunity and once I knew I had him down there it instilled a lot of confidence in me because you can throw the keys at Deck and he will manage absolutely every aspect, he is such a good people person and brilliant to go into businesses and be very genuine, people gravitate towards him and a lot of the reason why we’ve got Hustle Fitness Shannon is because I knew Deck would go down there and be there ninety percent of the time. Similarly the manager in Galway, Dhani Maguire is a brilliant bloke and he helped massively with the creation in Shannon with regards the build, design and every aspect so with Dhani and Deck we’ve really good people, we’ve managed to get the blueprint together and thankfully Deck is in the trenches on a daily basis, we’re open three weeks now and over the 100 member mark and it is growing on a daily basis so touch wood it will keep growing”.
Boosting this is his belief that they have “hired brilliantly” in Shannon with Ensko joined by Danah King, Jules Sanz, Emily Barry and Sinead Hogan. He also acknowledged the input of Joe Delaney of APD Engineering “who was outstanding with the build”, Apollo Fitness for providing their equipment over the past six years. A special word of praise is reserved for Conor’s wife, Rachel, “my wife has been absolutely brilliant, when you’re gone 24/7 you need the support in the background to do these things”.
Between Ennis and Galway, Hustle has a further 2,000 members. “We do specialise in one to one personal training, that is what we’ve always hung our hat on, the biggest thing for us is we want to give really good value and we don’t want to rob anyone, other gyms will charge from €50 to €70 for a PT whereas ours is a lot more cost affordable and ballpark it is approximately €25 so we’ve got brilliant, really knowledgeable and genuine staff who care but it is cost effective too which has always been our model from day one, to get a top class facility at affordable prices for everyone, that has always been the ethos and we’ve managed to keep it going. In Ennis, we’ve over 1,000 members, the classes facility on the Quin Rd is busy and in fairness we’ve members six years who have stayed with us all along, we do HIIT, spin and endurance out there and it is very solid thank God”.
Key to retaining their large base of members and continually adding fresh clients is their continued reinvestment in their existing equipment and gyms. “Our accountants go absolutely crazy! When we have a relatively good period we’ve just reinvested and we’ve done that since day one, even in Ennis over the past six months we’ve put six figures back into the gym, people often say there is no need to do that but the moment you rest on your laurels or the moment you don’t reinvest, every time someone renews their membership we really appreciate it and a token of our appreciation is us making sure our facility is absolutely top class and even before we opened in Shannon we had a massive revamp in Ennis, we brought in all new treadmills and dumbbells, ten plate-loaded machines, we wanted to make sure you couldn’t say there is anything in Shannon that is not in Ennis. If we do relatively well and thank God we have, we will pump it straight back in to the gym for the people which is what Hustle has been known for and always will be”.
A centre-half on the Avenue Utd junior soccer team, Conor is confident the sporting community of Shannon, many of whom he has faced off with on the soccer field will row in behind their new venture. “The biggest thing we wanted to do in Shannon was make sure everything in there was world-class and multiples of it, when you come to the gym you don’t want to be waiting on a machine so can we get multiples of those and make sure it is a really clean, nice environment. When you come into Shannon you have a really good cardio section, the actual gym itself is pin-loaded equipment and then we’ve a separate facility which is 100 yards away for the old-school lifters so to speak”.
He continued, “We’re trying to cater for multiple people, the general consensus if you’re nervous coming into the gym seeing heavy lifters can be off-putting so in Shannon we’ve managed to split that by having two facilities, we’ve the main commercial gym where our showers and reception area which is where the majority of our PTs are done, however we’re looking after athletes and lifters too so you can walk 100 yards away and have your own facility, please God in January we’ll be running classes with spinning and endurance. It is a very good facility, we have invested heavily. I would have played sports against the likes of Shannon Town, Shannon Hibs and Shannon Olympic and you have Wolfe Tones there, they are a really good community with the same feel as Ennis so we didn’t want to go in and do a half-ass job, we’ve gone in and opened what we like to think is a really good facility with really nice staff, hopefully it will be a good asset to the town”.
Costs have spiralled with Mullen noting comparisons between opening in October 2023 compared with the Galway opening two and a half years ago. “The building costs have gone up nearly 100 percent and the cost of gym equipment has gone up to ridiculous money so where a machine might have cost €1500 or €2000 eighteen months ago it is now costing €3000 or €4000 now”.
Affordable prices for members has always been important and particularly so during a cost of living crisis, he said. “When we first opened in 2016 our annual membership was €395, it’s now €450 so it’s €55 of an increase over the course of six years, we really have done our best to make sure we look after our own, we’re a community gym and that gets used a lot but speak to any member in any of the gyms and the one resounding theme is ‘it’s a nice environment and they know the staff’, we genuinely care about our members, we know about their lives, where they work and we do care, that is how we’ve managed to build relationships. Everyone who works for Hustle has to be a genuinely good person, that is the most important thing we look at, can you build relationships, when people come in for PTs or whatever it is the one hour where you need to be a friend, a shrink, a PT and I’m very proud of the staff we have, they are excellent and it has allowed us to grow to three facilities now”.
Describing what the reputation of Hustle Fitness is difficult, the two-time Oscar Traynor winner admitted but in giving it his best shot, he explained, “We are a community gym, we’ve genuine people and genuine staff, I’d like to think that it is a nice environment, there is no egos, we’re not one of these up market gyms, we’re not a lifters club, if you walk around the gym right now we’ve women in their sixties doing a PT session, athletes getting ready for championship at the weekend, normal gym goers so we cater regardless of fitness background we cater for all age groups, all demographics and I’m quite proud of that, you can go in and be a complete beginner and be comfortable, that is what differentiates us from other gyms, the biggest thing is our staff care, they really do and if they don’t they don’t work for the business for too long, thankfully most of our staff are here long-term and we only hire genuine people who give a damn”.
Running a gym in today’s climate is not easy but Conor flagged that they constantly endeavour to pay their staff above industry standard in order to maintain the best coaches and trainers. “A lot of people look at gyms and think they must be millionaires but it is only when you’re in the trenches that you see what it is really like. We’ve six full-time staff in Ennis who have been with us for a long time, I’m proud that the wages and salaries we offer are far higher than industry standard but you need to pay good people because my staff earn every penny, they earn very well but they deserve it. There are gyms closing at a rate of knots at the moment unfortunately across the country because of mismanagement and coming out of COVID we had a brilliant period where no one had gyms and all of a sudden that changed, the economy is changing now and there is a bit of a downturn so 100 percent there is a cost of living crisis. They have to be profitable to continue to grow, luckily enough we have a good model but we work incredibly hard for it, it is not one of these things you can just set up, we’ve set up a facility in Shannon, if we just left it and said people will come we would close quite quickly, you have to be on the ball and we manage the companies quite well. I can’t say we’re making loads of money because we’re not”.
One of the big trends from the pandemic was the rise in home gyms but according to Conor this will never match the environment and buzz from a regular gym. “When we opened Hustle Galway COVID was only six months in and gyms were dead. The Comer Group are our landlord in Galway, I met with them and they said ‘what are you doing opening a gym they won’t open again’ but they take a punt on me. Going back a couple of years we were done and it was a dead industry, if you go on DoneDeal right now you’ll see thousands of home gyms up there, they were great and they served their purpose but the big thing about a gym is the community environment, it is interactions and there is a vibe in a gym which you can’t get in a home gym, there is a place for them and they were prevalent for a long time but since June 2021 when we reopened we’ve had very strong numbers since.
“You’re obviously worried when the market is changing which it did because of COVID, certain industries died a death and luckily we haven’t been one of those, we’re envisaging it is going to be a tough year next year and the National Federations of Gyms are saying that. I know a lot of gym owners, we’re lucky that our model is quite good, we’ve a three pronged attack in terms of memberships, classes and PTs, if you were relying on one revenue stream it would be a tough place to be and we see a lot of gyms downsizing, letting staff go and go down to skeleton staff but we’re the opposite and we’re consistently hiring because we’re busy, it takes good management and we have that in Deck and Dhani”.
Shannon has been a big focus as of late but significant investment, Conor points out that they have not taken the eye of the ball in Ennis and have recently appointed Lahinch’s Sean Rouine to a managerial role. “You can take great solace in the fact that Sean Rouine has stepped up, he is the current manager of Hustle Ennis, Declan is the tertiary manager, Sean has been with us for three or four years, a fantastic PT, he is the most-loved man in Ennistymon and Ennis but a really good people person who is really well helped with the likes of Steven McGann, Marianne Bittencourt and Ultan Sheils, we’ve a super team in Ennis which makes it easier for us to focus on Shannon with a brilliant team in Ennis led by Sean and Stevie”.