Ben Dunne to expand his fitness clubs chain


WE MIGHT be in the midst of the worst recession in living memory but fitness king Ben Dunne insists his chain of fitness centres is in good shape and he plans to press ahead with plans for a new club in Glasthule near Dún Laoghaire.

“We have made all the cutbacks in the business that we think are necessary,” he told me, adding that the gyms are “full of life” each day.

Wages have been cut by between 3 per cent and 15 per cent and working hours trimmed, although the company will pay bonuses due for the current financial year, which ends on May 31st.

“That’s a good sign,” Dunne said.

Former supermarket supremo Dunne and his son Mark run three large fitness centres in Dublin – at Westpoint in Blanchardstown, Carlisle in Kimmage and Northwood in Santry.

Accounts just filed show that Barkisland (Developments) Ltd, the holding company for Dunne’s fitness chain, increased its accumulated profits by a healthy 33 per cent in the 12 months to the end of May 2008.

Westpoint’s accumulated profits rose to €264,623 from €141,888 a year earlier.

At Carlisle, after-tax profits more than doubled to €220,928 in spite of its operating profit dipping slightly. That gave it retained profits of €316,923.

Carlisle paid €1.5 million to Barkisland last year as a management charge.

No up-to-date accounts are available yet for Northwood, which was loss making in 2007.

“Profits will be up to the end of May ,” Dunne said. “Turnover is down, but then so are overheads. We had to drop our rates.”

His plans to build a fourth gym in Dún Laoghaire are subject to planning approval being granted. If it gets the nod, Dunne said the facility would open towards the end of 2010.

It will cost €10 to 12 million and employ about 18 full-time staff. “If we get planning permission we will go ahead and build it,” he said.

Plans to open a fitness centre in Carlow, however, have been binned.

“We saw there was a change in the economy and we decided we’d stick to Dublin.”

His plan to open a gym in the posh London suburb of Wimbledon have also hit the buffers. “The planners won’t allow us to put a gym or a cemetery in it, so we’ll have to look at something else.”

Dunne said he paid about £3 million for the 20 acres in SW19 around four years ago, somewhat more than it’s worth now.

“The Lord has stopped making new land, so even in hard times it can’t be a bad deal.”