Ben Dunne: Retail rents to slump

Ben Dunne says “business is booming” at his gyms, but he is putting on hold further expansion plans, as he believes expensive retail rents will slump in the next 18 months.

In an interview, he said he sold €600,000 in supplements last year through vending machines at his gyms.

“Business is booming. We are trading extremely well at the moment”, with overall sales reaching almost €11m last year, he said.

The gyms posted an operating profit of €3.7m last year, he said.

He confirmed, however, he had sold three gyms in the UK after deciding it would be difficult to make a breakthrough into the big time in Britain.

“We were never going to play in the First Division over there. We were always going to be a small player. If you were not going to play at the top-class level in the UK, you are as well off out of it,” he said, claiming he had broken even on the exit deal.

The vending machines selling supplements and energy drinks at his gyms in Ireland made €600,000 in sales last year.

Mr Dunne has established a company that sells the supplements, Ben Dunne Supplements Ltd.

“The vending business is growing like mad. On last year’s turnover of €600,000, we made €60,000 to €70,000 in operating profits.

“It is in its infancy. It is going to expand and be a big, big thing and we hope to grow it into a €1.5m-a-year business and account for 8% of turnover.”

Mr Dunne confirmed he will open two new gyms, at Limerick and Portlaoise, this year, but is holding off on further expansion plans, because he thinks rents are too high.

“A lot of people don’t realise what is happening in retail and there is going to be so much vacant space in retail parks within 18 months that you will be able to pick up space for practically nothing.

“We could expand very quickly at the moment, but I would be paying a premium on rents that are going to drop very quickly, because of what is happening in retail,” he said.

“It is a waiting game” and “there are plenty of offers around, but the prices are not the right price for us,” said Mr Dunne.

He said his gyms have 49,000 members.

He said: “We are getting over 3m visits a year or around 60,000 visits a week.”

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