Jocette Coote’s friendship with F45 founder Rob Deutsch led to her balancing modelling with motherhood while spearheading two F45 franchises
First, a confession: I dislike gym cardio. And for many reasons – predictable routines, puffed up fitness aficionados grunting loudly and the huge mirrors which remind me of the numerous doughnuts I devoured through the week. So when I marched into boutique gym F45 at Ravenscourt Park for a group HIIT class, I was inundated with excitement as well as a little nervousness. After all, I was going to do the workout regime which prepared Hugh Jackman for becoming Wolverine.
Enter the studio and there are sledgehammers parked on one side while the rest of the space is taken up by rowing machines, stationary bikes, kettlebells, Swiss balls, TRX bands and free weights – just about every toy you can think of employed in an effort to make even the beefiest of gym addicts sore. Packed with more than 20 invigorated exercise enthusiasts, the Angry Bird workout begins.
While I did expect frenetic, high-intensity bouts of blackout-inducing drills, the fast-paced bootcamp-style class didn’t have a single dull moment and had me breaking a sweat for 45 minutes. From the always-evolving list of exercises that make up the various pods including deadlifts, squats and pull-ups to the motivating trainers, this HIIT class is packed with everything you need. And there’s no fear of being abandoned as the coaches also check on every client for the correct form by giving individual attention to all. But what actually set this gym apart is the clever use of wall-mounted monitors that guide you through every session. Clearly, this isn’t the traditional bootcamp class I anticipated it to be.
All of this is to say that this intense 45 minutes of interval training puts your fitness to the test. I’m not sure if I passed it but I finished on my feet. Well, barely. As I gather strength to get up after the class, I’m greeted by model-turned-entrepreneur Jocette Coote who looks the picture of health. She is the franchisee for this site as well as the F45 in Farringdon.
Coote who regularly joins the class couldn’t do so this time as she’s busy enrolling and explaining the eight-week challenge which has just commenced to potential clients. This is proof the passion she harbours for the franchise as well as fitness goes beyond making money and she aims to encourage more people to work out. Her main goal as an F45 franchisee is to “change attitudes of people who have gym memberships but don’t use it.” And she believes keeping a tab on clients by making regular calls is one way to get them to be more frequent. “I don’t know why the fitness industry is letting these people slip through their fingers – we should be making people fit but instead companies aren’t following up [to] make sure they’re happy,” she argues. Additionally, classes must cater to various kinds of bodies and not just those wanting to get ripped. “A lot of women have avoided going to the gyms for a long time because they feel it’s going to be mostly muscly people but we’re not like that,” she states.
Furthermore, she’s determined to play her part in solving the ubiquitous obesity crisis through the F45 franchise. “This is a fitness club where we’re educating people about how to eat well, how to exercise, how to sleep, how much water to drink,” Coote declares. “People go on diet plans but they get bored and then go back to their old way of life which is why it never really works. And that’s why the obesity crisis hasn’t really been tackled because of these quick fix solutions.”
Coote wasn’t always this passionate about fitness and health. Her education was in classical arts and she played for an orchestra in Australia. She then got an opportunity to try her hand at modelling and never looked back. And for good reason as it entailed better finances and an immense amount of globetrotting. More than two decades of modelling also instilled the love for fitness she has today. “From diet to sleeping patterns to emotions, a model must be made of steel as fitness levels and stamina must be at elite levels at all times,” she recalls. “There’s nothing worse than – if you’ve ever been in a casting – to stand up in a line of 30 women in a G-string and a bra and you have to turn around and you’re all compared. I don’t think they would do castings like that these days that they used to do to us but that was a motivating factor initially. Now it’s about supporting my children and just being healthy for my kids.”
While Coote was always lean during her modelling days, she realised how different it is to actually being healthy. “I never really understood fitness, I just knew how to fit a certain dress size but that’s very different to actually being fit,” she says. “A lot of models didn’t last in the industry because they probably didn’t eat enough food. If you don’t eat enough food, your skin doesn’t look good and depression comes along. If you’re not looking after all the mechanisms in your body, there’s all sorts of horrible after effects.” But Coote continues to model even today. “I think that’s got a lot to do with the exercises that we do here,” she says adding that it’s her mission to educate more women about “being strong, not skinny.” “And teaching women how to get the body they want the right way and not the wrong way. The wrong way would be to be thin and boney and you wouldn’t be strong.”
Despite her passion for improving people’s health, she wasn’t looking to head a gym franchise. In fact, when her close friend and the godfather to her children, Rob Deutsch, told her of his ambition to launch F45 in Australia, she didn’t think it was the best idea. “We actually all laughed at him that he was giving up banking, giving up his life here [in the UK] to go back to Australia,” she remembers. But after meeting his co-founder Luke Istomin, coupled with his passion for fitness, he saw a spike in his franchise and “F45 opened quicker than the McDonald’s in Australia.” And since its launch, Coote has seen the brand make all kinds of gains.
It was Deutsch who planted the idea when he asked Coote to become a franchisee. “I can’t remember the first time he asked us to but we always had this thing of ‘Don’t be silly,’” she says. After giving it a little thought, she was convinced to give it a go. “I asked him the question ‘Who has failed in Australia?’ and he said there was only one gym out of 450 that failed and that’s the first bell that rang in my head,” she continues. “I thought, ‘Okay, that’s interesting, that’s doable.” And then Coote launched the F45 in Farringdon in 2017 which was also the second F45 studio to open in London and in that first week itself had more than 250 people walk through the door. “It’s absolutely exploded and we couldn’t be happier to be honest,” she adds. She then opened the F45 in Ravenscourt Park a year later. She didn’t look for any other gym franchise. “It wasn’t about the gym,” she says. “It’s about friendship I guess. And it’s about just seeing a franchise in its infancy grow.”
As Coote embarked on her entrepreneurial journey, she faced a few challenges before establishing her sites. “So we had a bit of an uphill battle to try and explain to people what F45 was, why you should exercise, what HIIT training is, what this EPOC theory is,” she says, which she did along with managing her children. “It was having a baby on one hip and cooking the meal and talking to someone about why this was going to work.”
Having kids at the same time as launching the franchise meant Coote couldn’t go to the F45 headquarters for the franchisee training. “I had children so I actually didn’t get to do the induction but as I have a special relationship with the company, I guess I got the one-on-one training rather than the group training,” she says. However, she found the franchise model to be incredibly simple to operate. “You turn the TVs on and you have the exercises all figured out for you, we have personal trainers that we hire, we train them up to deliver the best personal training that they can,” she says. “It was pretty straightforward to be honest.”
While the franchisee was content with the operation, Coote faced challenges with marketing as she was one of the first franchisees in the UK and establishing an international brand like F45 wasn’t easy. This meant the material was less suited for British clientele. “They had all of their marketing for Australians, so all materials had Australian accents and Australian celebrities which didn’t really interpret very well for this market at all initially,” she remembers, noting that she had to use her own content. “I’m going to get in trouble for saying this but we just had to use our own marketing plans but we weren’t supposed to. All of that’s changed now but that was a struggle in the beginning.” Even the language used to promote the brand had to be altered. “So we used to be quite structured where you could only use these people and buzzwords but now they realise that because we’re becoming so global, every single market has a different requirement [and] different fitness words they want to use,” she continues.
Coote continues to create marketing campaigns today, especially on social media to attract future customers. Given how well-populated her territories in London are, she mainly relies on word of mouth. “Social media still plays a big part in the fitness industry but the main thing is 100% the experience when clients come in here,” she states. “[If] they have a good experience, they get their body transformation, they’re happy [then] they talk to their work colleagues, family and friends [and] they bring people in. The word of mouth is grossly underestimated.”
Another challenge Coote faced in the UK was finding the right sites which fit the requirements of the franchisor. “That’s another problem we face in the UK with finding big enough sites with the correct zoning,” she says. “You don’t want to be sharing the wall with residents because gyms can make quite a lot of noise. You’ve got to find a certain square meterage, the right conditions, the right kind of neighbours and then you have to find the right demographic in the area as well. It’s a lot of things like this that can make or break you.” Given how tough it is to find sites in Blighty and then maintain them with sky-rocketing rent prices, the class fee is slightly higher than what it is in Australia.
Despite these challenges, Coote is determined to take the brand to new heights in the UK. With two sites already, Coote has one more in the pipeline which will be opening soon. “I just wanted to have one for each child,” she says. “I have thought of the area but cannot say. We’ve sort of tentatively put money into the business structure but not into the actual physical building.”
Coote notes that one of the main reasons F45 is gaining serious mass is the group classes it offers and believes people today undoubtedly prefer these classes as opposed to a solo gym session. “We’ve had a lot of people join because they’re lonely, so it’s a great place to meet people now,” she says. “It’s people trading out their pub lives and coming into the gym and sitting around and talking with people. The team training environment is extremely motivational.”
Apart from making the environment in the studio more encouraging, Coote wants to change the way people perceive fitness and the words associated with it as well. “Why does the fitness industry use these big hardcore words like ‘Gonna kill you, it’s going to be tough murder’ – all of these really hardcore words are alienating a lot of the market,” she says. “I want to get the 65-year-olds in here. I do have a handful of older people and they didn’t want to hear words like that. It’s these things, words the fitness industry [has] planted in our heads, when [the] fitness journey shouldn’t really be this hard.”
Coote indeed has healthy living and fitness in her core and that’s for inspiring her children. “I had children late, I had children in my forties, which is what a lot of people do now,” she says. “But in doing that, you’re robbing some years away from the time you have with your children, so you owe it to them to be as fit and healthy and try and live as [long] as you possibly can. And fitness is a way to do that.” She also hopes to play tennis with her toddlers when they get to their twenties and looking at her F45 gym routine, there’s no doubt about it.
Given that the brand has recently got a cash injection from Mark Wahlberg who hailed F45 as “the future of fitness,” it doesn’t take an expert to see how the firm is only set to scale further. And Coote is ambitious to ensure she gets more Britons to work out. “Watching people’s faces light up when they hit their personal best, that’s truly inspirational – it’s a wonderful feeling,” she concludes.