By Agnes E. Nantaba
Mildred Apenyo, the CEO of Fit Clique Africa, a fitness centre for women, spoke to Agnes E. Nantaba about their operations.
What are the key elements in your management style as a manager?
My role is to manage a team that aims to create a society where all women are happy, healthy, confident and capable of defending themselves physically and psychologically. I try not to hold all the power and responsibility because it works so much better working with people who own the programmes. I also handle business development and bring on board more business opportunities for different programmes. I do value open communication both at work and at a personal level. I am trying to move away from the hierarchy model to a more open model where every staff member feels valued in the organization, which is really the best motivation. All they need to do is to let me know where they need my help otherwise I am in charge of the bigger picture. In case of any failures, I watch them crawl and get back on their feet such that the same problem or challenge doesn’t come their way again.
What is your assessment of the fitness industry in Uganda?
It’s very interesting seeing that many brands target corporate people between 23 – 35 years. It is promising as the corporate class are also noticing that it is not only about fancy cars, fine clothes and comfortable houses but that body wellness and fitness also matters. People are bending their thinking towards their health and moving away from the street talk of thinness as an indication of fitness and relating unfitness to being fat. Fitness is at five different levels including perseverance, cardiovascular strength, flexibility and body strength. People especially women are beginning to understand it more.
How did the idea of Fit Clique as the first and only women’s gym in Uganda start?
I didn’t know how far it would take me. My only intention was to have a space for women from where they could work out, get stronger, love their bodies and share with others. Our research revealed that many women felt anxious about joining gyms because of unsavoury experiences such as unsolicited/offensive attention from some male patrons.
How has the idea been perceived over the last two years and what has been the impact?
Our target market comprises corporate women between 18 – 55 years who can afford to pay at least Shs 10,000 per class.
What are some of the key challenges associated with managing a female-only Gym?
When you have a new challenge or opportunity, the turn up is usually very big at the start and after sometime the excitement is gone so the challenge is building loyal customers. There is a culture amongst Ugandans to rush to new things and after a short time, abandon them. We have really relied on the good experience to make people stay and in the due course we have developed a loyal clientele although it took us some time.
In 2014, you were one of the 28 Ugandans chosen for President Obama’s Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) 2014. Of what impact was the initiative to your work?
When I begun Fit Clique Africa, I didn’t know much about business so I went into business without an entrepreneurship background applying for the fellowship is something I can’t regret. It offered me wealth of knowledge on business management. That mentorship and counseling re-calibrated. I am glad I have made the best out of it. It is largely such training that has kept us going and growing to greater heights.
What is your projection of the fitness industry in Uganda in the next few years?
In the next nine years, I would really love the personal safety programme to be at as many universities in Sub-Saharan Africa as possible. It is at the university where women or young girls have found new freedom but it also comes with many challenges like starting relationships, experimenting things and in the end if not well managed, other people just take advantage of them. So the programme comes in to help them to be conscious about their decisions and that they are strong with the safety programmes. We are trying to work with many universities starting with five in Uganda where we shall hold free safety camps and may be next year, we can roll out the programme in Kenya and beyond. We also hope to extend the services to the spaces of women who cannot afford up to Shs 10,000 such that we can have the service delivered to them.