How boxing clever during COVID-19 lockdown helped Dubai gym emerge fighting fit

How boxing clever during COVID-19 lockdown helped Dubai gym emerge fighting fit
Real Boxing Only gym has rebounded from the COVID-19 disruptions thanks in large to a loyal customer base. (RBO)
Short Url
Updated 27 July 2021

How boxing clever during COVID-19 lockdown helped Dubai gym emerge fighting fit

How boxing clever during COVID-19 lockdown helped Dubai gym emerge fighting fit
  • Founder of dedicated Real Boxing Only turns to franchising as city residents fuel expansion plans

RIYADH: One year ago, the idea would have been unthinkable: Michelle Kuehn, founder of Dubai’s Real Boxing Only (RBO), in her Al-Quoz office fielding questions about franchising the gym dedicated solely to the noble art.

That she can even talk about it after the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic nearly devastated the business she started in 2018 is a testament to the resilience of her and her staff. And, above all, people’s desire to re-embrace exercise, and embrace boxing, during a year like no other.

For Kuehn, the response after the lockdown was lifted and many restrictions eased would eventually exceed all expectations, but for business owners such as her, it was a situation they had never experienced before.

She said: “I wouldn’t say it was back to normal at all, especially in June 2020. Although we were allowed 50 percent capacity, we were probably only running at 30 percent. We found that a lot of people, although keen to go out, were afraid to go to the gym, being around others was definitely at the back of their minds.”

At first, the customers came back slowly, dipping their toes into uncharted waters, but their welcome return would not be, on its own, enough to ameliorate the financial hit that RBO had taken.

“The good news is we have a lot of loyal customers, so they were here first day, ready with their masks on. We had a lot of restrictions, so we had to redo the entire gym to make everything two meters apart which meant taking out boxing bags, moving treadmills. Class capacity was so small. By the end of June, I almost considered closing because we weren’t going to make it if we continued like that,” Kuehn added.

Real Boxing Only has seen an increase in new memberships in 2021. (RBO)

“Then I decided that was just not going to happen. So, we worked really hard from July to September, and in October I had a consultant come in and talk about the best ways to approach growth at a time that you can’t really grow because you can’t have that many people in your gym.

“So, I doubled down on classes. Instead of having one at 6.30, one at 7.30, I’d run three at 6.30. They were spaced out, smaller classes but at least I was running the same amount of people in the gym as I would have in one class normally before.”

With many customers losing their jobs or put on unpaid leave, and others facing uncertain futures, RBO had frozen memberships during lockdown and into July 2020. To attract new members, Kuehn’s team went on what she called a “discount spree.”

She said: “The only thing I could do was focus on new business, so I did a sales and marketing drive with my team, and we focused on just getting new business in. Luckily by September you could see people were happy to be out again, and they were feeling more confident because by October, November we broke records. That continued all the way into the new year, that’s when I decided to look at an extension.”

Kuehn noted that people had flocked back to the gym for health reasons.

“I definitely think health was on top of their minds and doing something fun. Having been stuck in the house for five months, no one wanted to feel overweight and just start jogging again. Boxing’s fun, everything about training here is fun. But it’s high fitness, these people were sweating off weight and they were feeling fitter than they ever felt. And that in itself is addictive, they were telling their friends and I had so many referrals coming in.”

Getting people to pay, or commit to long-term memberships, remained a challenge.

The new extension at Real Boxing Only gym. (RBO)

“We had to be serious and hit numbers. I also trained the other side of the team, the ones that interact with clients. I wrote all the class programs, I worked with coaches to make sure that there was some consistency, uniformity and when people came, they were spoken to well, they were treated well, there was no judgement. The coaches were encouraging and some of the best coaches in the city work here, they’re boxers that we brought from around the world,” she added.

Redeveloping the business in the circumstances reignited Kuehn’s interest in growing RBO, though eventually not in the way she had initially intended.

“Expanding was something I was looking at in 2019, toward the end of the year, I was starting to consider options for expanding. We get a lot of questions from Abu Dhabi, from Deira, asking if we have branches, all over the Emirates really. But I wasn’t convinced on whether to expand or franchise.

“I was leaning toward expanding but then when we were shut down during COVID, I realized the risk I was at. If I had five gyms like this, I would have closed probably four because the overheads would have been too much for one company to support. So, that kind of answered my question.”

Having decided that franchising was lower risk than expanding, Kuehn and her team had to make sure that the business could be duplicated, with new staff trained to ensure the same quality of service would be on offer.

It was, ironically, the original RBO’s expansion into an abandoned warehouse next door that helped solidify the franchise model.

“We set a target for March 1, for how many members I needed to have to be able to afford the new extension, and we hit that by January,” she said.

“I had to rush into the new extension which is 4,000 square feet. We went from 6,000 to 10,000. In the last 12 months we’ve grown 206 percent. With growth come larger challenges; now I have a much bigger team, a lot more clients, a lot more expectations to uphold, which has helped me write my franchise model.

“Every mistake we make, I change it, and I write that into the franchise model. For the last 12 months I’ve been creating the operating manual for my franchise, everything is systemized.”

With extra space, the number of classes doubled to 360 a month; higher staff salaries had to be met while ensuring RBO still had some of the most competitive rates in the city.

With business considerably more secure than a year ago, Kuehn is now in a position to negotiate her first franchise of RBO.

“Abu Dhabi will have one, but not until next year, and then I would consider a second, smaller franchise in the UAE, maybe in Dubai as well,” she added.

“And the UK next year is my target. Should the UAE and the UK go well, you want the franchise to sell itself. You don’t need me and my numbers, they can go and speak to any franchisee. As long as that goes well, Saudi and Oman I’ve considered as targets as well.”

Boost for injury-hit Al-Hilal as Salman Al-Faraj returns to training ahead of Al-Hazem clash

Boost for injury-hit Al-Hilal as Salman Al-Faraj returns to training ahead of Al-Hazem clash
Updated 1 min ago

Boost for injury-hit Al-Hilal as Salman Al-Faraj returns to training ahead of Al-Hazem clash

Boost for injury-hit Al-Hilal as Salman Al-Faraj returns to training ahead of Al-Hazem clash
  • Club captain had been sidelined since suffering knock against Esteghlal in AFC Champions League

RIYADH: Midfield maestro Salman Al-Faraj has given Al-Hilal a major boost ahead of Thursday’s Saudi Pro League match against Al-Hazem with a return to training.

The reigning champions’ captain had been sidelined due to a recent injury picked up in the club’s last AFC Champions League match against Iran’s Esteghlal, but after a period of rehabilitation he was on Monday given the all-clear to resume full training with the rest of the squad.

He will now undergo another fitness test ahead of the seventh-round fixture at Al-Hazem Stadium.

Al-Faraj’s injury on Sept. 13 forced him to miss SPL matches against Al-Ettifaq and Al-Shabab in the fifth and sixth rounds of the domestic league.

Meanwhile, Al-Hilal defender Ali Al-Bulaihi was continuing his recovery program after taking a knock against Al-Shabab last week.

Injury-hit Al-Hilal are still without the services of the sidelined Mohammed Al-Breik, Abdullah Otayf, Andre Carrillo, and Salem Al-Dossari.

Tickets for FIFA Arab Cup 2021 in Qatar go on sale

Tickets for FIFA Arab Cup 2021 in Qatar go on sale
Updated 43 min 39 sec ago

Tickets for FIFA Arab Cup 2021 in Qatar go on sale

Tickets for FIFA Arab Cup 2021 in Qatar go on sale
  • Fan card system will require ticket holders to register for smart ID that will also allow free transport on match days

Tickets for the FIFA Arab Cup 2021 taking place in Qatar from Nov. 30 will go on sale on Tuesday (12 p.m. KSA) and will be issued on a first-come-first-served basis.

The tournament will see the unveiling of two new stadiums to be used at the 2022 World Cup. Al Bayt Stadium, which has a capacity of 60,000, will host the opening and final matches, while the 40,000-seat Ras Abu Aboud Stadium will be dismantled at the end of Qatar 2022.

The Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy in Qatar also announced the implementation of a fan card system during the Arab Cup, which ticket holders will need to gain access to stadiums.

The smart ID card will allow fans to use public transport for free on match days.

“The activation of the fan card is an important step in our efforts to provide an unique and memorable experience for all fans and visitors expected to come to Qatar,” said Mariam Al-Muftah, director of information technology at the Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy.

“The FIFA Arab Cup will represent a golden opportunity to improve preparations to host the 2022 World Cup, including the fan card services, which we will evaluate at the end of the Arab Cup.”

Fans wishing to attend the FIFA Arab Cup 2021 must apply for a fan card once they have paid for their tickets and received the purchase order number via email.

Match tickets are available exclusively on FIFA’s official website, while fans will be able to submit their requests for a fan card via  from Tuesday.

The Arab Cup 2021 will be the 10th edition of the tournament traditionally organized by the Union of Arab Football Associations, and will run from Nov. 30 to Dec. 18.

The 16 teams taking part are hosts Qatar, Iraq, Oman, Bahrain, Tunisia, UAE, Syria, Mauritania, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Palestine, Algeria, Egypt, Lebanon and Sudan.

Al-Nassr to name new coach by end of the week

Al-Nassr to name new coach by end of the week
Updated 58 min 33 sec ago

Al-Nassr to name new coach by end of the week

Al-Nassr to name new coach by end of the week
  • Director of media dismisses rumors the club has already agreed on replacement for Mano Menezes

Al-Nassr have issued a statement saying that the Riyadh club will name a new coach by the end of the week and that no agreement has been reached with a single candidate yet, Arabic sports daily Arriyadiyah has reported.

Al-Waleed Al-Muhaidib, director of the media center at Al-Nassr, on Tuesday posted a message on his Twitter account denying that that club has finalized its search.

“Regarding the large number of false reports about the first team coach from media professionals and official channels, Al-Nassr is keen to sign a contract with the most appropriate choice,” Al-Muhaidib wrote.

He added that the club is still in negations with some coaches, while other candidates have show a strong desire to take over the role.

Last week, Al-Nassr dismissed Menezes after a 3-1 loss to Al-Ittihad in the fifth round of the Saudi Professional League left the club in sixth place in the table with nine points.

Manchester City unveil Expo 2020 Dubai as new training kit partner

Manchester City unveil Expo 2020 Dubai as new training kit partner
Updated 27 September 2021

Manchester City unveil Expo 2020 Dubai as new training kit partner

Manchester City unveil Expo 2020 Dubai as new training kit partner
  • The branding of the global event, which launches Oct. 1, will feature on kits for both men’s and women’s teams for the 2021-22 season

Manchester City have unveiled Expo 2020 Dubai as the club’s new training kit partner ahead of the opening of the global event this Friday.

Expo 2020 branding will appear on the men’s and women’s training kits for the remainder of the 2021-22 season.

From Oct. 1, over 190 countries will come together in Dubai to showcase the latest advances in technology, culture and sport, and celebrate the values of innovation, sustainability and diversity to a global audience.

Manchester City will host daily football sessions at the Expo site, led by dedicated coaching staff who will apply the same training methodology used by the teams on the training pitches in Manchester.

“We are delighted to unveil Expo 2020 Dubai as Manchester City’s new training kit partner,” Ferran Soriano, CEO for City Football Group, said. “This partnership will integrate Expo 2020 as a core part of every training session and matchday as our teams challenge for success this season.”

“Expo 2020 showcases values of innovation and sustainability that we wholeheartedly embrace at Manchester City,” he added. “We are very excited to collaborate and partner with an event that will be truly spectacular, global and transformational.”

Representatives from the club and wider City Football Group network will also take part in bespoke events over the coming months.

In addition to the training kit, Expo 2020 branding will also appear across the Etihad Stadium and City Football Academy training facilities, as well as featuring on City’s content and digital platforms.

Expo 2020 is also an official partner of the Manchester City esports team and features on the front of the esports kit.

“Today’s announcement of the deepening in our relationship with Manchester City builds on the exciting exchange of ideas and new opportunities we have shared with the club since we launched the partnership in June,” said Sholto Douglas-Home, chief sales and marcoms officer at Expo 2020 Dubai. “With Manchester City’s expanded involvement in our event programming across the duration of Expo 2020 Dubai, we are thrilled to be able to offer daily coaching sessions with club representatives as part of our exciting public events schedule, cementing the importance of sport as a vehicle to help us connect the world together.

“Becoming the club’s new training kit partner will massively accentuate the ability of Expo 2020 Dubai to engage and inspire fans around the globe by inviting them to share in the excitement of what this unique world expo will offer, which we sum up as ‘Join the Making of a New World’,” he said.

The partnership will also be showcased globally through the City Football Group network, with local activations planned at a number of City’s sister clubs, including Mumbai City FC, New York City FC, Melbourne City FC and Yokohama F. Marinos.

Saudi racing star Reema Juffali ‘physically, mentally stronger’ for British F3 Championship season finale

Saudi racing star Reema Juffali ‘physically, mentally stronger’ for British F3 Championship season finale
Updated 27 September 2021

Saudi racing star Reema Juffali ‘physically, mentally stronger’ for British F3 Championship season finale

Saudi racing star Reema Juffali ‘physically, mentally stronger’ for British F3 Championship season finale
  • Driver, 29, took part in intensive Austrian hike, climb training camp ahead of October final round at Donington ParK


DUBAI: Saudi racer Reema Juffali reckons she is in the best physical and mental shape of her career ahead of next month’s final round of the British F3 Championship.

The Jeddah-born driver, who represents Douglas Motorsport, recently travelled to Austria for some time away from the track to attend her last intensive training camp of the season and work on improving her endurance, strength, and stamina.

The 29-year-old undertook a number of different activities including hiking and climbing and said that she was already seeing clear improvements after participating in a camp she described as key to her development.

“Results on the track is just one part of my progress. This season I have also pushed myself to the limit away from the track with a training program that has incorporated everything from tough gym work to hiking and climbing.

“I have really noticed the difference from the start of the season, I am physically and mentally stronger and I know it will make me a better driver,” she added.

Juffali will be aiming to end the season on a high when she lines up for the final round of the British F3 Championship at Donington Park on the weekend of Oct. 16 to 17. Her best-ever result at the event came at Silverstone, when she finished fourth at the iconic track in June.

She said she was thoroughly enjoying testing herself against talented drivers in the competition, and that she would analyze the entire campaign following the last race and would not rush in making key decisions to enhance her career.

“I’ve put a lot of work into this season and now with just one race left my priority is to do as well as I can when we return to Donington Park for the season finale. Then I’ll sit back and carefully evaluate the whole year before making some major decisions on how best to progress my career.

“I’m competitive as ever and I’m ready for new challenges but what exactly those challenges will be is yet to be decided,” she added.

Juffali is extremely proud that her home city of Jeddah will host the Kingdom’s first ever Formula 1 race on Dec. 5, and said she was eager to see elite racing drivers in action and confident her country would rise to the occasion of staging a race that would be watched by millions of fans around the world.

“We have an amazing and ground-breaking F1 Grand Prix coming up in December and I’m looking forward to seeing how my country embraces the pinnacle of motorsport and also to see the best of my city showcased by the incredible platform that Formula 1 brings,” she added.