Tuesday 22 January 2019

Irish co-founder of NeueHouse is getting gyms in the US fit for co-working

Dubliner James O'Reilly is taking the workspace concept to a fitness chain

Stock image
Stock image

John Reynolds

Dubliner James O'Reilly, who co-founded the high-end US co-working space business NeueHouse, is developing new workspaces for Life Time, a chain of gyms in the US.

As president of Life Time Work, he is rolling out up to 50 spaces in US cities where it already has gyms, beginning with Philadelphia.

In that city the new space is in an old Macy's department store building, across the road from an Apple store. While other big cities such as New York, Miami, Boston and San Francisco are in its sights, further locations may be more suburban, O'Reilly said. They will be aimed at remote workers and freelancers in the Millennial age group and above who increasingly live in more suburban locations to be near to their families and good schools.

Privately-owned Life Time, which was founded by Iranian-American entrepreneur Bahram Akradi, has over 1.8 million members at gyms in 27 US states. It also has revenues of over $1.3bn a year, according to its website. O'Reilly declined to reveal whether he has a stake in the new project.

"The goal with Life Time Work is to expand all over the US. We're in 130 locations, so it's conceivable that we will get to 50 that will be adjacent to or integrated with the existing gyms in, say the next five years, if not sooner.

"We will focus on both urban and suburban markets around the US and Canada, targeting millennials and experienced entrepreneurs, as well those working remotely for larger corporations.

President, Life Time Work James O’Reilly
President, Life Time Work James O’Reilly

"The trend we're seeing in twenty- and thirty-something entrepreneurs is that their population is increasingly growing in suburban areas rather than city centres, where rents and property prices are a lot higher. More people are also working remotely, increasing from a rate of about 21pc to 34pc in 2016 here in the US," O'Reilly said.

The Irishman and his co-founders of high-end co-working space Neuehouse, which has spaces in New York and Hollywood, were early in grasping the opportunity to develop them, establishing the business in 2011 and opening the New York one in 2013.

They attracted successful creative freelancers and others who could afford their premium fees based on a private membership model. Reports in the US said that a number of celebrities including actress Meg Ryan and author Salman Rushdie are paid-up members, while both locations regularly hosted events for communities working in TV, fashion, film and other media. It became a popular celebrity hangout, while also attracting successful tech entrepreneurs.

While there had been plans to open a third NeueHouse in London in 2016 or 2017, the opening did not go-ahead, though it's understood to remain an ambition. The expansion to Hollywood had stretched the company, in taking on a former CBS Radio building on Sunset Boulevard that needed extensive renovation, O'Reilly said.

Having previously raised $25m in 2015, the company revised its plans last year in order to stabilise the business. US media mogul Barry Diller - a former CEO of Paramount and Fox - and his wife, the fashion designer Diane Von Furstenburg, who came up with the concept of the wrap dress, invested in the firm. Hong Kong property investment firm Great Eagle Holdings also took part in the round. O'Reilly retains a stake in Neuehouse, it is understood.

"With the likes of WeWork dominating the co-working sector, it has become very commoditised. Without changing our processes, we can open in new spaces faster than others. The business is a big engine, with a lot of operational know-how, to do the same thing as with the gyms: identify properties, design or build and fit them out, and then market and operate them.

"Having taken on this role last year, it's a great opportunity to apply my experience from NeueHouse to a business that's operating and growing at such a high level. We could recruit up to 3,000 new people every year for Life Time Work," he added.

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