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The Covid-19 pandemic could not have come at a worse time for Marli and Brandon Halasz’s Nuhuman health and fitness gyms, but looking back on it now, it was the best thing that ever happened to them, says Brandon. 

After building and running their unique gym and wellness centre concept for almost ten years in Pretoria, the couple had just sold their first Nuhuman franchise a month or two before the pandemic threatened to wipe out the entire gym industry. 

But Brandon and Marli swung into action and pivoted to online classes at an incredible speed. “The hard lockdown started on the Friday. By Monday all our trainers were ready with online classes,” says Marli. 

Instead of losing contact with their members during the long months in which the public feared going to gyms, Nuhuman strengthened their bond with their clients. The online gym sessions were as much motivational meetings for their bored and frustrated members as they were physical exercises. The sessions were made child-friendly so that everyone in the family could join in, and the classes were conducted with humour and warmth. 

Brandon, who for years has studied the causes and prevention of lifestyle diseases, also held regular online information sessions during the pandemic with the Nuhuman community. While many businesses, especially gyms, scaled down during the pandemic, Marli and Brandon decided to expand by introducing their own range of health supplements. Nuhuman had always sold various brands of supplements, but starting their own range was a step change which required major investment and carried quite some risk. 

The manufacturers required large minimum orders, a lot of houghht and capital had to go into designing the packaging, and it took a while to accurately predict the sales of specific supplements. But it took off, and today the sales of supplements make up more than a quarter of Nuhuman’s revenue. 

Probably the greatest advantage that the pandemic brought to the business is the fact that the Covid-19 scare made the broader public much more receptive to Nuhuman’s unique approach to health. The concept is based not just on fitness, but also on healthy eating and the measurement of a range of hormone-regulated biological processes in the body, as well as a proprietary laser treatment called photobiomodulation therapy.

Such new, highly technical methods can be challenging to convey to the market, but since Covid-19, everyone has become much more aware of the impact of overall health on the immune system, says Brandon. The change in the market and the momentum that Nuhuman was able to build up is evident in the fact that the company has grown to no fewer than two company-owned health centres and four franchise outlets since the pandemic.

They have come a long way since Brandon started his first rudimentary gym in an 8 x 7 m sublet room with a few dumbbells. The former pro-golfer and investment manager had always been intensely interested in the causes of modern lifestyle diseases and how to improve human wellbeing. In 2012 he left the finance world and threw himself into studying fitness, health and nutrition, and applying what he learned in his own fledgling fitness centre. He met Marli at about the same time. She was studying at the University of Pretoria before going on to work for Brandon’s mother’s upmarket boutique at the Menlyn Park shopping centre for a few years. 

In 2015 the mall underwent a major revamp, which gave Marli the opportunity to choose between continuing in fashion retail or joining Brandon in his growing health business. “In the end it wasn’t a difficult decision. I saw the effect that Brandon’s work had on people – a woman who could dance with her husband again for the first time in 20 years, or just someone being able to tie their shoelaces again. I had no doubt that his business was going to work.”

While Brandon continued developing and implementing his health programmes, Marli took care of the business side of things. The landlord of their premises at 4 Graham Road, Pretoria, was very responsive to their needs and helped them to expand whenever they grew out of space, which happened regularly. 

By last year, Nuhuman was ready to expand outside of the Pretoria region. Marli and Brandon decided to take on the risk themselves rather than putting the burden on a franchisee, and they found the ideal premises at a centre in Fourways, Johannesburg. 

In order to finance the equipment for the gym, they considered taking out a mortgage on their home, but chose rather to go with Business Partners Ltd. “We experienced very good service from Business Partners Ltd. They explained the structure of their finance very clearly, so it was an easy decision,” says Marli.

Having had their concept and their business skills thoroughly tested, Marli and Brandon are looking forward to growth with more confidence than ever. The number of franchises that they are currently working towards is at least fifty, four of them in the pipeline for the next year. And Brandon, ever the visionary, is working on a mobile app and a crypto token to promote healthy habits – and a better world.  

Tags: health, fitness, nutrition, business skills, franchises, financing a gym

About the Author: Fatima Baloyi