January 4, 2016
Everyone knows Alan Shearer, the footballer. During his 20-year professional football career he won the Premier League with Blackburn Rovers, secured 63 caps for England (34 as captain) and gained iconic status at the club he supported as a boy, becoming Newcastle United’s talisman and scoring a record 206 goals over a ten-year period. He was also awarded numerous accolades and is listed in the FIFA100 list of the Greatest Living Footballers.
Since retiring, he has carved out a successful media career, where his unwavering analysis of the beautiful game has garnered him a permanent position on the Match of the Day sofa.
But what may not be so well known about the man from Gosforth is that – thanks to his involvement with the innovative fitness concept, Speedflex – he is also a businessman.
Speedflex was first developed in the USA and offers a combination of low impact, high intensity cardio, and resistance training. The Speedflex machine responds to the force applied by the user – as opposed to weight – meaning each individual can reach high heart rate zones, no matter what their level of fitness.
Being low impact also causes little or no muscle damage, which dramatically reduces stiffness and soreness after using the Speedflex machines.
While it was stateside, the concept attracted the attention of North East businessman Graham Wylie, the co-founder of Sage Group, whose more recent business interests include Close House golf club and technology company TSG.
Graham began funding the research and development of the Speedflex machine in the US, with the aim of bringing the concept to a European audience.
It was during this period that he sought advice from an ex-professional footballer friend who had more than a little experience of fitness training.
Graham asked Alan if he knew anyone who had the expertise to evaluate the potential of the Speedflex machine, and he suggested Paul Ferris, the former professional footballer and physiotherapist at Newcastle United Football Club.
It was after Paul visited the US and gave Speedflex the green light that Alan tried the machine.
He reflects: “I had never particularly enjoyed fitness training and had spent my life with people offering me the latest way to recover from injury or get stronger.
“I have very little time for fads or the latest gimmicks but I could see the potential of Speedflex the first time I put my hands on the machine.”
Graham, Paul and Alan joined forces to form Speedflex (Europe) Ltd, with each bringing their own individual strengths to the business – as Alan explains: “Graham has the experience and understanding of the business world and an incredible track record, while Paul – as managing director – brings the medical expertise and understanding of exercise and training.
“My role is to help raise the profile of the brand and I am a genuine believer in Speedflex as an exercise concept.”
Initially, the strategy was to sell the Speedflex machines to football clubs, hospitals and individuals but the plan quickly changed.
Instead, the company created stand-alone centres in Newcastle, the City of London and Surrey, which offered Speedflex sessions in a safe and controlled environment on a membership basis.
Each 30 or 45-minute session is led by a personal trainer and participants’ heart rates are individually monitored.
“It means that Speedflex can be all inclusive,” says Alan. “No matter who you are, how old you are or how fit you are, you can come into Speedflex and train to your maximum next to anyone.”
Speedflex (Europe) Ltd now has eight sites across the UK, including some machines placed in existing gyms on small group premium offerings.
The company currently employs 70 members of staff, which is expected to rise rapidly as five more Speedflex sites open in the coming months.
For Alan, it was never his long-term plan to go into business after his professional footballing career.
“I always assumed I would go into management of a football club and therefore hadn’t considered a career in business outside of that,” he reflects. “However, my football opened up a number of different opportunities and I have enjoyed being able to step into a different environment with Speedflex, which fits in with my media commitments.”
The transition into business has been a learning curve for the former professional footballer. It has, of course, helped to be working alongside one of the most successful businessmen in the region.
“Graham is great to work with because of his relentless enthusiasm and pursuit of success,” says Alan.
“He is a fair man, but knows what he wants and the best way to achieve it. He has a great energy and we have all bought into his aims and ambitions. It is fascinating to see how passionate he is about this business, having had such success in the past; he wont be sidetracked by any obstacle.”
Alan, Graham and Paul are looking to grow the Speedflex brand further with the aim of having 100 sites in the UK before rolling it out into Europe.
Achieving this is not only about identifying sites that will achieve the best footfall, access and attendance, but making sure that everyone involved buys into the Speedflex philosophy.
For Alan, he will continue to apply the same focus to Speedflex as he did to his football career.
“Whether it’s football or business, you have to have passion, be driven and committed. If you don’t have these qualities, you wont be successful in either.
“To sit in a boardroom and give an honest opinion is no different to doing so in a football dressing room.
“If I have something to say that I believe is important, then I’m going to say it. Not everyone has to agree with it, but it’s important to say it.
“I have always relished a challenge. Football or business; a challenge is a challenge.”