Start-up turns marathon fever into big biz

Nikita Peer

They initially had just 15 students but that number has since swelled to more than 1,000. Is training people for marathons really big business? And get this – apart from a presence in many cities across India, Mumbai-based fitness training institute Striders also has a centre in Dubai.

“Marathons and running in general is becoming more and more popular among people of all ages. There was a time when people associated gymming and aerobics with fitness but they are now open to running to stay healthy and to de-stress,” says Praful Uchil, who launched Striders along with fellow athlete Deepak Londhe in 2006. 

Unlike other fitness trainers, most of whom offer their services as individuals, Striders went the whole nine yards. With 48 trainers on their rolls, the start-up has indeed turned marathon fever into a Rs 20 lakh business per year. Amazingly, Uchil and Londhe did not invest a single penny to set up their institute as they use the great outdoors to build stamina, endurance and goodwill. 

“We use the group format, which gives our students a sense of community. This further motivates others, instills a sense of discipline, and creates a relaxed atmosphere to train in,” says Uchil.  

Marathon Miracles

And it’s working wonders. Says Surendra Joshi (70) from Mumbai, “I started training with Striders when I was 66 and it is only because of them that I have been able to participate in four Half Marathons.” 

Sandra Jacquet (50) used to be a regular spectator at the annual Mumbai Marathon. “I had never run a 100-metre race in my life but I came third in the Senior Veteran category in the Half Marathon in Mumbai. It felt unreal!” And how did this transformation take place? Jacquet runs three times a week, undergoes aerobic training to improve cardiovascular capacity, and callisthenics and stretching exercises to improve flexibility. She also undergoes strength training, anaerobic training to enhance speed and yogic breathing exercises to aid faster recovery from fatigue. 

Warming Up

Back in 2004, when the Standard Chartered Marathon in Mumabi started to drum up interest in distance running, the demand for athletic training began to grow. Uchil and Londhe, who represented LIC and BPT, respectively, in public sector athletic meets, helped people prepare for the high-profile event, whose popularity grew by leaps and bounds. 

They worked as individual trainers but when the number of students started multiplying month on month, they realised they could turn training into a profitable business. So they teamed up and began to recruit trainers. “It never felt like work. Waking up at four in the morning and reaching office at ten was fun,” remembers Uchil. 

The Race Begins

Uchil and Londhe expanded the focus from training participants for marathons to pure fitness training. They included people of all ages, from 12-year-olds to senior citizens. Business went to the next level when individual clients started encouraging the managements of their companies to send employees to Striders. 

It was a milestone when they signed on their first client, ICICI. Today, Striders has 8 corporate clients including TCS, Cadbury, Edelwise, ICICI and Standard Chartered. “Some corporates identify employees who would benefit from fitness training and recommend them to Striders. In TCS, it is open to all employees. They have a ‘Fit For Life’ programme, which we run for them. It is usually IT and banking sector employees who require this training due to their sedentary lifestyle,” explains Uchil. 

Revenue Model

Striders charges individual clients Rs 5,500 per quarter and corporate clients Rs 4,500. The fee includes training and a T-shirt. For the Sunday run, they provide water stations which are sponsored by Standard Chartered, which invests Rs 10 lakh for 6 months. 

The company also organises events like summer sports camps, athletic meets and road races for corporate firms like Deutsche Bank and TCS in different cities. 

About 40 per cent of the company’s revenue comes from individual clients, 50 per cent comes from corporate clients and 10 per cent from events. While the company’s turnover for the financial year 2011-12 was about Rs 6 lakh, its turnover has shot up to Rs 20 lakh in 2012-13. The company is growing multifold year on year. 

Tough Terrain

Recruiting trainers in different cities was the biggest challenge. So Striders launched its T3 or ‘Train The Trainers’ programme. This also ensures standardisation of training practices across its centres. The company brings its trainers to Don Bosco School in Mumbai, where it teaches all the training components.

 The company plans to take the next step and train children at the club level this year. “One day, we will have Striders centres across the world. Centres in Malaysia and Singapore are already on the cards”, smiles Uchil. 

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