Katie Thomas – Good Vibes
Written by Joff Alexander-Frye
Photos by Nick Hook and also supplied by Helen Court Photography
Katie Thomas is the passionate owner and founder of Good Vibes Gym & Studio at Exeter Sports Academy (ESA). Having worked in fitness for over twenty years, she knows full well the benefits and downfalls of the industry, so much so, that she has formed a culture, approach and mentality around fitness at Good Vibes which she feels is unique and highly ethical.
Katie is Exeter born and bred, growing up in Poltimore and she joined Exeter Sports Academy six years ago after working at Wonford Sports Centre, Woodbury Park and Quay Toning. I recently met with her to discuss the pros and cons of the fitness industry, how her business is going and what Good Vibes offers that is unique in a well-saturated market.
Her connection with Exeter Sports Academy started six years ago when she joined long-term friend Ben Cheriton (owner of ESA) as a fitness instructor. Having known Ben for years due to a shared love for Tae Kwon Do, it didn’t take long for them to realise that working together would be a positive move.
Six years later, in March last year, Katie felt that, after twenty years of learning the ropes, she finally felt ready to take on the gym and studio herself, so spoke to Ben about taking on those parts of the ESA business. It was a short and positive conversation, which resulted in Katie taking over the gym and studio space and rebranding it as Good Vibes Gym & Studio at ESA.
She told me that it had always been her dream to run her own fitness-related business one day and that it has been an incredibly successful first year in business. She commented,
“We couldn’t have dreamed for a more successful start to life as Good Vibes. We’ve signed up more than 180 new members since March, across the full range of our services and classes. Both the gym and our studio run closely side by side, with many members opting to take part in multiple Good Vibes activities.”
When I asked Katie what she put this success down to, she stated confidently,
“We have a really unique approach at Good Vibes. So much of the fitness industry is built on fitting people into a particular mould; be it big muscles, slim waists, toned abs or whatever the latest fad is. However, for some people it is about much more than fitting into those boxes and, also, to limit health and fitness to just how you look is really dangerous. At Good Vibes, our approach is built around a concept of ‘fitness for everyone’. We believe that people should feel safe, body-positive and confident in their fitness goals. We also try to make our gym and classes really welcoming and safe, so that is one of our key focuses when recruiting instructors. Not just excellent fitness professionals, but people who will make members feel welcome and safe.”
Katie also expanded on a current trend within the fitness industry, of other gyms embracing a Virtual-Class model, where classes are led by an instructor on a screen, remotely located elsewhere in the country. Katie clearly stated how this goes against everything that she stands for and, if anything, Good Vibes is moving in the other direction, offering a more personal service, not a less personal one.
Add on top of this the fact that they have a flexible memberships model which fits around members’ availability, lifestyle and schedule and it is no wonder that they are growing so quickly.
Another topic of conversation when we met was the responsibility for gyms to be providers and encouragers of mental health gains as well as the obvious physical ones. The internal, emotional and mental health benefits to exercise are numerous and well-publicised, but the pressure to look a certain way, lift a certain weight or achieve certain goals can have an equally powerful negative effect on individuals. Through the approach of Good Vibes, Katie models how physical exercise should benefit all areas of a person’s state of health.
Community lies at the heart of the Good Vibes offering, with many unusual ingredients woven into the culture of it. For example, it is common after many classes for member to eat together, often food that you wouldn’t connect to a gym environment, Katie believes that “all food is fuel and, in moderation, should be enjoyed”. Another example is that failure is openly encouraged. Katie expanded,
“Part of feeling safe is knowing that you can mess up and not be judged. It is one of the most intimidating things about a gym environment, that people feel they can’t make mistakes or look stupid. That simply isn’t the case at Good Vibes.”
Good Vibes offer a wide range of fitness experiences, including; a full Gym setup, Mum & Baby, Mum & Toddler, Yoga, Martial Arts, MotorTone (low-impact exercise, typically for over forty-year-olds) and, one of the most unique things about their offering, Teen Gym. This is the provision of dedicated times and spaces for teens to exercise safely, under the expert watchful eye of a Good Vibes instructor. Teens are allowed to exercise for a maximum of forty-five minutes at a time, on a range of low-impact machines, to reduce the chance of damage or injury. In addition, Good Vibes take their safeguarding responsibility seriously, with teens only allowed to train there is parents have come and vetted the facilities first and consented for their children to use them.
The one thing which came across strongly when I chatted with Katie is the sense of community and family at Good Vibes. With members ranging from babies with their parents, all the way up to ninety-two-year-olds (Katie joked, “Some of them are fitter than me!”), the Good Vibes family continues to thrive and grow.
Outside of work, Katie tends to her actual family life, with husband Alex and son Oliver. The love for martial arts is shared throughout the family and even Oliver is showing signs of being interested in the discipline.
“Whether at home or at work, sometimes you just have to high-five yourself! There are more than enough negative influences in the world and, at Good Vibes, we try to encourage people to find the positives and hold on to them.”
Follow ‘Good Vibes Gym & Studio at ESA’ on Facebook, to keep up to date with their journey.