Empire Boxing Gym founder Robert Rio Brewin (right) personally trains clients whose ages range from nine to 70.
Muhammad Ali, Mike Tyson, Manny Pacquiao—these boxers did not become legendary overnight. They were trained and housed in local boxing clinics until they became some of the best to ever play the sport.
“In the small towns in the US, boxing gyms have a sense of community,” says Robert Rio Brewin, the 39-year-old owner of one of the country's fastest-growing chain of boxing gyms and fitness centers. “After a year of trying out boxing gyms here in the Philippines, I rarely felt it. So I put up my own.”
In 2012, Brewin, who was born and raised in Texas, founded Empire Boxing Gym in Makati's Legaspi Village. The former amateur boxer wanted to bring a more personal approach for those wishing to add boxing into their workout regimen. He held one-on-one sessions with clients, including beginners, whose ages ranged from nine to 70.
Brewin's more customized approach seems to have clicked. Around a hundred customers everyday go to the Makati gym, which now operates 24 hours a day. Many of the habitués work in the thriving BPO industry, filling the gym even late at night.
Empire Boxing's main branch in Makati accomodates around 100 customers every day.
The company he founded, called Empire Elite Boxing Inc., now has eight franchised branches in Quezon City, Taguig, Pasig, Olongapo, Laoag and Davao. Another one is set to open in Quezon City by the end of March. Brewin wants to build a network of at least 20 branches throughout the country in the next three years.
“Nothing beats sincerity," Brewin explains why Empire Boxing Gym has been growing steadily since its founding. "There’s a big playbook on how to run the business but if you go off the playbook and add a bit of yourself in it, then you gain personality."
For an annual fee of Php1,200, members are entitled to use their facilities all year round. The main gym in Makati has 340-sqm floor space filled with indoor bikes, weights and boxing bags as well as a world-class ring. The membership comes with either four boxing classes or two Muay Thai sessions. Those who prefer a regular boxing class will be charged from Php150 to Php 250 for each session lasting one and a half hours.
More than competitive pricing, Empire Boxing prides itself for being a friendly environment for all kinds of gym goers, including senior citizens and members of the LGBTQ community.
“I’ve had customers who would tell me they feel alienated by other gyms but not here. I tell my coaches that if they’re not comfortable in training people from the LGBTQ (community), then they can leave. Surprisingly, someone has left,” Brewin says.
Brewin makes sure his clinic is a "house of harmony" where trainers and gym-goers of all genders can train in peace.
He also makes sure “egos are in check” for both customers and trainers even when sports and training get competitive. The clinic is meant to be a place for fun and fitness, not of intimidation.
Brewin also makes sure that the staff are adequately compensated to keep morale high. While coaches work on a contractual basis, the management offers allowances and commission rates that are “higher than most.”
“We even try to give them some lessons on personal finance so they can better handle their money. Some of the coaches or boxers that train here come all the way from the provinces and they come to Manila without proper lodging sometimes, and we give them that,” Brewin says.
A year after Brewin opened Empire Boxing Gym in Makati, he received queries and requests for franchising partnerships. This prompted him to take a serious look at how franchising works, and if it could apply to his boxing gym.
“My wife and I went to the US to take up a short course on franchising. When we got back, we crafted the agreement and the model in three weeks,” Brewin says. “After a few months, our second branch opened.”
With close to 10 branches in various parts of the country, Empire Boxing Gym is one of the few potential competitors of the country's leading boxing clinic brand, Elorde Boxing Gym, which has around 30 branches nationwide. Owned and managed by members of the family of foremost Filipino boxing legend Gabriel "Flash" Elorde, the brand has been around since the 1970s but only began franchising in the early 2000s.
The 39-year-old entrepreneur was also an amateur boxer, a Physics instructor, and played college baseball.
Brewin encourages his Empire Boxing Gym's franchisees to co-brand with other enterprises to generate awareness and attract customers. His main Makati branch has partnerships with HollowRock Gear, a sports wear brand and Cobra (energy drink), which helps it thrive amid the entry of new and bigger players in the fitness center business in the financial district.
“I think that meant our system works. Even when they’re all franchised, we’re able to maintain the brand identity across all branches since the franchisees themselves emulate the same vision I have for the brand,” Brewin says.
Like his mixed ethnicity (his mom is of Irish-Vietnamese descent), Brewin's educational and career background is also a rich combination of different strands. An amateur boxer since he was nine, he graduated with a degree in Physics and became an instructor in Emery University in Georgia. He later ventured into construction and small works contracting, bringing him to the Philippines, and other countries.
With Empire Boxing Gym, he seems to have found his true calling. “I was looking for opportunities here when I realized that there’s a big potential for enterprises. I wasn’t sure then what I wanted to have but later on I was drawn to something I’ve always loved, boxing“, he says. "I’m very proud of the community we’ve built and developed. It’s very friendly and we treat all our franchisees as family."
Elyssa Christine Lopez is Entrepreneur PH's staff writer. Follow her on Twitter @elyssalopz.