Ivory Health Club at 24!!

Posted by on Aug 5, 2013 in Scoop | Comments Off

Time flies………It is unbelievable that it is now 24 whole years Ivory Health Club had been in operation! The dream of years gone by is now serving a whole lot of people – young and old alike!  We do thank and praise the Almighty for having achieved so much in our history and reaching a worthy legacy that makes us justifiably very proud.

Ivory Health Company Limited was incorporated on 1st August, 1989 it officially commenced operations at Ikeja and opened to the public.

As the Proprietor and Developer, the original dream of  building  and commercialising a conducive facility for my own personal use – instead of jogging on the street, modelled on Holmes Place Health Club near my North  London home at Mill Hill, had  added  quality to my life and assisted a lot of friends rehabilitate themselves after strokes/heart attacks. Because I had chronic hypertension and high blood pressure I needed to be working out regularly on my Doctor’s orders.

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Sometime in 1987 we embarked on developing an exclusive Housing Estate just off Allen Avenue for the expatriate staff of George Wimpey & Co. (Nig.) Ltd, which had their corporate operational base at Oregun.   In those days when we came to view the land, we had to park our cars at Airport Hotel on Obafemi Awolowo Way and put on our “wellingtons” (rubber rain boots) to walk through a snake infested bush path to get to the land!  Allen Avenue was not in existence then and Lagos (no Lagos State then) was headquartered at City Hall!  As a proper Ajebo who returned from a long sojorn studying in the UK in 1985, my immediate comment was that who would buy land in this jungle! My Solicitor and brother-in-law (Rtd Justice S. O. Hunponu-Wusu) would, in his lackadaisical manner, comment that in Lagos there is no bush!  Taking his advice, I invested in the land and being the Financial Controller of the multinational civil engineering construction company, I had access to “free” road equipments hence I brought in machines to create access roads up to Ogundana Street, Folawewo and Community Roads.

Fortunately our Nigerian economy started having hic cups and the very British George Wimpey decided to pull out of Nigeria and abandoned the goal of a housing estate for its expatriates.  The Wimpey Board took the decision to re-sell the land.  Fortunately a British gentleman, Mr Hall was the BM of First Bank Nigeria, Investment House Branch, Discussing with him over a casual drink at Ikoyi Club, he informed me that he would approve a loan for me to acquire the land if I wished. I bought out Wimpey’s interest in the land.

A very good personal friend of mine in London – Mr Jim Teatum – became the Managing Director of the Nautilus Corporation headquartered at Charlotte in U.S.A. On one of his Marketing trips to Lagos he convinced me to build a proper Health Club on my estate development at Ikeja. We used to work out together in London at Holmes Place and other health clubs that used Nautilus world famous equipments. Nautilus Corporation assisted in re – designing drawings by Architectural firm of FMA and we had a world class health and recreation centre.

Then the second dream started, having abandoned the dream of an exclusive Housing Estate!

Since I was residing in a company house off Adeniyi Jones, I decided to build a small bungalow for my own use on part of the land. Like an English Gentry I wanted a unique name for my new home rather than just number – 1 Community Road. Over family dinner one evening, my wife Dr (Mrs) Femi Ogunsanya came up with “IVORY” rather than “Artemis” which I wanted. We all liked the name and so IVORY was born and we named our Ikeja home “THE IVORY”. The Mill Hill, London home became London Ivory and the Ibadan residence was also named as such. So developing the health club, the name IVORY HEALTH CLUB was unanimously agreed on by both of us and we immersed ourselves in creating a unique lifestyle!

I had a full time job as Financial Controller of George Wimpey and my wife was a Senior Lecturer at University of Lagos teaching Botany. We worked on our dream part time and employed Mr Okanlawon Martins – a keen sportsman and a former Nigerian Squash Champion – who was working with the Accounting firm of Onayemi Akinyemi Ogunsanya & Co where I was a sleeping Partner at the time. My wife and I agreed to sponsor Mr Martins to be properly trained for Health Club Management in London. We also made contact with a Washington DC Beautician and Hair Dresser – Brenda Olufuwa – whom we employed to oversee the development of the Female side of the club.

We recruited Mrs Elvira Adeyeye – a young pretty Russian lady married to a relation of ours to be in charge of the Front Desk.  We opened on a roll and the standard was very high indeed. We pitched our market at the very high end of our industry and after a market survey of charges we fixed our prices higher than anywhere else in Lagos. Our marketing was based on exclusivity and the slogan was if you had to quibble about our charges then you are not worthy of being our member. It worked very well.

I approached Dr Yemi Ogunbiyi (of Tanus Group) who was the Managing Director of the very popular Nigerian newspaper  group – Daily Times and Sunday Times (neither Guardian nor This Day existed then) to assist with a write-up on my dream – Ivory Health Club!  He visited the new club at Ikeja and was so impressed that he gave us the centre spread of one Sunday Times and the rest is history!  I must put on record that neither did Yemi charge us a kobo nor received any gratification from us – it was done on the platform of friendship.

Membership snowballed and we had to put people on long Waiting List to maintain the uncluttered atmosphere of the club inspite of having paid the club’s “astronomical” Joining Fees and Subscription.

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We caught the attention of important players in our society both on the personal and corporate level like Chartered Bank (now part of Stanbic IBTC Bank) ,  Cadbury PLC,  Guinness,  Nigerite, Berger Paints, Coca Cola and the list goes on.

The myth of Ivory was sown and it blossomed. We are indeed very grateful and appreciative of our members.

It was the Managing Director of Chartered Bank, our main Bank then, who invited me for a chat one evening and suggested that we opened another club on the Island.  Based on our performance and turnover at Ikeja the bank would support us.

That was the birth of the second phase of our ……… dream.

Through Mr Gboyega Fatimilehim of Diya Fatimilehin & Co we sourced for suitable site and bought the land on Muri Okunola on Victoria Island and in 2005 we opened our Victoria Island branch.

Unfortunately, we got the operational modalities wrong in Victoria Island. Staffs manning the place were not mature and responsible enough to handle such operation without adequate supervision. The place fell far short of the standard of Ivory and eventually it was closed down and the building was converted into commercial office building.

This affected the whole of Ivory and this spell of bad management resulted in reduced revenue base of the club and its profitability disappeared. Ivory reputation nose dived. Population migration from Ikeja to Lekki and VGC axis did not help us.

But the dream was never abandoned and it refused to die!  In August 2010, a new team was taken on board and the re-branding exercise began.

Just recently, our Public Relation Adviser – Dr Phil Osagie of JSP Communications – and a long term member of the club who moved to Lekki axis – visited the club. He actually turned back at the entrance to ask the Security personnel outside where Ivory had moved to? When he came in and told us what happened we thanked God that we were succeeding in re-positioning Ivory. Mr Eric Fajemisin of Stanbic Pensions had a similar story to tell as he went to ask the GGM if Ivory had been sold by the Proprietor – a reknowned Ijebuman!   Hence this new phase of Ivory’s growth.   We have ordered new and additional machines for Ikeja at a cost of close to U.S. $100,000.00 and we are now eagerly expecting the arrival of the state of the art machines and introduction of our new club charges. Then we should embark on the modernisation of the Spa section with new steam rooms and Beauty Treatment area as well as Male & Female Changing facilities to complete the upgrade of our Ikeja club.

We plan to open our Ikoyi branch at Mulliner Towers where we have secured space at the basement for a brand new health club.   With our policy of common membership ALL our members (with their Gym wear in the boot of their cars), would be able to stop and work out on the Island before facing the traffic on the bridge to the mainland!

For the future, we are discussing with Lonrho Group about a Joint Venture to expand into an 80-room Easy Hotel. With assistance from Capital Bancorp Ltd we are working towards bringing your Ivory Health Club Group to the Nigerian Stock Exchange and allow our teeming members to acquire equity interest in the Ivory Group!  The Proprietor will relinquish direct ownership and independent Managers will report to shareholders through its Board of Directors.  Our members made the Club so they should be opportuned to acquire long term interest in the edifice!

Welcome to new Ivory Health Club and long live The Ivory Group!!

The dream continues………………..!!!

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