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DLL goes on the acquisition trail – plans 40 new clubs in the UK

By Tom Walker    09 Sep 2021
DLL currently operates 122 clubs across Europe and the UK / David Lloyd Leisure
David Lloyd Leisure is planning to expand its estate through acquisition – with 40 more clubs planned for the UK
The plans come after membership levels returned to pre-pandemic levels within four months of reopening
Russell Barnes tells HCM he's taken over as CEO to free Glenn Earlham to go on the acquisition trail
Company says M&A landscape is once in a generation opportunity
Lots of companies are having to let go of assets to keep their core businesses afloat. This provides an opportunity for M&A the likes of which we're unlikely to see again
– Russell Barnes
Credit: David Lloyd Leisure

David Lloyd Leisure (DLL) has reorganised its top team in order to expand its estate through acquisition, after seeing a "remarkable" bounceback in membership levels since reopening its clubs earlier this year.

CEO Russell Barnes – speaking exclusively to HCM – said his move to CEO, with Glenn Earlam taking up the role of executive chair, has been driven by the need to exploit a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for growth.

"My becoming CEO and Glenn executive chair is a logical step," he said, "As a company, we have three priorities. The first is bounceback, because, like all businesses in our sector, we’ve been battered and bruised through the pandemic. Bounceback needs complete and utter clarity of ownership, energy, drive and ultimately success.

"The second is a need to keep digitalising our offering...and the third relates to mergers and acquisitions.

"Coming out of the pandemic, lots of companies find themselves having to let go of assets to keep their core businesses afloat. This provides an opportunity for M&A the likes of which we're unlikely to see again, in our working lifetime. DLL, therefore, has a chance to accelerate its growth – but as with bounceback, this requires effort and clarity of ownership.

"It isn’t realistic that one person might drive the bounceback and also dedicate time and energy to M&A. So, the conversation between Glenn and I was simple: I would concentrate on the bounceback and Glenn would get out and sell the DLL story to those who might wish to sell us their assets."

"The speed of the bounceback has been staggering," Barnes said.

"By the end of July, we’d regained our pre-pandemic membership levels."

The strong return of members, Barnes says – coupled with property "opportunities created by the pandemic" – has led to the company setting out ambitious expansion plans.

"We believe there’s space for another 30 - 40 clubs in the UK and we’ll build around two new clubs a year," he said.

"We’ll adopt a multi-model approach to achieve this UK growth.

"We have a standard club model that’s constantly evolving, with sites in the UK where that model will be implemented over the next few years.

"Meanwhile, our spa retreat model is about identifying existing clubs where we can extend the footprint. And then there’ll be a smaller footprint model that will help us enter premium markets we’ve long wanted to be in, but struggled to find the right location."

• To find out more about DLL's plans, click here to read the full interview with Russell Barnes in HCM Issue 8/2021.

Russell Barnes  David Lloyd Leisure  DLL  pandemic  M&A 
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