Chatty Dobson: Flexin' in Chelsea
Founder Chatty Dobson reveals attitude and business acumen behind FLEX Chelsea.
This gym does what it says on the ‘tin’ as the name encompasses everything on offer – flexed muscles, flexibility, flexible training with strength, yoga and spin, flexible membership options. (Although Chatty can’t quite recall the spark of inspiration that sealed the name!) It’s also a light and airy haven – the aesthetic antidote to the dark studios filled with neon and pumping soundtracks, which were opening in 2016 when yoga teacher Chatty was searching for her business-premises sweet spot. She wanted to create the opposite and founded FLEX Chelsea in the summer of 2018, when the perfect site was located after a two-year hunt. Its large windows let natural light flood into the yoga studio and personal training area, and there is a Cali-vibe to the place complete with some cork walls and floors, and an abundance of plants.
Its prime postcode location on the Fulham Road serves the Chelsea Set and Chatty herself is a self-described “die-hard Chelsea girl”. Details delight here: Showerheads contain essential oils for an aromatherapy spa vibe. Classes stay ahead of the curve trend wise, including CBD Yin Yoga in which yogis use CBD oil for muscle recovery, alongside regular favourites such as the glutes-focused Peach on the Beach class.
Currently, the doors are closed but the classes are on, with the gym pivoting to livestream online sessions.
A lot of people get fooled though. Because we’re nice, they think the classes are too. But they’re tough – you’ll get the workout you crave. Chatty Dobson
Cut the ego and get happy
I’m a big believer in exercise boosting your mood and wanted to see more of that in London. I’d had enough of the yoga studios that newbies and the less spiritual feel they don’t belong in, the boutique studios where you feel judged just for breathing their air. I wanted to create a space for everyone to feel comfortable and enjoy themselves, no matter their ability, fitness, their bad day or their good day. Cut the ego and get happy.
We’re here for you, not for ourselves. FLEX is light, bright, full of plants, and everyone here tries to boost your mood – from the front-of-house team when you arrive (and leave) to the instructors leading your class, and even our cleaning team – everyone wants to improve somebody else’s day.
A lot of people get fooled though. Because we’re nice, they think the classes are too, but they’re tough – you’ll get the workout you crave.
The pandemic pivot
After the first lockdown we had a member who was so keen to help us re-open, she potted 17 plants for us! Someone selflessly giving their time to bring us back to life was very touching after four months of closure.
Due to the constant opening and closing of gyms because of Covid-19 we’re slightly all over the place. At the moment, we’re physically closed but we’ve made great steps to produce livestream classes, as well as significantly boosting our corporate offering, not just in the UK but globally. So although we’re not running according to plan, we’re still running efficiently due to our constant evolution, and that’s great.
We’ve got to wait and see what 2021 has in store for us but we hope to get back to group classes, keep up our livestream and on-demand services, and offer more corporate and events. We’re also adding Reformer Pilates which people are looking forward to already.
Every time we have to close, I feel like I’m letting down my staff and the clients, and I have to kick myself to remember that it’s not my fault Chatty Dobson
Highs & lows of brand building
Each time I go to the studio and see it buzzing with happy people, I love it. Also building a team that enjoys working together and enjoys coming to work, full stop. I’ve worked in places I dreaded going to and I’m so pleased we don’t have that here, despite the early starts!
But having to close three times in a year has been seriously tough mentally. Every time we have to do it I feel like I’m letting down my staff and the clients, and I have to kick myself to remember that it’s not my fault.
Don’t be shocked when people let you down. Not everyone has the same goals, drive or discipline – and that’s OK.
My motivational motto
I try to live by the Sanskrit prayer: ‘Lokah Samastah Sukhino Bhavantu’. May all beings everywhere be happy and free, and may the thoughts, words, and actions of my own life contribute in some way to that happiness and freedom of all.
There’s enough stress, angst and competition in the world. Stick to your truth and people will recognise it. I think that as a result of the vibe at FLEX Chelsea our members are less demanding than other studios. It’s a nicer environment for people to train in, but also for the staff to work in, and that pattern travels.
My workday wellness hack
Hydrate! And cut yourself some slack. Every night as I’m about to fall asleep I try to think of three things that went well that day, so that - no matter what went wrong - I end the day in a good headspace.
Who’s who in my little black wellness book
Rose Mann, the founder of the Farm Girl cafes is my best friend, so if I’m in need of a new, healthy recipe (or more likely, feeding) she’s on speed dial. Paola di Lanzo, founder of Paola’s BodyBarre, is always on hand for industry advice or a good old moan! And Kate Wheldal of Kate Skin, who’s an award-winning facialist, often found in the treatment rooms at FLEX Chelsea, and is a super-savior of faces. I don’t go often but when I do I notice the difference.
I honestly think the people filling up your own wellness little black book should be your friends – the good influence ones, not the tequila ones!
What wellness looks like in 2021
I don’t think anyone would’ve foreseen the extraordinary rise of digital wellness in 2020, at least not for some years. So I’m not ruling anything out these days! I do think this year we’ll start to wean ourselves off online classes to an extent as we become aware of quite how much time we spend on screens.
Human fragility has been highlighted in the past year, and in turn, the importance of looking after your own health. People will continue to prioritise their fitness; whether that’s taking a gym class, hiring a PT or simply walking around the park.
The fitness industry will continue to be dominated by high-intensity classes, because of the world that we live in we thrive off that workout style. But, as with everything, we need balance. That’s why we’ve recently experienced a dramatic rise in Yin yoga, breathwork, meditation and mindfulness. These practices will continue to grow as we search to find peace in ourselves among the mayhem of life.
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