Mukasa makes money by keeping Rwandans fit

Health and Fitness Center Ltd is more than just a fitness facility. Assuming that it was a grocery shop, it would be one that doubles as retail and wholesale. Located at the Alpha Palace Hotel in Remera, it provides the usual work out facilities and equipment one will find in any other standard gym, but that’s not all.
Mukasa testing one of his new machines. Sunday Times/Moses Opobo
Mukasa testing one of his new machines. Sunday Times/Moses Opobo

Health and Fitness Center Ltd is more than just a fitness facility. 

Assuming that it was a grocery shop, it would be one that doubles as retail and wholesale. Located at the Alpha Palace Hotel in Remera, it provides the usual work out facilities and equipment one will find in any other standard gym, but that’s not all. Not only is the said equipment available for use in the gym, it is also a form of display, for people who would love to buy them for personal use. 

Walking into the facility, past the snack bar as one enters the Alpha Palace premises, one is likely to find a motley crew of not only fitness freaks working out on one of the machines, but also window shoppers scanning the room for its varied range of equipment. So the place is a show room as well. 

If you have been to any fairly decent gym before, then you have an idea of what to expect already; motorized tread mills, punching bags, massage and reflexology machines, stationery bikes, weight benches, rowing machines, vibration plates, Jacuzzi, dumb bells …you name it. Not only do they rent out and sell equipment, they also do maintenance and repair works in a workshop at the back of the showroom. 

“The idea was to make this a one-stop health and fitness center where one can come and use our facilities on a day to day basis, purchase an item for home use, or bring their faulty equipment for repair, since we have a trained technician on standby,” says Nelson Mukasa, founder and managing director. 

“We sell equipment both for domestic and commercial use, although the home equipment [are] cheaper. However, the commercial ones are more durable, and come with a longer user warranty,” he adds. 

It is for this reason that all the machines in the gym are labeled with their respective prices. Needless to say, many of them are not very cheap. Case in point: one of the deluxe massage chairs on which I sat for a 10-minute massage costs a staggering Rwf3.5 million!  But that is for people who can afford it –the ones who want to carry the chair home for their exclusive use. 

Otherwise, you could opt to settle for the more affordable option of paying per use, and the facility charges a daily fee of Rwf2, 500 or Rwf15, 000 per month. That will cover the time you spend on all the other machines as you so wish.  

According to Mukasa, the center was set up with the core objectives of promoting the spirit of sports and health among ordinary Rwandans, as well a culture of protocol at events. To this end, the center has identified and trained several bouncers who provide events protocol and protection services around the country. “We have a total of 60 trained and professional bouncers, 28 of who are girls, and we are still training more, because it is an on-going project,” Mukasa reveals. 

The bouncers work at various entertainment spots around town, and chances are that if you have seen a female bouncer manning the gates at your favorite club, she is from here. At last year’s Kwita Izina gorilla naming ceremony in Musanze, it was these bouncers that were contracted to provide event protocol and security.

Perhaps what’s unique about these bouncers is the fact that they operate with some sense of corporate social responsibility. Of late they have been working hand in hand with the Rwanda National Police to curb social vices like teenage sex and the rising trend of underage girls gaining admission to adult entertainment venues. 

“Many of the bouncers we have at events and entertainment spots are undisciplined due to lack of training. Some report to work drunk, and end up being rude to the clients. When a person goes to an event, they are out to be happy, and the least you can do is insult them with the presence of rude bouncers,” says Mukasa. 

His plans for now are to “promote this project and create as many jobs for the youths as possible, and supplement the police’s efforts in ensuring security and safety of private persons.”

He also wants to open a separate, fully fledged gym at the Amahoro Stadium, so that the current facility remains as a showroom and workshop. 

Dream come true

Nelson Mukasa’s journey into health and fitness entrepreneurship started in 2005, the year that he returned to his native Rwanda from Tanzania, where he was born. Soon after arrival, he enrolled for a course in electronics at a technical school, from where he also took time off to nurture his passion for sports, particularly tennis and football. 

And so good was he on the pitch, that when a group of visiting American volunteers saw him at it, they immediately proposed that he go and study sports as a professional course, and come back to teach it back home. The volunteers further offered to cover all the expenses. 

“I applied for a position at Read Care College in Scotland, but their fees were too high, so they (sponsors) rejected it and advised me to try a cheaper option. I looked for good and affordable schools in South Africa, but found none. 

Eventually I ended up at the Bulawayo Sports College in Harare, Zimbabwe, where I spent three years learning sports management and physical fitness,” he says. 

After completing the course, he returned to Rwanda and easily found work as a manager at the Nyarutarama Tennis Club. After six years on the job, he joined the National Olympic Committee, where he was in charge of taking the athletes through physical fitness drills. Two years on, he moved again, this time to APR Football Club, where he again took the footballers through physical fitness drills. 

In 2009, he came to the Alpha Palace hotel as sports manager in charge of the hotel’s sports facilities. 

“It was about this time that I thought of starting my own business. I had seen on internet and on my trips abroad that most sports coaches are serious investors with sports clubs of their own.”

 

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