A GYM operator founded by Dragon’s Den star Duncan Bannatyne is eyeing further market expansion after reporting record turnover and higher profits.

The Bannatyne Group hopes to take advantage of a “fragmented market” after the impact of a growth plan helped turnover increase to a best-ever £117.6m to December 31 and push pre-tax profit up 57 per cent to £14.3m.

Bosses at the Darlington-headquartered business say the results, revealed today, are testimony of their commitment to expansion and “ability to deliver a truly excellent and modern proposition to members.”

They added the performance of the firm, which runs 71 gyms, 46 spas and four hotels nationwide, was aided by a £14m outlay to modernise its estate and a further £2.4m investment to maintain operations.

Late last year, the business took on Belfast’s Virgin Active Health Club for an undisclosed sum, just days after adding Stratford-upon-Avon’s Wildmoor Spa & Health Club to its portfolio, and chief executive Justin Musgrove said it aims to continue such progress, highlighting how it is “well financed to acquire further sites in a fragmented market place.”

Mr Musgrove said: “A 57 per cent increase in profits year-on-year after a 15 per cent uplift in 2016 and very strong cash generation is clear demonstration our strategy is delivering.

“Our aspirational proposition provides indulgence with lifestyle balance that rewards the group with ever increasing membership and spa visits.

“The group is seeking to expand further through both organic growth as our current re-invested estate potential is realised and by careful acquisition.

“We are excited about prospects for 2018, which has started well with over 19,000 new members – another record – signed up to date.”

Mr Musgrove added its membership increased 7.4 per cent to 211,715 in the year, while it also benefited from a double-digit increase in spa revenue to £16.5m.

Chairman Alan Jackson added the firm, which employs more than 3,000 people, had absorbed cost pressures brought on by national and living wage increases, the apprenticeship levy and its own expansion.

The firm previously unveiled a £50m expansion plan, which included a £1.8m outlay on a health club in Ingleby Barwick, near Stockton, where Mr Bannatyne’s empire began two decades ago.

He started the health club following a skiing accident, after which he needed regular exercise to recover.

He could not find facilities locally and decided to use some of the proceeds from the sale of his previous business, Quality Care Homes, to launch the fitness chain.