Cryotherapy chambers have been making headlines around the world as more sports teams and athletes adopt the deep freeze treatment for sports injuries.
Real Madrid star Cristiano Ronaldo, US sprinter Justin Gatlin and the Welsh rugby union team are among those using whole body cryotherapy chambers, where athletes stand in tanks with ambient temperatures of -140°C.
Cryotherapy was invented in Japan in the 1970s as a pain treatment method, says Benny Parihar of the Dubai-based treatment centres business Cryo. But athletes who endure the deep freeze claim quicker recovery from injuries and an ability to numb pain so they can train. Other treatments have been devised for weight loss (the theory being that the body needs to burn more calories to reheat) and skincare treatments.
Mr Parihar, who studied as an industrial engineer at the University of Southern California, cofounded Cryo with another former Californian student, German national Kai Stubbe. Mr Parihar, behind Platform 3 fitness centre in Dubai Marina, and Mr Stubbe, a tech start-up investor, began researching the cryotherapy business, which at the time consisted of 25 “mom and pop” treatment centres in the US.
The duo initially planned to open their business either in the US or the UK. “But being from Dubai and knowing how to start here, we thought ‘let’s use Dubai as a testing ground’. We have access to resources, real estate and funding,” says Mr Parihar.
Their goal was to create the first “professionalised” cryotherapy chain, with proper protocols and branding in place. They invested Dh1 million of their own cash, taking a unit in Jumeirah Emirates Towers for its first outlet in 2013. Mr Parihar says that although this is hardly a typical start-up space, it was required.
“The plausibility and validity of it came from this location,” he says.
It also served as a showroom for the cryogenic chambers, for which the pair did deals with European manufacturers to be distributors in the GCC and Asia.
“A few months into the business, we started getting a lot of requests to buy this equipment – not just from commercial entities but from private individuals [particularly those involved in equestrian sports]. Within six months, we had installed about 15 of these chambers in different homes and palaces [each one costs $75,000-$100,000]. That gave us the capital to take it to the next level.”
This helped to fund a third wing of the business, Cryo Services, which services the machines and supplies the stocks of liquid nitrogen required to run them.
This business was borne of frustration over its own supplies. Cryo and its machine buyers were tiny users of liquid nitrogen compared to the industrial gas users, and were often bottom of their suppliers’ priorities. The strict delivery times to Emirates Towers would sometimes be missed, meaning it couldn’t offer treatments.
Two specialists from the gas giants Linde and Air Products were hired and became partners in Cryo Services, which has a gas tanking and bottling plant in Dubai Investment Park that delivers to Cryo’s own clients and other specialists in advanced manufacturing that need gases for clean rooms.
Supplying its own Cryo centres at industrial prices also means they can earn better margins from company-owned retail units. Following Emirates Towers, a second centre was opened at Dubai Ladies Club last year and a third within FitRepublik at Dubai Sports City this year. A fourth opened in Al Ain last week and a fifth will open at the Abu Dhabi Country Club in December.
“The numbers now, through our retail operation, really started ringing bells. We do a minimum margin of 50 per cent through the retail business.”
The company is also developing a worldwide franchising operation, starting with an outlet in Beirut and set to include a chain of Cryo franchises in the US.
The company now turns over about Dh30 million and employs about 50 staff.
“The end goal is to be a vertically integrated cryogenic establishment on all different levels – retail, gas, franchise and R&D. Now we’re looking at hiring talent from the pool of low-temperature universities,” says Mr Parihar.
Regular Cryo customer Natasha Khan, who moved to Dubai from the US last December, first tried Cryo six months ago.
She runs distances of 6-10km up to five times a week.
“It’s definitely helped in cutting soreness after my run and I feel more energetic. Before, I felt drained and tired,” says Ms Khan, who spends Dh3,000-4,000 per month.
“For the whole body [cryotherapy], I’ll go two to three times a week; for a facial, I’ll go every two weeks.”
A report published last month by The Cochrane Group of medical researchers found that although cryotherapy may reduce muscle soreness on a short-term basis, there is no clear proof it is better than simple rest. The study added there was also not enough evidence about the potential hazards.
“Further high-quality, well-reported research is required and must provide detailed reporting of adverse events,” it said.
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