The history of Floatworks
From the largest centre in the world, to the forst ‘float pod’, and beyond
To tell the story of Floatworks’ history, we need to go back; right back to the mid 1980s in London’s financial district.
Tim Strudwick, Floatworks’ original founder, was working as a trainee in a merchant bank in the city. Today he speaks to us from his workshop in Essex (where the very i-sopod float tanks we use in Vauxhall were built), and recalls a pivotal moment in his early career.
“It was a very stressful environment,” Tim begins. “One day I was at work, I bent down to pick a pencil up off the floor, and a disc in my back sort of popped out, which was caused by a lot of physical tension. All the muscles got very tight, and in the end this disc just sort of pushed its way out.”
Thirty years ago, physiotherapy was much less prevalent than it is today, and while it was available on the NHS, it was slow progress in helping with Tim’s recovery. Instead he sought out acupuncture, and was eventually led to a float centre in Notting Hill to help with his pain.
“It was this very esoteric, new-age place and I remember getting in this hand-made float tank; a real wooden coffin-type of affair; I remember getting in the tank and lying in the water and I just started laughing!
“The really weird thing was, physically, it did a fantastic amount of good. But also mentally, it made me realise that working in the city in a bank wasn’t for me. I had a few more floats, and then after being back at work for three or four months, I handed my notice in and went off to do something else. It had a quite a profound effect!”
After shedding the suit for slacks, Tim found himself following another passion, and setting up an art company. After a few years he sold up, and while chatting with a close personal trainer friend over a beer or two, the idea of a float centre was born. “Mainly,” Tim says, “because nobody else was doing it.”
In the early ‘90s, there wasn’t the breadth of solid research we have today, to back up anecdotal claims of what floating can do.
Float tanks were still quite primitive, intimidating beasts. Not to mention you could count the number of float centres in the UK on one hand, and across the world on two. It wasn’t that floating had a bad public image, it’s more that there was almost no perception of it at all. Yet…
“You’ve got to bear in mind that, in the ‘90s, the internet didn’t exist – so just to get people through the door of that place was difficult. And then the tanks at that time were pretty uninviting, if not terrifying for some people. They were a cross between a coffin and an iron lung or something like that. It made it fun, it was always a challenge.
“We used to chase a lot of printed media at that time, and distribute a lot of leaflets – that really helped. At the time there was no way of finding out how to run a float centre, which was good because it makes you original and you’re not copying anyone else.
“In the first ten years, we had good growth every year. We were at a place in London Bridge called Clink Street, which is on the Thames Path, so we had a lot of people walking through our front door every day, so if anyone was outside hesitating, we’d always drag them in! People were always curious.”
As the business grew and the customers kept coming through the doors, Tim and the team realised they were in a rather unique position. At Clink Street they had three tanks, before moving around the corner to a new location with six, eventually expanding to nine. Only these weren’t the i-sopods we float in today down in Vauxhall – they were a mish-mash of international imports and homegrown, handmade designs.
“We were getting 1200 to 1500 customers each month,” Tim recalls, “so we were constantly getting feedback from our customers about what they liked and what they didn’t like, and we realised we had this manual of how not to build a float tank, which made it really easy to come up with something that we were confident about!”
From there, work began on what we now know as the i-sopod, which today Tim builds and ships to centres across the globe. From the start, Tim’s vision for his tank was one that people would want to step inside. We all know someone who’s asked, “Don’t you feel claustrophobic inside a tank?” and it’s precisely that perception he wanted to break.
“Claustrophobia is about feeling trapped – if someone locks you in a cupboard, or if you’re on a train that breaks down in a tunnel – that’s where the fear comes from. With a float tank, we said to people: ‘If you don’t like it in there, you can get out.’ Once a customer that’s a little bit apprehensive appreciates that they’re in total control of the whole environment, they’re much more comfortable.”
Wow, what a nice way to start the week - feeling some serious float love from floatrco on instagram this morning. pic.twitter.com/3AHhJHkMxE— i-sopod float tanks (@yourzerogravity) 21 November 2016
“We realised people were quite happy to get into cars. Cars can tend to be quite small, but no one ever worries about being stuck in one, so we tried to make it look a bit like a vehicle. And also, a vehicle takes you somewhere else – to a better state-of-mind, deeper relaxation or a trip across the universe!”
As for Tim’s final word on the future of floating? With infinite possibilities in every float, the future is there to be written.
“It’s a very personal thing – different people get different things from it. Personally I don’t ever think any two floats are the same. I’ve been floating for over 20 years, and I’ll still have mind-boggling floats. You forget just how amazing it can be sometimes. You can stand on the edge of infinity in a float tank.”