Over the past few years, the boutique fitness industry has boomed, growing by more than 400% since 2010 (source). There are more ways than ever to get fit, in part thanks to a cultural shift towards a more health-conscious lifestyle. As we look to the year ahead, we chatted with ClassPass East Coast Director of Partnerships Jennifer Burke for her predictions for the fitness industry, as well as her advice on how small studios can flourish in this highly-competitive market.
WHAT ARE YOUR TOP PREDICTIONS FOR THE SMALL FITNESS BUSINESS WORLD IN 2016?
As more research comes out about the importance of cross training, I think we’ll see more single-genre studios start to diversify and offer more than one type of workout. We’re already seeing this with studios like Pure Barre and Exhale adding new “cardio-based” classes, Flywheel opening up more locations that include Flybarre, and cycling classes incorporating more strength training to their routines. Some venues have even begun to collaborate with other studios to offer a more diverse experience, such as Studio Three in Chicago, which features Peloton (spinning), rowing, and yoga. However, studios should consider the risk involved with adding new formats to their studios. It can take a while to perfect new styles and you want to make sure you never dilute your core.
Further, as big studio brands focus on growth, I think we’ll start to see wider development of online channels designed to deliver the class experience to a larger audience. Anna Kaiser, founder of AKT in Motion, created a library of online videos, with other studios like Barre3 following suit. Couple these with online fitness options from Shaun T. or Nike Training Club and the opportunity for an online aggregator of fitness content opens up to help users discover these workouts.
Last but not least, I predict we’ll continue to see the use of technology in fitness and at fitness studios, but I think the studios that will win out will be those that easily integrate with other platforms. A number of studios, particularly cycling or equipment-based studios, leverage technology to monitor performance and calories; however, the technologies they use in the studio aren’t easily exportable and there is no easy way to continue to track your performance beyond that class. Many people take on a variety of activities throughout the day to get their exercise, so it becomes harder to gain a holistic view of their activity if there’s that disconnect in tech. Platforms like Apple Watch and Fitbit help but studios that can find ways to integrate more seamlessly with these technologies may have an edge.
WHAT NICHE FITNESS MARKETS WILL FIND WIDESPREAD SUCCESS IN 2016?
With all the high intensity classes that have launched in recent years, I think there will be an added focus on active recovery and stretching. Boutique fitness isn’t just for the young and fit—more and more individuals, and particularly older individuals who may be more prone to injury, want to have the boutique experience. As such, there needs to be a balance and a renewed focus on keeping muscles lean and healthy. We’re already seeing this in Los Angeles, where you can now book a bed at Stretch Lab and a trainer will physically stretch you for 30-60 minutes.
Historically, boxing has been a predominantly male workout; the only “boxing” associated with females was kickboxing or Taebo. That’s completely changed this past year, especially with the help of female celebrities touting boxing as their go-to routine. Shadowbox, Gotham’s Gym, Aerospace, and Title Boxing have all performed incredibly well this past year, and I imagine we’ll start to see the boxing craze boom in other markets in the US soon.
While dance cardio and aerobics classes have always been relatively popular, I think there will be a trend that moves away from the traditional “aerobics” workout towards classes that teach actual dance moves or routines. Uforia in San Francisco, for example, combines their exercise with a dance-based routine. At Mitchell Wayne Productions in New York, you can learn the routines of your favorite pop stars, from Justin Bieber to Beyonce. People have fun, break a sweat, and learn something too! Even big gyms like Crunch have started adding hip hop to their class schedules.
HOW CAN BUSINESS OWNERS OPEN ADDITIONAL REVENUE STREAMS THIS YEAR?
Two options for additional revenue streams are ones I’ve mentioned before, such as adding online content or subscriptions to your classes, or potentially adding new classes to your schedule that diversify your routine and incorporate a new genre or workout. Other things to consider are launching new programs like a 30-day challenge or other type of intensive that upsells a small group of members to commit to a specific workout goal over a set period of time. This could be increased classes, a complementary diet plan, personalized training, etc.
Additionally, if studios have dead time when they are not using the space, they should consider renting the space to personal trainers or other third party vendors looking for performance space. There are a number of studios that do this successfully and get some consistent revenue at zero cost. Fitness Connect or GymLynx are both places where you can list your space for interested parties.
WHAT ADVICE DO YOU HAVE TO STAND OUT AMONGST THE COMPETITION?
Fitness studios anywhere can stand out by focusing on two things: the quality of their classes and the experience they provide to members. People choose individual fitness studios (and pay more for them in many cases) because they believe the workout is specialized and because they enjoy the culture and experience that comes with the smaller community. As such, studios need to ensure they deliver on these expectations. In terms of quality, they should make sure they hire, retain, and reward high performing instructors, who can often be brands themselves and develop followings separate from the studio. Additionally, consistency matters. Students should expect to get a high quality class no matter when they go and who the instructor is. Having rigorous training programs and feedback mechanisms can help ensure high standards are met and maintained.
HOW CAN FITNESS STUDIOS PROVIDE AN EXPERIENCE FOR THEIR MEMBERS?
Some luxury studios create great experiences by offering high-end amenities like cold towels, free water, well-stocked bathrooms, etc. However, you don’t need to splurge to create a wonderful experience for your guests. Some of the best ways to create a good experience are done in class and can be done by any studio—big or small. From my perspective, the best ways to create an experience can be:
(1) Get people’s names and address them in class. There is nothing more motivating than an instructor encouraging you to keep going when you think you don’t have anything left in the tank. There is also nothing more impressive than an instructor remembering the names of everyone in a 20+ person class.
(2) Make it fun and dynamic. Find ways to make the class upbeat and interactive, as well as challenging. Some studios do this more literally by creating partner work for abs, utilizing contests or competitions among the students in class, or even playing games like Spin the Wheel or Simon Says as part of the workout. However, other instructors take a slightly more subtle approach and accomplish this simply by maintaining their energy throughout the class, changing up the workout so their students never get bored, and injecting humor to keep the experience fun and enjoyable!
(3) Play the right music. Music can be so important in a class, particularly if it’s a cycling or treadmill-based class. Matching the song with the rhythm can be very challenging, but when done right, it can really impact your movement and motivate you to keep up.
WHAT’S ONE PIECE OF ADVICE YOU’D GIVE TO A NEW BUSINESS OWNER JUST STARTING OUT IN THE FITNESS INDUSTRY?
Define your brand and culture. Know what’s going to make your studio special and stand out among the rest. Right now, we are in a boutique fitness boom. According to IHRSA’s 2014 report, the number of boutique fitness studios quadrupled from 2010 to 2014. This is exciting as it’s correlated with the demand for these specialized workouts, but it also means there is more competition than ever. You need to have a point of view. This could be new and edgy like “hip-hop themed yoga classes” or very fundamental like “back to the basics yoga.” Most important is to know what you stand for, what that means for your core demographic, and how that informs your hiring and decisions.
Jennifer Burke is the East Coast Director at ClassPass, where she is responsible for helping develop the strategy and growth trajectory for the ClassPass Partnerships organization. She oversees the sales and account management teams on the East Coast, and led the launch of new ClassPass markets in the early days. Previously, she held a number of marketing and consulting roles at companies including Bain & Company, The Walt Disney Company, PepsiCo and McCann Erickson. She holds a B.A. from Brown University and an MBA from Stanford Business School.