The fitness industry is constantly evolving, and there has been massive growth over the past decade, especially for boutique fitness – a change that continues to reshape the entire wellness space.
According to IHRSA, boutique fitness memberships increased by 74% between 2012 and 2015, compared to just 5% for health clubs. A recent survey of 1,300 readers from aSweatLife also found that fitness has grown in both popularity and spend in 2019, with participants increasing their budget allocation for digital fitness and boutique classes.
It’s clear that boutique fitness has changed the industry. But how has it become such a phenomenon, and what does the future have in store?
In this article, we’ll discuss the 3 fitness brands at the forefront of this change, why it’s so popular and what we can expect to see in the future. Skip ahead to:
What is Boutique Fitness?
Think of a typical traditional gym: large open spaces with different weights, machines, and equipment spread around for members to help themselves to. Compared to traditional fitness chains, the boutique studio experience is much more intimate – they aren’t just selling access to their facility or equipment. Studios will offer niche workouts and classes usually focused on a specific type of fitness, like high-intensity interval training, for example.
Boutique fitness isn’t running on a treadmill for 30 minutes after work. Nor is it awkwardly lingering around the weight rack waiting for someone to finish so you can nab their weights.
Instead, boutique fitness is an experience; training in a small group setting with everyone in the community feeling accomplished after. Unlike the traditional gym model, members are a part of something more than just exercise.
This customer desire mirrors those of other consumer-facing industries, as Kevin Logan, U.S chief economist for HSBC, notes that there has been a steady drop in consumers purchasing clothing and shoes. Instead, Logan notes increased spend on eating out, travel, and recreation, highlighting a shift in what’s become important to consumers.
Boutique fitness is meeting a friend after work to sweat it out for 45 minutes in a spin class and grabbing dinner after. People are willing to fork out over $30 a pop to attend one of these classes, visiting on numerous occasions throughout the week. Boutique fitness is social, fun, and ultimately, it’s a lifestyle.
Where Did Boutique Fitness Come From?
Businesses across all industries will adapt to meet changing consumer needs and keep up with trends. They must do this, so they can continue to grow, and this is how boutique fitness was born.
The world has experienced many economic changes over the years, and this has massively influenced the fitness industry.
The middle class has been steadily shrinking; a 2011 study by Stanford showed that the share of middle-class American families dropped from 65% in 1970 to 44% in 2009, and 2010’s recession accelerated this further.
As a result of these changes, we entered the ‘hourglass economy,’ seeing an increase in the upper and lower class spectrum, with a decrease of those left in the middle. From this, businesses across a range of industries were forced to adapt, splitting into high and low-end business models to cater to the dominating markets of the economy.
Low-end Fitness Business Model: Low-cost gyms began emerging to cater to the lower half of the market, with examples including Anytime Fitness and Planet Fitness. These models have similar characteristics; 24-hour access, low member interaction, and little offering in terms of classes. Members are signed up and left to their own devices. Equinox Fitness even launched its separate brand, Blink Fitness, to compete in this low-cost market.
The High-end Fitness Business Model: Boutique Fitness exploded onto the scene to cater to those at the high-end of the economic scale, offering premium services at a premium price. Now household names in the fitness industry, examples of these include F45, SoulCycle, Orange theory, and Barry’s Bootcamp. We’ll explore some of these brands in more detail further into the article.
In the fast-moving age of consumer technology, consumers expect convenience at their fingertips more than ever before. Game-changing brands like Uber, HelloFresh, and WeWork have completely revolutionized the way many eat, commute, and work. This is particularly relevant for the millennial generation.
Boutique fitness was practically made for millennials; 3 out of 4 of this generation prefer spending money on experiences rather than things. They’re entering their prime spending years, and they’re the most significant generation yet. Millennials define health and wellness in a new way. For them, it’s more than exercising and eating right; it’s a lifestyle.
Millennials want unique experiences and convenience. So when it comes to fitness, the concept of an inflexible, traditional gym membership doesn’t appeal.
Boutique fitness ticks all of the millennial boxes, which is why they are continuously investing in the industry and influencing its future.
3 Reasons People Love Boutique Fitness
With thousands of boutique studios specializing in everything from yoga and cycling to boxing and dance, there’s something for everyone. They have a unique appeal compared to traditional gyms, and these are 3 reasons people love them.
One of the major attractions to boutique fitness is personalization and tailored fitness. Studios tend to specialize in a particular type of fitness and usually have small classes of around 12. This means that the instructor has more time to give you individual attention.
Smaller training groups give instructors the space to adjust the form and pay closer attention. Something that they might not be able to do within a large class or gym environment. It usually takes around three classes to get up-to-date with any unfamiliar technology and catch up with class lingo. Studios provide that coach-member relationship in a way that’s not intimidating
The community vibe or tribe keeps clients coming back again and again. Just the size of a smaller class makes it feel like you’re already a part of a supportive network. The majority of boutique studios place a strong emphasis on this sense of community, as it drives loyalty.
One way to support a community culture is to create an online community. It’s an absolute must in today’s world. By maintaining an online community, you can improve the customer’s experience. When it comes to fitness, some benefits come from working out in a group. When you’re trying to nail the last round of drills at boot camp, watching your friend finish it off often gives you the motivation to complete it.
Research shows that the healthy actions of others tend to rub off on us. One study found that participants move towards the exercise behaviors of those around them. Another study found that overweight people were more likely to lose weight if they spent time around their fit friends. Group classes radiate positivity and social support that you can’t get from working out alone.
From strength training and HIIT to cardio classes and hot yoga, boutique fitness brings with it an extensive choice of classes. If you want to combine nightclub music and energy with cycling, then you head to SoulCycle, or you want to up your treadmill game but hate doing it alone, then head to OrangeTheory or Barry’s Bootcamp for a treadmill-based workout.
You then have the option to stick to your favorite studio or use a service like ClassPass, so you have regular access to multiple studios and fitness clubs in your local area. Although a boutique studio tends to be specialized, the emergence of boutique fitness means these types of workouts are available for you to try.
The reason why one person may love boutique fitness can also be the same reason another person might decide it’s not for them. Focusing on one type of workout means you can properly hone a specific skill and see how your fitness has progressed. Although there’s less variety than a say a multipurpose gym, it also gives a level of focus, and as a gym owner, this means you can hone in on a specific target audience.
If you’re in love with a particular type of fitness like dance, yoga, or cycling, you’re more likely to find your tribe and commit to a studio that’s going to enhance your love even further. A specialty studio is a great way to find other people that also love the same thing, further deepening that sense of community and creating the right atmosphere.
3 Studios That Paved the Way for Boutique Fitness Success
1. F45 Training
F45 is the world’s fastest-growing functional training community. The brand’s signature mix of circuit and HIIT style workouts focus on everyday movement, so people of any fitness levels are welcome.
During a workout, large displays guide members through classes in case they get lost at any point. They use a combination of heart rate tracking technology, a branded app for easy class booking, and innovative use of tech to bring boutique fitness to the next level on a global platform.
Alongside the brand’s tech-forward strategy, founder and CEO Rob Deutsch puts F45 success down to its training community: “I could see team training was exploding and people needed buddies for their next session. I think a big thing in the longevity of health and fitness is having a ‘buddy system’ and feeling part of a team, like going back to the old sporting days: feeling part of a community.”
Currently, there are more than 1,300 F45 Training studios around the world.
One of the best-known boutique fitness franchises in North America – SoulCycle is a cardio workout guaranteed to get you feeling good. Founded by game-changing duo Julie Rice and Elizabeth Cutler, SoulCycle is reshaping indoor cycling.
Back when SoulCycle first launched in 2006, boutique fitness had barely begun, with most gyms still offering traditional memberships and services. Charging members per class felt like a risky move at the time, according to co-founder Elizabather Cutler. Nevertheless, this pricing model is what made the brand push to provide members with such a unique experience: “There was no boutique fitness in NYC, and everything was membership-based. We felt that charging people per class was a challenge to ourselves and that each time people came, it could be a mini-experience.”
Offering an alternative fitness experience to the weightlifting culture of gyms, SoulCycle is set to pumping dance music and lit with candles. The class feels like a dance cardio party: it’s dark, loud, sweaty, and fun. Visitors are encouraged to leave phones in their lockers at check-in, switch off, and surrender to the beat of the music.
The brand has created a unique experience for members; if you want the SoulCycle experience, you won’t get it anywhere else. The session gives people the chance to get lost for 45 minutes and leave feeling so motivated; they’ll be ready to do it all again. With its cult-like following, SoulCycle is recognized as a lifestyle brand that fosters communities and a sense of belonging. You no longer just hit the gym, you wear your branded clothing and post on social media about your sweaty workout at your nearest SoulCycle.
3. Orangetheory Fitness
Orangetheory Fitness is all based around heart rate training. Dr. Joel French, Orangetheory’s senior director of research, fitness, and wellness, explains how this makes the classes accessible to everyone: “The heart rate system allows everyone to push themselves to exactly where they need to be. You can have that elite athlete training right next to a grandmother, and they can get the same kind of workout in the same class.” This studio brings new ideas to the fitness industry; its members can exercise and at the same time and view their heart rate levels to achieve maximum calorie burn and reach their fitness goals.
Much like F45 Training, the boutique brand is a massive player in the fitness franchise industry. Eight years after opening its first studio in 2010, it surpassed $1 billion in systemwide revenue in 2018. The brand has over 1,100 studios all over the world and is still growing. With passionate staff members, a warm, friendly environment, and killer workout, the brand has created a successful boutique fitness business that’s dominating the fitness world. After launching the first studio, founder Ellen Latham instantly knew that Orangetheory was catering to a fitness void as one post-class customer remarked: “One of these has to be on every corner.”
The Future of Boutique Fitness
These 3 key brands encouraged mass interest in the fitness trend, inspiring a host of new concept studios to open. Since then, boutique fitness itself has already changed a lot.
1. Technology Shapes Up
As we can see with Orangetheory and F45, technology is already a part of boutique fitness, and it will continue to influence the entire fitness industry. It’s clear there’s a growing consumer desire to see how they’re performing with workouts, and technology physically brings added value to the entire experience.
From live-streaming classes in the Peloton Studios to making full use of wearables and tracking members’ progress and fitness levels, technology allows boutique fitness studios to innovate and disrupt the industry entirely. Expect more classes utilizing software to enhance the member experience, with everything from VR and wearable tech bringing people together to achieve shared goals and competitions.
Boutique studios will need to continue adapting to consumer demands, using tech to deliver unique experiences to members, as well as revolutionizing the fun side of working out.
2. A Gym on Every Corner
Until there is quite literally a ‘gym on every corner’ – there is space for boutiques to continue flourishing. As recently noted in the New York Times, the recent decline of brick and mortar retail space is leaving vacant rooms across high streets and malls. This vacancy is quickly being snapped up by boutiques.
The world’s obsession with boutique fitness is creating more opportunities for fitness entrepreneurs. Anthony Geisler, CEO of Xponential Fitness, which owns boutique studios across a range of categories, encourages studio owners to open near other franchises, as this tactic creates a “fitness food court” for potential customers.
As a gym owner, buying into the food court tactic is a smart move, as it feeds the current consumer desire for flexibility and variety.
3. More Studios, More Niches
What if every gym, on every corner, offers the same thing? Eventually, boutique fitness, as we know it, will become over-saturated. As the industry continues to grow, so will the consumer desire to see new things from it. To continue succeeding when the competition is at its highest, brands and studios will need to expand their offering and continue to differentiate themselves from one another.
We already see new trends, with the growth of martial arts influencing popularity with classes such as body combat and consumer desire for variety in both physical and mental fitness, resulting in hybrid ‘yoga box’ classes.
The future of boutique fitness ultimately lies in how the industry’s leaders and entrepreneurs adapt and grow with it.
With global demand for personalization in an environment that emphasizes community, tribe, wellness, and fitness, the boutique fitness industry will only continue to grow. Boutique fitness is here to stay. It’s here to change, improve, and continue exceeding expectations as it has done for so long.
When it comes to boutique studios, SoulCycle revolutionized spin, F45 Training revolutionized HIIT, and Orangetheory revolutionized performance tracking. But this is not where revolution ends in the boutique fitness space.
It’s just a question of who or what will transform the industry next.