• Elaine Tait

3 Drivers of Success- What the Rise of Boutique Fitness Can Teach Other Consumer Industries About Br

As our CEO, Phil Roos, shared in his last blog post, at Great Lakes GrowthWorks we care a lot about health and wellness. Whether it is maintaining a healthy diet, a healthy mindset or a healthy workout regimen, we all incorporate health and wellness into our lives in a significant way.

For me, health and wellness is primarily a daily commitment to wiser food choices and a combination of workouts and runs that challenge me physically and balance me mentally. However, with health and wellness consumer services and products also a big focus of our efforts at Great Lakes GrowthWorks, I thought I would explore the role of brands when it comes to health and wellness. Specifically, given the growing craze of boutique gyms over the past 3-5 years (according to CBS, now more than 54MM Americans are contributing to the growth of the boutique studio movement), I thought I would offer some personal thoughts and insight on what other industries can learn about branding, loyalty and capturing share of mind and wallet from the boutique fitness + wellness industry.

But, before I dive into sharing my thoughts, let’s talk about the money…and it’s BIG money. At an aggregate level, the health club industry was worth $24.2B in 2014, up 7.4% from the prior year with growth attributed to the rise of boutique gyms. How exactly did this rise happen? It happened when boutique gyms started emerging and turning the traditional gym model upside down. Customers, who were used to evaluating gym costs by initiation fees and monthly membership prices, were now being presented with à la carte pricing for sport-specific experiences that were more captivating, energizing and modern than a standard visit to one’s local fitness center. And, when it came to evaluating the elevated cost for these sport-specific gyms (some as high as $35-40 per class) the consumer mindset also began to shift. Thus, in return for a unique / interactive experience that one can trade stories on with his or her friends, consumers began making different tradeoffs like dinner out versus a super hip spinning class for $29 a session. And, with an increased focus on health and wellness, the winning choice was becoming clearer.

Many have written about these innovative gyms and what they offer. There are endless lists available at various online sources who provide an overview of the hippest new gyms, best new workouts in the U.S., where celebrities work out, etc. My plan is not to go into details of the most unique boutique gyms around. I mainly want to briefly share some thoughts I have around what other industries can learn from the rise of boutique fitness and the impressive ability of these boutique gyms to create cult followings, a true sense of pride and belonging among customers and a deeper, more meaningful way of establishing a strong connection to the evolving needs of the fitness consumer.

While there are many more learnings to take away from the rise of this fitness sub-segment, three drivers of success stand out the most:

  • DELIVERING A MEMORABLE, UNPARALLED CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE: It all starts with the experience. From super loud music to flashing (or dimmed) lights to trainers that all fit a certain personality type with instructor “uniforms” that tell a story – one key area these boutique gyms have in common is a strong brand personality, from the brand tone of voice and visual identity to the marketing messages and formats, these gyms have established a strong sense of who they are, and thus, who they are not. First, take for example Blink Fitness, a gym that was “designed with mood in mind.” This gym is all about creating a mood of feeling good. Each aspect of the gym is crafted to drive a happy customer mood and positive sense of self, above all. And, this vision is crystal clear in the gym’s new marketing campaign (watch here). There is also 305 Fitness, while nothing like the message and mood of Blink Fitness, 305 Fitness is all about “turning your workout into a party.” This gym is all about the experience, one touted to “feel like a night out disguised as a workout.” By creating a truly one-of-a-kind way of bringing people together in a unique format to challenge the definition of what a workout is, 305 Fitness has touched on something special and combined multiple needs of customers into one innovative workout session.

  • ESTABLISHING A SENSE OF BELONGING / COMMUNITY: I recently participated in a Memorial Day group class at a local Ann Arbor gym, Blue Lion Fitness. Now, one would have thought that with a beautiful weather day, a day off from work for many and plenty of lakes to visit in the local area, that the gym would be quiet. But, not this gym. The class was actually over the typical capacity and full of people, all of whom were on a first name basis with one another and the class coaches. This enthusiasm may not be something unique to Blue Lion Fitness, as CrossFit’s following and community has been written about, featured, and even studied for years. But, on a local level Blue Lion Fitness has enabled something special, a strong community that encourages and supports one another, regardless of shape, size or physical ability. To be honest, Blue Lion Fitness hits on each one of my three learnings here, but – in my opinion – the sense of community is second to none. How have they created this? From small gestures like “Bring a Friend” Sundays (where customers are encouraged to bring a guest for free) to daily Instagram updates honoring those that attend the daily workouts to partnership-oriented exercises throughout the class, Blue Lion Fitness has clearly given its customers a second home and established itself as a place where customers can really connect with others.

  • OFFERING CONSUMERS A BADGE OF HONOR, PRIDE-WORTHY WORKOUT THAT DRIVES STRONG WORD-OF-MOUTH: However, in the boutique gym space it is not just about the community and the ability to deliver a unique, modern and fun customer experience. For these brands, it is also about delivering a product (in this case, a workout) that gives customers a badge of honor for “surviving” the workout and a good story to tell their friends. And this pride sharing, the best form of word-of-mouth marketing, is a key driver of success for these brands. Take for example, Flywheel. While some can certainly go to Flywheel, a boutique spinning experience, and hide in a corner far from others without having to push themselves to the max, others choose to sit in the front row, display their performance results by name and bike number on the screens in the front of the room and compete against themselves and others. So, to some, Flywheel can be a super intense, competitive experience that pushes a workout to an entirely new, badge-worthy level. And, if you want to take it one step further, Flywheel also offers an app that allows customers to view their stats and ranking compared to their immediate class, their gender or all other classes in their city. Whether it’s Flywheel’s proprietary terminology that exudes a sense of exclusivity and belonging or the 600+ calories one can burn when taking it to the max in class, Flywheel is just one example of how this brand has achieved success by pushing people to new limits in ways that feel exclusive and touching on customer’s personal sense of pride, accomplishment and validation.

The boutique gyms I could highlight as examples are truly endless, and popping up in major metro cities around the world on a daily basis. And, I don’t think the end is anywhere near for this sub-segment, where the possibilities are limitless and creativity and uniqueness has no bounds. So, I encourage you all to keep an eye on what is happening in this space and what its successes can teach you and your organizations about the rewards that come from having a strong brand, one that delivers a unique customers experience, deep sense of community and pride-worthy product offering.

(photo credit: xin li 88)