Many have asked what we believe about the future of boutique fitness.
We are bullish.
We feel strongly that the importance of health and wellness will continue as growing trends over time, for two reasons:
- More and more consumers will continue to become aware of, and invested in, the importance of living healthy lifestyles
- Obesity rates will continue to increase driving companies and governments to invest increasing sums of money into stemming the rise of chronic non-communicable diseases to support the health and productivity of society
What will change, however, are the ways in which people access their preferred fitness activities and the business models of the organizations that serve them.
As proponents for the broader industry, we are determined to help the boutique sector find its way as the access preferences of consumers change.
What might this mean to you, as a studio owner in the sector?
- Plan for a long return to pre-COVID 19 in-studio attendance levels
- Incorporate virtual activities
- Adjust your business model and marketing strategies
Plan For A Long Return To Pre-Covid In-Studio Attendance Levels
The return to the studio is going to be driven by two factors largely out of your control.
- Health officials’ concerns about resurgences
- Whether consumers feel safe
On April 21, 2020 CDC Director Robert Redfield said “There’s a possibility that the assault of the virus on our nation next winter will actually be even more difficult than the one we just went through.”
The Spanish Flu of 1918 had three “waves”, with the second wave being the deadliest. This means that the nation (and the world) may see repeated lockdowns until either enough of the country has developed immunity to the virus or a vaccine has been created.
Best guesses from officials as to when a vaccine would be available from America’s labs put the arrival of such a solution 12 – 18 months out.
This means that even if governments suggest that studios can be “open for business”, consumers may not feel safe enough to come back in force. This also means that, most likely, studio expenses will go up due to the need to clean multiple times a day, and revenue will fall because studios will need to limit the number of participants in-studio to ensure safety.
The nightmare scenario for a studio is finding out that a client who has Covid-19 was in the studio for a class, having to scrub the studio down, and announce to all participants in that class that they might need to self-isolate.
This risk fundamentally changes the business model for studios, leading to our second point.
Incorporate Virtual Activities
We believe that studios willing to make the turn will have to incorporate virtual activities into their product mix.
Such studios have the option to create hybrid classes where they allow a fewer number of people in class while some view from home, streaming-only classes, and VOD offerings.
The good thing is that a number of consumers have attachments to studios they have been attending and instructors they have been working with. That bond doesn’t dissipate easily, but left untended it will atrophy.
Studios that want to make this turn must get up and running with virtual activities immediately. They must invest in and resolve sound and video issues so the experience is optimal. And they must reach out to their communities to keep them involved and walk them through the evolution/adjustment to this new world. In this situation, personalized outreach is the key to a continued relationship with clients.
Studios have an advantage. They are trusted brands. Consumers will not easily turn to random instructors on the internet or other methods of exercise because we are all creatures of habit. However, if the studio does not offer a solution then clients will seek out other methods to satisfy their need for activity.
Adjust Your Business Model and Marketing Strategies
To survive this turn (and to thrive) studios need to come up with lighter, more flexible business models. This may involve fewer instructors and lower rent costs, but it can also include newer pricing options (e.g. Virtual Only Membership) where lower prices are made up for by a larger number of clients who purchase virtual or hybrid packages.
This also means that studios will need to develop an even deeper understanding of how to market online and through referrals, versus counting on things like street traffic, outdoor signs, and community partnerships/marketing. While those things may still be effective, if people are congregating in smaller numbers that will limit the reach of such campaigns.
The next 12 – 18 months are going to be difficult. Many of our friends and colleagues will decide that they don’t want to or cannot make the turn to the new normal–pivoting their business-and that will be challenging.
However, new businesses and new models will emerge because the demand for health and fitness activities will continue to climb.
The challenge is that as studios navigate this new normal, they are now competing with companies that were built for that experience from the start (e.g. the Pelotons, Aaptivs, Mirrors, Tonals of the world).
The good news is that studios willing to embrace this challenge come to the battle with their own array of weapons, including popular methods and instructors, and a sense of community that can be further cultivated.
Online activities are finally having their comeuppance. They were always going to. The “Corona Effect” just accelerated that.
As fitness consumers ourselves, we know that there are simply times when we are traveling or just can’t make it to the studio. At those times it would always have been ideal to be able to take our favorite classes remotely or to be able to access a video recording of a class. It just wasn’t something that many studios provided.
Current circumstances have forced the industry and the technology providers in it to finally embrace such solutions. The net result? The world has become a much smaller and a much more interesting place.
We’ve always wanted to take meditation classes in Goa, Tai Chi classes in Shanghai, Capoeira classes in Brazil. Now we can. It’s the same way people from abroad have wanted to take dance classes, Bootcamp classes, or Pilates classes in their favorite American cities and with recommended American brands. Now they can as well.
Done well, classes can now be accessed by people around the world as well as by people in the physical studio location.
Now, new business models and ways of marketing will emerge that take full advantage of the fact that the “boutique studio” experience has gone global and is finally unleashed.
It has long been known that boutique fitness can be intimidating; now new clients can try things from the safety of their home before deciding if they want to commit. No more fear. No more embarrassment. No more intimidation.
So, far from signaling the demise of the sector, we think boutique fitness is no longer constrained by the four walls of a studio and is accessible to even more people around the world. And we look forward to being here and helping to guide you there.
Boutique Fitness Solutions
Julian A. Barnes
Co-Founder & CEO
Boutique Fitness Solutions