It’s hard to imagine a more sudden and widespread meltdown of the boutique fitness industry. And you’re probably in no mood to hear a bunch of “but-look-at-the-bright-side” nonsense. So let’s just agree: the whole thing sucks. Hard.
That said, as we collectively pick up the pieces of what we built, it might be helpful to hear that you can continue to build your brand—even after your business has been flipped upside down.
Out of necessity, many boutique fitness owners like yourself are in the throes of a panic-pivot: a hasty-yet-necessary restructuring of operations and rethinking of products. Many owners’ first instinct is to move from physical to digital, from actual studios to virtual studios.
This knee-jerk approach has its obvious challenges. The “how to” of moving offline to online is enough of a puzzle. But now you’re not only competing with the studio down the street, you’re also competing with online fitness titans from all over the world. Fitbit Coach, Nike Training Club, Forte, Peloton, and other well-established platforms have deep roots in online training.
And, to further salt the wound, many of these platforms are providing free access to their content. Now your clients have unlimited workout options, from most any studio in the world, and sometimes for free. How is that fair?
I believe that the most creative entrepreneurs will not only find a way but—dare I say—may even come out ahead in a crisis like this. And my guess is that your new successes may not be found by simply moving your product online.
A Valuable Lesson from P&G
We can learn a valuable lesson from consumer-goods giant Procter and Gamble (P&G). In the 1960s big manufacturers like P&G—who make common household items like soap, toothpaste, and razors—found that smaller companies were encroaching into their market share by offering similar products. As a result, the small guys were confusing P&G customers by selling products with the same “functional value.”
Their soaps cleaned dishes just like P&G soaps. Their toothpaste tasted just as minty as P&G toothpastes. When you see no functional difference from one product to the next, what do you do?
I’ll answer that question with an example: I recently bought resistance bands on Amazon. Search for them and here is what you get. It’s a complete bombardment of products from companies you likely haven’t seen or heard of before. I could not decipher one product from the next. To an uneducated resistance band shopper like myself, I made a decision based on one factor: which brand gave me the most stuff for the least money.
Most for least: this is a dangerous position to build a business from. There will always be a company out there willing to offer more for less. Or even for free! Let’s make sure you aren’t one of them.
Out of necessity, P&G had to build a way to create more perceived value for their products. They needed to create the “appearance of difference” so customers would make decisions on a metric other than price.
This is the same dilemma boutique fitness owners are grappling with. When everything looks the same, feels the same, and smells the same to an untrained fitness customer, how will they choose?
And when you’re competing with “free,” and when you’re also competing with the best online platforms in the world, there really is no competition. You are in for a tremendous challenge—unless you take a page from the book of P&G.
P&G needed to move beyond functional value to inject “emotional value” into their products. Their premise: customers will pay more for a product they love, and they will keep coming back.
This means P&G invested time, energy, and money in building rapport with the customer beyond the transaction. They built trust, forged bonds, created relationships. If you want to see what this looks like in action, check out this Pampers commercial. Or this Tide commercial. Or even this Tide commercial. Watching those will help you understand what I mean by emotional value.
P&G is a master at relating to customers on a level that moves beyond the product itself. Pampers supports new parents (Pampers’ product happens to be a diaper). Tide builds confidence (Tide’s product happens to be laundry detergent).These brands represent something larger than the product itself. They make an unwavering stand for an idea that’s more meaningful and relatable than the object they sell.
They use powerful, captivating storytelling to connect and relate to customers on an emotional level. They weave a deep human insight into something as trivial as a clean shirt, or as meaningful as the birth of a child. That’s why you choose Tide. Or Pampers. Or Apple. Or Nike.
And that’s why your customers choose you.
Applying to the Boutique Fitness Industry
Let’s be honest. Your customers can go anywhere to spin on a stationary bike or sweat through a Yoga class. And, today, they don’t even have to leave their living room. But your customers come to you for reasons beyond what you sell.
What is it? Your community? Your personality? Your knowledge? The good news is, you’ve been doing it since day one. All that’s left is to articulate it. And build from it.
My challenge to you is to explore that part of your business that transcends your products. Just as Nike exhorts customers to be the best version of themselves (they just happen to sell apparel), or Apple inspires customers to create (they just happen to sell computers), or Peloton motivates customers to workout anywhere (they just happen to sell stationary bikes), you provide something essential and unique for your customers. And when you build ideas based on that important insight, you leave room for the kind of creativity and innovation that not only attracts new customers but retains the ones you already have.