Health Club

What Health Clubs Can Learn from Boutique Studio Success

Jun 11, 2019 - 5 min read
girl in a fitness studio - Virtuagym

If there is one successful and lucrative trend in the industry, it is the fast rise of boutique studios. These small and specialized gyms spread rapidly, especially in the big cities. What makes this formula a success?

And above all:

How can the classic gym adopt this formula?

Jack of All Trades, Master of None

Traditional gyms base their business model on a wide range of services. A fitness room, group lessons, sauna, sunbed, bar, swimming pool: growth is sought in expanding services.

This is exactly the opposite of what makes boutique studios successful. Specialisation is the core of the formula.

Look at success stories in the US:

SoulCycle  revolves around spinning,  Pure Barre  builds their workouts around the barre, and  Orangetheory  offers high-tech group classes. This simplicity in services ensures that they can focus on delivering maximum quality.

A Community Feeling

It doesn’t end with this self-imposed restriction in service. The second aspect that makes boutique studios successful is the razor-sharp focus on their community feeling. The buzzword for this is “tribalism”, the feeling of belonging to a tribe.

Everything revolves around personal attention. Clients always feel valued, they are always warmly welcomed, they almost feel at home.

And it works.

For example, the New York-based  ModelFIT  makes great efforts to stimulate this sense of community, which has turned the studio into a favorite meeting place for their members.

High-Quality Member Experience

Boutique studios sell their formula as a workout experience. What exactly is that? It sounds intangible, but in fact, it means there is a close connection between décor, personal guidance, and the “fun factor” of training.

Boutiques can typically be recognized by a slick interior that conveys the concept to the detail. In this environment, relatively short high-intensity training sessions are given which are characterized by the great enthusiasm of the instructors and their ability to motivate and support the members as much as possible.

The Focus Works

This business model works. For example, SoulCycle has grown from a single insignificant site to a boutique empire of more than 80 locations and an annual turnover of between 100 and 200 million.

And Orangetheory operates in more than 500 locations around the world – proof that the boutique model is not only profitable in the US, as long as you know where the customer’s needs lie.

The success of boutique studios is mainly driven by a growing group of health-conscious people.

It’s the #fitgirls and their followers who drive fitness and wellness trends on social media.

It’s the people who dive into the smoothie bar instead of the brown café.

In short, it’s the group that is looking for balance and a healthy lifestyle more than other generations.

A Tech-Savvy Public

This target group is increasingly expecting a higher standard in technology. They have grown up with modern technology and expect a certain level from their service providers. Boutique studios understand this and respond to it.

For example, Orangetheory uses wearables as a key component for their training sessions, while Peloton serves thousands of people from a single New York studio thanks to live streaming and their own line of home trainers. And all the successful boutiques, from SoulCycle to ModelFIT, have built up an intimate community through social media and their own platforms.

Long story short:

Clever use of tech offers an extra layer to a fitness concept that, as it turns out, the audience is very sensitive to. It is the way to respond to the needs of this target group.

And don’t forget that these people are the best indicators of the expectations of future generations!

Is the Boutique Studio Concept Suitable for Gyms?

If you look at the boutique success, the next question is of course whether this concept can be integrated into the traditional gym formula. It’s unlikely and unwanted that a gym with a varied offering changes their whole business model from one day to the next. After all, it could potentially alienate existing customers.

The best start is therefore fully in line with the existing concept.

Further diversification of the service offering.

Think of a club-in-club concept. The success of this model can be seen, for example, in Gold’s Studio, which is integrated in dozens of Gold’s Gym locations.

If you look at the criteria for success, it is good to focus on three things:

  • A framework training concept for the focus
  • Excellent staff for member experience and motivation
  • Technology to strengthen the concept.

Further Empowering Your Concept with Technology

We see that the success of boutique studios is based on maximising the use of modern technology. The use of technology serves a dual purpose.

First of all, you can use tech to improve the customer experience. Think of wearables and mobile apps to easily track progress, or an online community to strengthen the sense of community.

In addition, tech has to also make things easier for the gym owner. Expansion of services cannot be at the expense of efficiency or lead to a poor customer experience. This leads to a negative impact on operating results.

That’s why it is wise to look for solutions that can be easily integrated into the current business model. Solutions include flexible communication tools, digital kiosks or touch screens in the gym, and the automation of booking and attendance tracking processes.

All this to reach a single goal:

Offering the ultimate member experience.


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Pieter Verschuren

PR professional and content specialist. Formerly Communications Manager at Virtuagym.