This is another article that takes a look at a particular brand in the gym business. I haven’t been asked to write these and I don’t receive any payment from them. This is just my attempt to put the gym management business in context and to spread a little knowledge and insight into what’s going on, and why it might be interesting to gym owners. As always, your comments are welcome.
There is always room in the fitness marketplace for creative and exciting ways to keep the membership interested and coming back for more. The New York born and bred studio brand SoulCycle is a great example of how you can take something that has real fitness value and combine it with a personal component that hooks your gym customers like an addiction.
The Driving Mechanism Of Stationary Cycling
I think it goes right back to the values at the core of the fitness industry, particularly the value of connection with your fellow human beings, in an endeavor to pursue fitness and a sense of belonging. Also it relies on the biochemical cocktail that you get from intense exercise routines that are crafted to draw out all of your energies.
SoulCycle is a great example of a business that sells the experience. It is more than a service and fitness space, each class is carefully controlled by a trained instructor who’re paid based on how many people they can bring in, and how often those people keep coming back.
Putting intense, charismatic individuals in charge of classes of equally passionate members creates a focus that gives each member the rewarding experience that they’re seeking. You can lease a studio and stationary bikes by the dozen but if you don’t help the people who take a chance on a new thing find an intense experience it will never work out. When you get the experience right it snowballs into something that’s alive in its own right.
There is something about the group dynamic that brings out the wild animal in participants. Too aggressive to be a herd, the SoulCycle class is more like a pack of fitness predators that are wringing every last bit of energy out of their bodies, in pursuit of an elusive prey animal.
The Business Mechanics Of SoulCycle
It was started by two founding partners, who were looking to get this kind of workout, not finding it anywhere in the market they established SoulCycle in 2006. Equinox Holdings, Inc. bought the chain in 2011 and it now has fourteen branch locations around the tonier sections of Los Angeles and NYC. As with many strong opinions and great ideas in the fitness world there was some friction among the founders, one of who left to form the competing club Flywheel. Apparently there is no love lost between the two sides.
Like other systems, such as Crunch Fitness and CrossFit, which place a premium on group participation, SoulCycle generates an intense sense of involvement for members. It’s a premium experience at more than $30 per session. The sessions are less than an hour long, intensified by using weights and resistance bands and yoga poses while peddling. It looks like they are adding perceived value pretty intensively because they’ve found a loyal following.
The capital costs are not too high, just decent quality commercial grade stationary bikes and a studio space (and a suitable gym management software system). The rest is the human factor and probably a whole lot of adrenaline and endorphins. The programs of SoulCycle are very popular with attendees but not so much with some voices in the industry. The risk of back or upper body strain is high if your posture and positioning is poor. This is the same concern that has been expressed about other intense group workouts like CrossFit.
Intensity Creates Intensity
SoulCycle definitely has that certain something extra that makes studio workouts compulsive and addictive. The connection and the collective exertion seem to make it much more than just a spin class. I think we are going to see more premium classes and group activities like SoulCycle in the future. Partly because the membership is seeking a connection and the collective drive that comes with running with the pack. Also, by creating the intense experience that comes from such workouts, gyms gain a source of high return on investment. The word is spreading about how to create energy in the gym and finding the configurations that resonate most intensely with the membership market.
Bloomberg. Company Overview of Equinox Holdings, Inc. November 7, 2014. http://investing.businessweek.com/research/stocks/private/snapshot.asp?privcapId=8942900 (accessed November 7, 2014).
Moretti, Alfonso. Testing The Trainers: SoulCycle. August 23, 2012. http://angrytrainerfitness.com/2012/08/testing-the-trainers-soulcycle/ (accessed November 7, 2014).
Morris, Alex. The Carefully Cultivated Soul of SoulCycle. January 6, 2013. http://nymag.com/thecut/2013/01/evolution-of-soulcycle.html (accessed November 7, 2014).
Price, Catherine. Flywheel: SoulCycling for the Truly Sadistic. April 10, 2013. http://www.slate.com/articles/double_x/doublex/2013/04/flywheel_exercise_craze_soulcycle_for_uber_competitive_sadists.html (accessed November 7, 2014).