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What even the biggest gym operators can learn from boutique studios - Blog.

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What even the biggest gym operators can learn from boutique studios

It seems as though the rise of the boutique studio is set to continue, with more and more people turning their backs on traditional clubs and looking for a more specialist and personalised experience. But that doesn’t mean disaster for operators of established clubs: in fact, there is a lot that clubs can learn from what’s happening in the boutique sector.

We’ve spent lots of time talking to operators of traditional and boutique clubs, and tried to identify which elements of the boutique experience can be carried over to the established clubs. So here’s a ten-point guide to what club operators, managers and trainers can do to compete on equal terms with their boutique counterparts.

Lessons to learn from boutique studios



The underlying lesson from the boutique clubs is that lots of people are quite happy to pay more than traditional clubs charge – but in return they want a different kind of experience. What they don’t want is simply a big building where they can basically rent out CV and weight machines.

Let’s just add that, of course, some people will want that low-cost model. There are self-motivated individuals who are happy to work out on their own with no programming and no supervision. But all the signs are that the numbers of these people are falling off, so it’s the new generation of fitness consumer that we are focusing on here.

So what is it that has brought the boutique gyms and studios such success, and what can existing clubs do to offer members a similar experience? In no particular order, here are ten actions that any club can take:


  1. Go high on intensity, but low on time

The workouts that are attracting people into boutique studios are almost always high intensity and fairly short in duration. Some are as short as 15 minutes, but 30-45 minutes is about the average. That’s good for busy people trying to slot a workout in before work, at lunchtime or on the way home. So make sure that your programming is built around workouts of a similar duration.

Lessons to learn from boutique studios


  1. Get personal

Most boutique clubs seem to do something that many traditional gyms struggle with: giving people a real sense that they are not just a number and source of revenue. From the people on reception to the trainers, the staff in the clubs often know their customers’ names and use them. They take time out to ask people how they are doing and show a genuine interest in them.

The personal touch can extend beyond the club itself. Boutique clubs often carry it through to SMS, email and social media to engage with their customers in a way that puts most big box gyms to shame. What’s stopping your trainers from personally tagging on Facebook everyone who attends a morning workout? Share the good stuff that’s happening, make people feel valued and praise good performance. The time and effort in doing this will pay back many times over in loyalty and repeat business.


  1. It’s all about results

Much of what’s written about boutique clubs focuses on the social experience, but ultimately results matter most of all. As with traditional clubs, if someone isn’t achieving their goals they are less likely to keep coming back.

Obviously the programming itself needs to be effective in enabling people to achieve results. But what else can a club do to support this? The ‘get personal’ tip above is one way. Regular communication and encouragement from a club and its trainers is almost certain to keep most people motivated and focused on achieving their goals. In short, create a fitness journey and help people along it.


  1. Support your trainers

When you read the testimonials from users of boutique gyms, one thing that runs through them is praise for the trainers. Clubs promising their clients rewarding and effective training experiences must have trainers that are knowledgeable, skilled at running group workouts, and incredibly enthusiastic. So investment in recruiting the right people and in ‘train the trainer’ events is essential.


Lessons to learn from boutique studios


  1. Revisit the membership model

We’ll be brief on this one as it’s a topic that is already widely discussed among the industry. The bottom line is that the boutique clubs understand that the old subscription model doesn’t suit everyone. If their customers want to go for a ‘pay-as-you-train’ basis that’s fine with the clubs. If people are voicing concerns about lengthy contracts or sign-up fees, then those are ditched in favour of per-class payments. Other clubs are taking note and the established model of annual subscriptions could soon be a thing of the past.


  1. Bring like-minded people together

From training and social perspectives, there’s a lot to be said for running classes where everyone taking part has something in common. That could be their fitness level, a love of a particular training style, their goals, of their demographic profile. (For example, women-only classes or clubs have been successful for many operators.) Whatever the case, look for things that bond people together and see if you can create programming around them.


  1. Innovate with your programming – but you don’t need to be an inventor

It may appear that boutique clubs are inventing new ways to work out, but the reality is that they are usually innovating rather than inventing. Bicycles were invented in 1817, so the even the best spin-based clubs can’t claim to have developed something entirely new!

Look at the training styles you already know about and feel confident in delivering, and find ways to put something extra into the mix for a new experience. Bringing together two or more training styles into integrated, coherent programming often works incredibly well.


Lessons to learn from boutique studios


  1. Create partnerships

One approach that can work for clubs who aren’t able to invest in a new boutique offering is to partner with people who have already done it. We know of one US club for example that brings in trainers from some of the up and coming small-scale studios to host classes on its premises.

This works for the studios, because it gives them access to more clients than they can otherwise reach. The club benefits from giving its members a new experience alongside its bread-and-butter gym floor offering.

So take a look around the local fitness scene and see if there are people out there who can work with you for the benefit of everyone. These could be existing studios or freelance trainers looking for some space to rent. In tough economic conditions, sometimes working together rather than in competition is the answer.


  1. Build a brand – or several

Developing new programming gives you the chance to develop new brands too. Gone are the days when a club’s name (its ‘master brand’) is all it needs to bring people in through its doors. Sub-brands based around the programming can be much more exciting and engaging.


  1. Increase studio space – but you may want to limit class numbers

Obviously if you are going to shift the emphasis from the gym floor to group workouts you may need to increase the amount of studio space. But that doesn’t mean that it’s all about size. Lots of feedback from the boutique studios is that their customers go there partly because they hate working out in big crowds.

So although large group workouts of 30+ people have their place, bear in mind that limiting class numbers can help to create a ‘boutique feel’. It also gives trainers an environment in which they can offer more personal attention than big groups allow.


Lessons to learn from boutique studios


The really great news is that, despite the pressures in our industry, fitness is still a multibillion-dollar industry and people’s enthusiasm for feeling and looking great is as strong as ever. The operators that survive and thrive will be the ones who are able to adapt and innovate to continue to give consumers what they want.

Escape is fully committed to supporting clubs on that journey. We have the training tools, trainer education programmes, workout programming and facility design expertise to help you create and implement fantastic new experiences for members. Contact our sales team to discuss your situation and needs at [email protected], or call one of the numbers below;

UK: +44 (0)1733 313 535

USA: +1 614.706.4462

Germany: +49 (0)2921 590 10 70

Rebecca Knight

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