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Why people love boutique gyms - and how clubs can get a slice of the market - Blog.

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Why people love boutique gyms - and how clubs can get a slice of the market

As the boutique gym concept gains traction all over the world, Nicola Joyce takes a closer look at the rise and rise of the boutique gym.

In the first article in this series, Nicola looked at why boutique gyms are here to stay. Now, she expands on some of the things that make these gyms so attractive to users, and what needs to be done if you want to develop a boutique experience. Over to Nicola…

The key drivers that are shaping boutique fitness

I’m convinced that boutique represents an exciting, profitable and long-term opportunity for the UK fitness sector (and elsewhere of course). But why? Why are the boutique businesses seeing so much success in 2016?

Here are some of the factors that are contributing to the rise of the boutique club…

Entrepreneurial fitpros. The new wave of fitness innovators is committed to filling a niche - often to fill a gap in their own fitness journey. These are often millennials, prepared to set up on their own and with a generational connection with their customers.

A diverging market. As the market matures and grows, it must split. Consumers who don’t want to engage with the traditional model can now choose from budget gyms, or niche boutique gyms.

New business models. The boutique model provides fresh opportunities – and gives you the chance to build your boutique from the ground up. While the boutique model is low on facilities, and provides more limited (though carefully curated) choices and membership plans, it’s high in design, atmosphere and tech. It’s about flexibility, choice and results; not contracts. It’s a business model that relies on customer knowledge, branding, communication and delivering results through the best available talent.

A compelling differentiator. Boutique studios do just one thing but execute it brilliantly. Get it right, and your entire reputation will be built on excellence, personality and specialism. Boutiques have a USP which makes marketing and communication more effective. And their choice of equipment underpins their brand story.

Technology and social media. Smartphones, Wi-Fi, mobile apps and constant connectivity give the fitness consumer a sense of autonomy over their fitness journey. The time is right for excellent customer service and integration.

Discerning customers. Today’s most active fitness consumers (and the next decade’s main market) are aspirational. They need to make good use of their time and money. They are discerning about brands, and are drawn to brands that give them a sense of belonging.


Escape’s ten steps for navigating the boutique revolution

The success of early adopters in the boutique space shows there’s huge appetite for this customer-focused business model. Escape’s Matthew Januszek says: “This latest change to the fitness industry will affect us all. It is challenging everyone’s business model and placing operators under financial pressure.”

Matthew has put together this list of ten tips, based on what he has learned from Escape’s work with boutiques around the world at various stages of evolution:

  • Don’t leave it too late: innovate now rather than scrambling to catch up later.
  • Clearly differentiate. Be something great to someone, not everything to everyone.
  • Create a consistent level of service that could be scaled.
  • Lead the way by reinventing how you service your market.
  • Have a clearly defined plan and strategy (but not too many goals or ideas at once).
  • Work to a reactive, agile business model.
  • Make sure your equipment is fit for purpose and reflects your brand.
  • Cater solutions around your member type and ability (and support them).
  • Your team must be skilled, expert and continually trained. Deliver excellence.
  • Have a branded programme that keeps your space exciting week after week.



Through consulting with many boutique clients over the years, Escape has learned the certain specific principles that underpin a successful boutique. The Escape team can show anyone how to apply these elements to their own business.

Matt Morton is Head of Strategy at Escape. He has seen numerous boutique spaces develop from the drawing board throughout his consultations with Escape’s clients. “Once you’ve got the basics right, you need products that define your USP," he says. "As competition in this space increases over the next two years, consumers will have more choice. Clubs will need to stand out, and we can design and develop a bespoke product that becomes central to a club’s branding and marketing."

A good example of how a partnership between Escape and an operator can make the most of the opportunities is TRIB3 in Sheffield. When Kevin Yates set up TRIB3, he asked Escape to develop the TRIB3 box, which is now being stocked by schools, local councils and leisure facilities across the UK.

“Boutique operators must have something that differentiates them from other boutique offerings,” Kevin says. “A unique product is integral to a successful business. It should underpin your ethos, strengthen the customer experience and help you deliver an unbelievable experience.”



2017 and beyond for fitness boutiques

We think boutique has been the perfect industry response to a defining moment in the fitness industry. It has answered a customer call for experience – without the commitment of membership - for flexibility, and for feeling part of something special.

The sector will need to keep growing next year and beyond to keep a captive audience engaged. Are you ready to innovate?

Next time, we’ll investigate exactly what you’ll have to do if you’re going to make your mark as a genuine boutique gym…


Want to find out more?

Get some more inspiration from our gym design case studies to see how we have helped TRIB3 and others to meet the demand for superb boutique experiences.

Or why not get in touch? We can talk though your ideas and make some suggestions for your new, boutique future: [email protected]

UK: +44 (0)1733 313 535
USA: +1 (614)-706-4462
Germany: +49 (0)2921 590 10 70

nicola joyce