Recently, I read an article in the Wall Street Journal about how some health club operators—mostly those who operate specialized facilities such as barre, boxing, cycling and yoga studios—are able to get several hundred dollars from each of their members each month. It seems that instead of being willing to pay more for a lot of variety at one fitness facility, these people are more willing to pay more to a facility that is specialized in one activity that they love.
"About 42 percent of the 54 million members of health and fitness facilities in the U.S. say they use fitness boutiques," the article notes, citing an upcoming report from IHRSA and ClubIntel.
The report found that most members of boutique facilities also belong to another facility, often a traditional health club. Clients at the niche facilities may pay monthly for their standard health club membership, but they often pay per class or in class bundles for the boutique facilities.
At first I wondered who these people are who have so much money to spend on fitness. Then, I remembered that I, too, belong to two health clubs—one a big box chain and the other a boxing club. In addition, I've taken a free class at a local Pilates studio and another at barre studio, both of which sell bundles of classes—and I'm considering buying a bundle at one of them.
Why would I belong to two clubs and perhaps purchase a bundle of classes at a third facility? It's not that I make a ton of money and don't know what to do with it. I have a modest income (and no kids) and live in the Midwest where memberships are typically fairly reasonable. Still, I sacrifice in other areas of my life to pay for these two memberships.
Why would I seemingly pay more for less at a studio? I don't feel that I am. I feel like I'm paying more for something different.
My workouts (whether at my traditional club, my boxing club or a studio I try out) make me feel stronger and happier. I can't wait for each workout because I see the results. I want to continue to get stronger, and I don't want to burn out doing the same workouts over and over again.
I have to admit that in a completely shallow way, taking classes at a boutique studio has a bit of a cachet about it, too. But that's not the main reason I love my boxing studio or might buy a bundle at another studio. Walking into a niche facility makes me feel like I am part of a special group of people that is committed to the singular activity that this boutique studio offers. That's what some of the people quoted in the article also said. We are rabid fans of that workout and that creates a bond.
The bundled class option allows me to buy 12 classes and string those out over three months if I add one Pilates class per week to my routine. And if I tire of Pilates, I can buy a yoga class bundle or a group cycle studio bundle. I'm not locked in. I can move from one new "love" to another, bonding with a whole new group of people each time.
That's perhaps the biggest drawback to being a boutique studio owner. If you have too many clients like me who have a passion for your workout now but six months from now develop a passion for another workout, then you face the same churn issue that big box club operators face. It's just that those big box clubs often have more members to soften the blow of the departees.
A few of the traditional club operators quoted in the Journal's article mentioned other drawbacks to studios, including that they often are not family friendly. A few noted that boutique studios are a trend. What do you think? Are these niche studios here to stay? If you are a boutique studio operator, do you deal with a lot of churn? If you are a traditional facility operator, how are you competing? Share in the comment section below.