Earlier this year not-for-profit health body ukactive held a one-day workshop in London, aimed at educating and empowering Britain’s boutique fitness sector.
Sweat, which took place on 2nd March, brought together influencers, entrepreneurs and boutique studio owners for networking, discussion and expert insight on taking boutique fitness to the next level.
Covering a range of topics, the event explored issues including how established operators can effectively execute a boutique model, the growth of the boutique fitness sector and which players could emerge as the UK’s answer to SoulCycle.
Through engaging keynotes and thought-provoking panel debates, the workshop provided an opportunity for business owners to better understand the fitness model and discover new ways to stay ahead of the market.
Here, Steven Ward, ukactive’s Executive Director reveals the five key takeaways from the event…..
Stick to your guns if you want to blow away the competition
One of the most crucial parts of any successful boutique fitness brand is its perceived authenticity, but for customers to feel a genuine sense of loyalty they must have trust and love for a brand.
“Do what you love and be true to what you’re about,” explained Elle Fitness Editor and BoomCycle Head Instructor Muireann Carey-Campbell aka ‘Bangs’, who argued that being genuine is the only way to build trust.
“Stand firm on your core principles,” echoed Barry’s Bootcamp UK Co-Owner Sandy Macaskill. “Copycats or fad fitness won’t let you succeed in a trend-driven market,” he added.
Don’t fall off the treadmill – expand at your own pace
Expansion is an obvious goal for any successful boutique operator, but that shouldn’t come at the cost of brand identity in a market where brand is king.
Robert Rowland, Co-Founder of indoor cycling boutique BoomCycle argued that a cautious approach is best, explaining that: “part of the appeal of boutique fitness is its niche and personalised fitness offerings.”
And, while expanding fast can seem enticing, especially when investors are throwing money at you, he warned that in doing so you can risk losing the essence of the brand.
Suggesting that boutiques steer clear of the regimented design found in chains, he went on to argue that “the real success of boutique studios comes from the distinctive brand they represent, so patience is needed in order to preserve what makes your studio special.”
Be bold and ballsy
London boutique studios operate in a fast-changing and competitive world, with new client-hungry challengers popping up every week, but according to fitness journalist Lucy Fry, “you shouldn’t let yourself get paranoid about competition or submerged in fear.”
Instead, she encouraged studio owners to embrace the challenge and keep focusing on refining their own boutique offering. “Use the success of the sector as a whole to demonstrate the excellence of your product to wider audiences. Competition can push you to greater success,” she argued.
Forget your slice, think about the whole cake
The fitness sector has grown year-on-year since 2008, but only 14 percent of the UK population currently possess a gym membership. The 86 percent of people who aren’t gym members represent by far the biggest market, yet many boutique fitness studios don’t cater to their wants and needs.
Mark Holland, Co-Founder of boutique studio chain Bodystreet UK, argued that people who are inactive tend to realise they should probably get fit, therefore boutique studios should be making themselves more accessible to the inactive majority.
Initiatives such as pop-up studios outside University libraries or opening up to new markets (children and the over 50s) during quiet periods can help to maximise profit and boost underutilised capacity.
Boutique fitness is a numbers game
Initial costs for setting up a boutique fitness studio are relatively fixed: space, energy costs, maintenance and equipment. But this is a lot to fork out on up front, so how can you turbocharge your income to boost cash flows?
Head of KPMG Small Business Bivek Sharma, proposed that the overriding focus in a boutique’s first year of operation should be to bulk up rapidly by adding lots of new clients to grow revenue.
“Expect to burn through initial capital quickly, so build up a client base fast and ensure you can start covering those fixed costs without dipping into your own pockets,” he explained. “Looking to cut costs is utterly pointless until you do that.”