Robert Rowland, Co-Founder Of Boom Cycle On: New Sites, Wrong Turns & Taking Boutique Spinning To The Next Level

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Bursting onto London’s modest boutique fitness scene back in 2011, Boom Cycle launched as a pioneer in the market.

The first boutique cycling brand to open a studio in the capital, over the past 6 years it has strived to change the way consumers integrate fitness into their lives –– both mentally and physically.

Co-Founders Hilary and Robert Rowland have finessed their original vision to ‘put the fun into fitness’ and moulded it into a sustainable business model that now comprises of 4 sites.

Following the completion of its £2.1m investment round to finance the next stage of growth in the UK, the brand’s third site in Hammersmith opened last week, with the fourth set to launch in Battersea Power Station later this Summer.

Building on the imitable club-like atmosphere that Boom Cycle is recognised for, the new, larger outposts will allow the brand to engage more easily with its growing community, while new state-of-the-art equipment, fixtures and fittings will provide customers with an unforgettable experience, from the bike to the beauty bar and beyond.

With a further 10 sites planned over the next 5 years, Boom Cycle intends to continue strengthening its position in the market as it enters its most ambitious growth stage yet. But, more importantly, carry on its goal of providing people with a simple and accessible way to sweat. Bucking the market trend for diversification, when it comes to class offerings the brand is sticking with its much-loved signature class format, to deliver the ultimate ‘party on a bike’ experience.

As Robert Rowland prepares to take his business to the next level, he talks to Welltodo about right motives, wrong turns and why simplifying the customer journey is the key to longevity.

On putting the fun into fitness…..

My wife Hilary loved spinning and had decided that she wanted to launch a spin studio as a bit of a hobby.

I was helping her create the business model, but the more we looked into it, the more it dawned on us that there was a bit of an opportunity there –– not just to create something that other people might want but to also change the way people interact with fitness.

It was around 2010, and at the time people either had a gym membership or had to motivate themselves to run outside. There wasn’t this boutique fitness scene that there is now, and everything was centered around getting really thin or getting really muscly, which are completely unachievable goals for most people. On top of that because of the way Hilary and I are, in liking the more fun side of life, we kind of thought, why is everyone taking this so seriously?

We believed there should be more to fitness than feeling guilty about not doing it or feeling like you should go and do it. So we thought, if we could put the fun back into fitness then people would actually look forward to it.

On creating a clear mission…..

From the beginning, we’ve always said we want to go out there, make our classes accessible and include everyone. Ultimately we wanted to show people that fitness doesn’t have to be a strict, serious affair.

With BOOM we exercise the mind first and the body second. This is 100% fundamentally what we’ve always wanted to do and that remains to this day. What does change and what has changed is the route that we’ve taken to get there.

There’s a saying that I really love, which is ‘if you don’t know where you’re going then any road is the right road’, and in business that’s very true.

If you don’t have that end goal in mind, yes occasionally you might take the wrong turn, but you’ll soon realise and end up getting back to where you want to go.

So, yes we’ve had those moments where we’ve had to change things, whether it’s simplifying the customer journey, simplifying the offering or how we communicate our message, but we’ve always said we want to make fitness fun and that’s never really changed.

That’s definitely been a key to success and it’s helped us grow quite quickly since we’ve really been clear about achieving that.

On dealing with unexpected challenges…..

In the beginning, we sold our house and took out a loan, so we definitely went in at the deep end.

We had a corporate investor on board who had made a very small investment and the plan was for them to be there when we rolled out the concept as an ongoing support. Unfortunately, the month after we opened they went into administration.

It was at a key time when we’d just opened and realised that everything cost twice as much and took three times as long, so we had to let go of pretty much all of our staff except our instructors, and Hilary and I became everything.

We became the cleaners, the receptionist, the sales, the marketing, the owners and the CEOs.

We had to deal with everything, and we did that for at least a year until we got back on our feet.

But despite all of that, one of the biggest challenges for us, because we were the first to do spinning and one of the early boutique studio operators, was having to educate the market on why boutique fitness was a valuable thing to do. We basically had to change people’s habits which took quite a long time.

On not giving up on finding investment……

Securing investment the second time around was a smooth process. Pembroke didn’t exist then, but Oakley Capital (which it is now part of) did, and we’d been speaking with them for a while.

We’d been too small for them the first time round, but we went back to them and they had just launched a new fund, which was Pembroke.

They were very ahead of the curve in terms of investment in the wellness sector, with investments in Plenish Juice, KX Gym, Sourced Market, so it was a clear match for both of us.

It was great to have a partner on board, it allowed us to open our second studio in Holborn at the beginning of 2014, which was a big turning point.

Boom cycle expansion

Image: BOOM Cycle

On taking a step back from the business……

Opening a second site, if you look at traditional brick and mortar businesses, is usually the biggest jump and the biggest shock to the system, so it was really at that point that we were forced to take a step back from the business.

We had a chance to look at some of the roads we were taking and think right, I’m not sure if this is working.

We looked at the business from a product and experience point of view, in terms of whether what we were doing was creating what we set out to do, i.e making fitness fun. And ultimately the answer to that question was no.

We then had to do a huge amount of work in changing up elements of the classes, product and the team, and within about 9 months we had figured out a much more consistent approach to everything.

On simplifying the experience……

We realised that there were a few too many complex barriers for people to overcome. For example, we had a very complex pricing model that we thought was very clever but actually, we found that people didn’t know how many classes they were getting. In response, we simplified it all and made it more accessible.

By 2015 we came back really implementing those changes and we grew 100% in a single year. Since then we’ve gone from strength to strength.

Now our customers can go to any class across any studio and they know exactly what they’re going to get.

As a brand people aren’t going to be able to engage with you in the same way if they don’t understand what you’re trying to do. It took a bit of time for us to figure that out, but when we did it was a big shift for us.

On managing a growing team……

Until a couple of months ago we didn’t have a head office, it was just Hilary and me working on the business full-time. Now in preparation for the new sites, we have about 9/10 people which has been quite a cultural shift, but I love it.

For me, that’s been one of the most rewarding and enjoyable parts of my role. There’s always been a money element to wanting to run my own business and the ambition to get it to where I want it to be, but seeing how much our team gives to the business and how passionate they are about it is probably one of the bits I’m most proud of.

A lot of what we do now, we want to do for them. We want to grow the business to give them more sites, more classes and more customers because they give so much on a daily basis to our riders, the company and to Hilary and I.

On stepping up the game with the new sites…..

In a nutshell, the experience will be the same in terms of the classes, but the new sites are different in two main ways. Firstly, they’re a lot bigger –– Hammersmith is nearly 4000 sq ft and Battersea is just under 5000 sq ft, and secondly, they’re both ground floor spaces.

The Hammersmith site is split over ground and mezzanine levels and the Battersea site is solidly ground floor. This has allowed us to build seating in the window spaces and also to build separate shake bars with coffee machines so that people can stay to work on their laptops or stay for a drink. Hammersmith will have outdoor seating as well, which is amazing.

We’ve definitely stepped it up in terms of the level of fit out, and by creating larger spaces we’ll be able to foster more of a community,  but other than that we’re going to stay true to what we do.

We like to keep things a bit rough around the edges –– we’re always going to high five you rather than shake your hand, that’s our vibe.

On competition in the market…..

There’s a lot of competition coming in, and while we don’t think about that too much in terms of product offering, there are only a limited amount of sites available and so for us, it’s about making sure we secure them.

When it comes to property, you have to be so far ahead of these things. It’s a very long process that can take up to two years from the first meeting to opening some of these places, so for us, the main challenge will be getting that footprint. But I’m pretty positive about the future.

There are always going to be challenges along the way, but it’s a really exciting time. Boutique fitness is very clearly an industry and a trend that has cemented itself now, so it’s just about making sure we get sites and maintain a sustainable, profitable business.

The key to longevity is having a simple, accessible product that can create sustainable changes in habit, whether that’s in our particular sector or anywhere in wellness. That has always been our goal.

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