Soul Cycle is having a go at becoming a national studio-based fitness brand for group cycle exercise. Currently, there are 36 SoulCycle studios across the USA with plans to open another 20-25 in the next two years according to their website.
Studio group exercise is nothing new. The “fitness craze” of the late 1970s and early 1980s was largely ignited by a few pioneering group exercise studios. In Los Angeles Voight Studio and Body Express offered then-new and exhilarating dance-oriented “aerobics” classes featuring great sound systems and high-energy, charismatic instructors buoyed by pulsating disco/dance music. These classes provided a stark alternative to the stodgy men only/women only weight training gyms (like Jack LaLanne and Vic Tanny) that had flourished in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
Soon, a new type of health club like LA’s Sports Connection was poaching these studio instructors creating unrivaled group exercise rooms with amazing floors and sound systems. These became the new “mega-gyms” where group activity was the hub that drove enrollment and traffic and ultimately most of those pioneering studios out of business.
Since then, most of the major “innovations” in group exercise have come from studios like SoulCycle who offer a slightly different spin (pun intended) on group-exercise. Yoga, Pilates, Zumba, and circuit training – staples at most mega-gyms today – have their roots in smaller local studios.
A quick history note. Group cycle began 1993 when race-across-America cyclist Jonathan Goldberg (Johnny G) started “spinning” in Venice CA. Later, working with Reebok to create special bikes with ultra heavy front flywheels, a new class was born. Cycle, spin, and spinning soon spread to the mega-gym. This came just in a nick of time for the vacuum created by dwindling attendance at formerly popular “step” classes.
So with hundreds (or thousands) of clubs now teaching hundreds of thousands of people monthly on some version of group cycle exercise, why would Equinox fitness purchace SoulCycle in 2011 and announce aggressive expansion plans for the brand?
- First, at $33 per 45-minute workout and up to 50 participants per class, they can be a real money-maker. Mega-gyms (like Equinox) with their all-inclusive monthly dues have never been able to consistently grow revenue through added services like personal training. Charging “extra” for specific classes, where getting consistent revenue is even harder than personal training, is in most cases a non-starter. When Pilates was rolled out forcing gyms to invest in costly reformers, many gyms learned the hard way it’s hard to charge extra for classes.
- Second, SoulCycle attracts a different audience than the mega-club. The mega-club is for the older family oriented crowd that prefers amenities and comforts. The youthful in-a-hurry urban crowd prefers the no commitment, no annual contract pay-per-class model that SoulCycle offers.
- Thirdly, SoulCycle is a great addition to any urban center. Think of it like proximity to mass transit or a Chipotle. Great for the millennial crowd. For Equinox, which is owned by real estate firm The Related Companies, SoulCycle locations help raise the value of their properties. Having a SoulCycle nearby could tip the scale on a millennial accepting a job offer.
So how is the SoulCycle workout and why are classing regularly selling out?
More on that next time!