Aussie goes abroad: lessons from the best New York boutiques

Boutique Bonanza: they’re here, but what can we learn from New York?

In January 2017, Michelle Dean (Training Manager at Les Mills Asia Pacific) was sent on a reconnaissance to the capitol of the world: New York City

Her mission (which she did choose to accept) was to report back first hand on the secrets of the most successful fitness boutiques* in one of the most competitive markets on the planet.

Michelle’s itinerary was an impressive/exhausting mix of SoulCycle, Flywheel, Equinox, Orange Theory, Barry’s Bootcamp and 24-hour fitness. “Preparing my itinerary and heading to New York to eyeball the landscape, there is no doubt boutiques outweighed the number of full-service facilities”. And you don’t have to look too far in Australia either: since 2006 the number of boutiques has skyrocketed to 1000+ sites including the likes of F45, Cross Fit, the emerging Orange Theory and a handful of Cycle only studios. The first Barry’s Bootcamp is also due to open in Sydney this year.

Despite charging $50AUD per session “these places were pumping” and interestingly Michelle noted that classes were of a younger generation – counter to the beliefs we might have locally that “young people” aren’t prepared to pay a premium for fitness.

At the local level, is it really possible though to apply findings from a place that is a million miles away both physically and culturally? The answer is yes, and this is why: it wasn’t the technology that made these businesses a success, it wasn’t an outlandish workout craze that a boutique had a monopoly, it was in fact the bread and butter stuff of the fitness industry that the boutiques simply did extraordinarily well (and you will recognize every single one of them):

Customer service

“It was next level. The team knew their stuff, they were bright and very social. From the moment I walked in to reception, to setting up for class to leaving the gym it was a full-service experience. By my second visit, the staff greeted me like I’d been coming for years”.

Facilities

“While the boutiques weren’t big in space, the space they did have was well considered. From the layout to the décor: it didn’t feel like you were walking in to a gym, it felt like you were walking in to a nightclub or an edgy hotel foyer. The fixtures were quality, and you could tell”. They didn’t skimp on equipment and particularly the audio visual set-up. The sound was amazing”.

Instructors

“They can still make or break the class. Simple as that. There was one instructor at SoulCycle that I sought out and did his class 3-times. He made such an effort. He arrived to class early, he was present and made everyone feel part of the workout. Simple connection stuff really, but that’s the stuff of bum’s on seats”.

On a personal level and wrapping up her tour of New York, when pressed for the single best boutique she experienced (aside from the famed bagel cart mentioned in the course of the interview), Michelle wouldn’t buckle and chose both SoulCycle and Flywheel. While neither boutiques are on our shores (yet), there are lessons to be nabbed right now to get ahead of the pack and keep your business riding comfortably in to the future.

*small fitness facility that specializes in one or two areas of fitness

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