The Columbus area is seeing a boom in boutique fitness centers that focus on specialized classes rather than weight lifting.
Companies like Orangetheory Fitness, Pure Barre and Cyclebar are suitable for customers who don’t mind paying a little more to exercise with others.
Such studio classes are becoming increasingly popular, said Pam Kufahl, director of content at the fitness market research group Club Industry, and Andrew Fawcett, president of Columbus Fitness Consultants.
Kufahl said millennials and older customers are driving the trend, while Gen Z is more interested in strength training.
“What I’m seeing from the younger generation … they want to be proactive about their health and find alternative ways to solve their problems,” Fawcett said. “I’ve seen them exercise more in the last 10 years.”
Boutique fitness: ‘People want relationships. They seek community’
Cyclebar, which has hundreds of studios around the world, including three in Columbus, claims to be the “first and largest indoor cycling concept in the world,” according to its website. Membership rates start at $79 per month for limited sessions.
In comparison, a Lifetime Fitness membership usually starts at $79 per month in the Columbus area, while the first Esporta Fitness membership costs $29.99 per month.
Class-based centers have grown despite suffering more than traditional gyms during the pandemic because of their intimate group settings, Kufahl said.
While Kufahl said boutique fitness studio membership levels have not returned to pre-COVID-19 levels, the use of virtual classes during the pandemic has exposed more people to studio fitness.
“People want relationships,” Fawcett said. “They’re looking for community and I think they’re finding it in those places in a lot of ways.”
The pandemic has prompted many to take up sports
Santanna Santiago, general manager at Cyclebar Easton, said she started cycling during the pandemic.
“I just started trying out a lot of boutique fitness centers and stuff like that, honestly, just looking for a place where I belong,” Santiago said.
She eventually fell in love with Cyclebar and joined not only the fitness team, but also the corporate team, which worked their way up from the front desk to a management position.
“I didn’t just see physical changes in people,” she said. “I saw mental changes and confidence, people building themselves. And I loved that.”
Recognizing that group and boutique fitness is a luxury, Santiago also said it is a necessity for some to take responsibility for pre-planned classes.
Because studios tend to be more expensive than traditional gyms, Kufahl said that if the country goes into recession, boutique fitness will face even more challenges. While the fitness industry is predicted to weather a recession relatively well, she said, the gyms likely to be most successful are low-cost facilities like Planet Fitness and Crunch Fitness, which offer introductory rates as low as $10 a month.
At Cyclebar, monthly membership fees range from $79 per month for four rides to $169 for unlimited rides.
“Personally, I had a $10 Planet Fitness membership,” Santiago said. “I even had a $50 Gold membership, and it’s just not the same. … When you walk into Cyclebar, it’s just a totally different culture and vibe. I always felt like people were rooting for me and they wanted me to do well, and they wanted me to be here.”
Camaraderie means a lot
For Susie Ratcliff, the cost is worth it.
Ratcliff has been doing Pure Barre, a ballet-based strength training for seven years.
“I look forward to my 50 minutes a day just for me, with no distractions,” she said. “I like working out with strong, like-minded women.”
Ratcliff was diagnosed with cancer during the pandemic and said she started doing Pure Barre with her daughter. She likes the responsibility and encouragement that comes with the class structure as well as the friendships and support system.
“My daughter is getting married in August,” she said. “Some of the people who come to the wedding are people I met there (at Pure Barre).”
Ratcliff said she was initially apprehensive about the cost, as Pure Barre’s starter membership package is $99 for the first month, although the packages vary based on the number of classes. For four lessons per month, members pay $79. Eight lessons per month cost $139, and the unlimited membership is $179 per month.
“If the pandemic has really taught us anything, it’s that we’re not as motivated at home,” said Kelsey Perin, owner of three Pure Barre locations in Columbus. “I don’t believe that personal studio classes will ever go away because you work harder.”
Perin said she has adjusted membership fees over the course of the pandemic, lowering it to about $20 a week and offering virtual classes. The studio also sold clothing to supplement revenue.
She said the studio is just now getting back to pre-pandemic membership rates, but she’s hopeful for the future of Pure Barre, which just celebrated the Grandview location’s 11th anniversary.
“We’re really striving not to make it a fad,” she said.
Strength and cardio training also popular
Orangetheory Fitness, an interval-based strength and cardio training center, is another relatively new — but fast-growing — studio. Orangetheory entered the Columbus market in 2015 and now operates 16 locations in the Columbus area with two more on the way, said Stephanie Young, area developer and owner of multiple Orangetheory locations.
What sets Orangetheory apart from its boutique fitness competitors, Young said, is its heart rate-based structured workouts. She said the studio has raised prices by $10 for the first time in eight years.
“For boutique fitness, we’re one of the most affordable,” she said.
All membership rates at Orangetheory can be canceled monthly. The unlimited membership costs $169 per month. An eight-session per month membership costs $109 and $69 four times a month.
Despite relatively high costs, Young wants people to get value for money.
“I’ve worked in the fitness industry and we would just take people’s money even if they didn’t come in,” she said. “We don’t want you to donate your money to us. We want you to live more outside the studio.”
Young said Orangetheory lost 40% of its members during the pandemic and is now back at about 90% of its membership and revenue.
“We always want our riders to feel welcome and valued here, and that keeps people coming back, ultimately helping them achieve their fitness goals,” Santiago said. “Which is worth the price in the end.”