The Columbus area is seeing a boom in boutique fitness centers that focus on specialized classes instead of weight racks.
Companies such as Orangetheory Fitness, Pure Bar and cycle bar cater to customers who don’t mind paying a bit more to work out with others.
Such studio-based classes have been growing in popularity, said Pam Kufahl, director of content at the fitness market research group Industry Cluband 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 do see from the younger generation … they have a desire to be proactive about their health and seek alternative ways of fixing their problems,” Fawcett said. “I have seen that push them into fitness more in the last 10 years.”
Fitness Shop: ‘People want relationships. They’re looking for community’
Cyclebar, which boasts hundreds of studios across the globe, 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 a month for limited sessions.
By comparison, a Lifetime Fitness membership usually starts at $79 a month in the Columbus area while Esporta Fitness’ first membership costs $29.99 a 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 membership levels at boutique fitness studios are not back to pre-COVID-19 levels, the use of virtual classes during the pandemic exposed more people to studio fitness.
“People want relationships,” Fawcett said. “They’re looking for community and I think they find it in a lot of ways in those places.”
The pandemic spurred many to exercise
Santanna Santiago, general manager at Cyclebar Easton, said she started cycling during the pandemic.
“I just started trying out a lot of boutique fitness gyms and things like that, honestly, just looking for a place where I belong,” Santiago said.
Eventually, she fell in love with Cyclebar and not only joined its fitness team but also its business team, working her 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 up. And I loved that.”
Santiago acknowledges that group and boutique fitness is a luxury, but also said it’s a necessity for some to have the accountability of pre-scheduled classes.
Because studios tend to be higher priced than traditional gyms, Kufahl said if the country goes into a 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 the most successful are low-priced facilities such as PlanetFitness and Fitness Crunchwhich offer introductory rates as low as $10 a month.
At Cyclebar, monthly membership costs range from $79 a 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’s membership, and it’s just not the same. … When you come into Cyclebar, it’s just a totally different culture and atmosphere. I always felt like people were rooting for me and they wanted me to do well , and they wanted me to be here.”
Fellowship means a lot
For Susie Ratcliff, the cost is worth it.
Ratcliff has been doing Pure Bara ballet-based strength workout, for seven years.
“I look forward to my 50 minutes a day that’s just for me, no distractions,” she said. “I love 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 accountability and encouragement that comes with the class structure, as well as the friendships and support system.
“My daughter’s getting married in August,” she said. “Some of the people that are coming to the wedding are people that I met there (at Pure Barre).”
Ratcliff said she had reservations about the cost at first, as Pure Barre’s starter membership package is $99 for the first month, although packages vary depending on the number of classes. For four classes a month, members pay $79. Eight classes a month cost $139, and the unlimited membership is $179 monthly.
“If the pandemic 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 in-person studio classes will ever go away because you work harder.”
Perin said she adjusted membership rates during the course of the pandemic, lowering them to around $20 a week and offering virtual classes. The studio also sold apparel to supplement revenue.
She said the studio is just now getting back to pre-pandemic membership rates, but she is hopeful for the future of Pure Barre, which just celebrated the 11th anniversary of its Grandview location.
“We really, really strive to make it not a fad,” she said.
Strength and cardio workouts also popular
Orangetheory Fitness, an interval-based strength and cardio workout center, is another relatively new — but fast-growing — studio. Orangetheory hit the Columbus market in 2015 and now operates 16 Columbus-area locations 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 just increased prices by $10 for the first time in eight years.
“For boutique fitness, we are one of the most affordable ones,” she said.
All membership rates at Orangetheory run on a month-to-month basis. The unlimited membership costs $169 per month. An eight-session-per-month membership costs $109, and four times a month is $69.
Despite relatively high costs, Young wants people to get a bang for their buck.
“I’ve worked in the fitness industry, and we would just take people’s money even if they didn’t come in the door,” she said. “We don’t want you to donate your money to us. We want you to live more life outside the studio.”
Young said Orangetheory lost 40% of its members during the pandemic and is back to about 90% now of its membership and revenue.
“We always want our riders to feel like they’re welcomed and valued here, and that keeps people coming back, which ultimately helps them hit their fitness goals,” Santiago said. “Which, ultimately, is worth the price.”