Big box gyms go high-end for hipster clientele |

Big box gyms go high-end for hipster clientele

Kelli Kennedy
The Associated Press
Women participate in a fitness class lead by Kira Stokes at NYSC Lab in New York, Thursday, May 11, 2017. Some of the largest big box gyms including Equinox, Crunch and New York Sports Club, are opening small studios with high-end amenities, 'it' trainers and specialized workouts where consumers can pay per class in an effort to compete with boutiques. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

FORT LAUDERDALE, Florida — As upscale fitness boutiques are exploding in popularity, some of the nation’s largest big box gyms are opening small studios with high-end amenities, “it” trainers and specialized workouts that consumers can pay for on a class-by-class basis.

Big box gyms make their money off recurring monthly memberships with an average monthly fee of $54, but many say they saw an opening in the studio market where consumers are willing to pay between $25 and $35 for a single spinning, yoga or boot camp class.

Equinox, the leader in upscale gyms with a track record for starting trends through its innovative classes (Equinox acquired SoulCycle), says its new offering, called Project, in New York’s trendy NoLita neighborhood, has classes in everything from high-intensity interval training to yoga for $35 each. The enterprise promotes rising fitness stars, encouraging them to create passion projects and work with other trainers to form unique mash-ups like a dance-pilates hybrid.

Equinox, which declined interview requests, is tapping popular trainers like Bec Donlan, who has more than 42,000 Instagram followers, to create their own workouts. Donlan is teaching a booty-band class at Project called Babes & Bands.

Tribe Mentality

Membership in traditional fitness clubs grew by 5 percent, compared with over 70 percent in studios between 2012 and 2015. And the percentage of members who visited more than one facility in 2015 increased in all segments, ranging from 28 percent of traditional gyms to 86 percent of studio members, according to a study by the International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association.

“Today’s consumers, driven primarily by millennials, do not demonstrate a strong allegiance to one type of fitness program or provider. Therefore multiple memberships is becoming (or has become) the norm,” the report noted.

Experts call it the tribe mentality, led by millennials who aren’t afraid to spend more money to feel like they’re part of a shared experience and community. ClassPass, which contracts with fitness boutiques across the country and allows consumers to try different studios for a monthly fee, has capitalized on this phenomenon.

“Some people go to the gym and they know what they’re doing … but there’s a segment that wants to have an experience and feel something going to those classes,” said Michelle Ryan, chief marketing officer of New York Sports Club. “They’re motivated by people feeling like, ‘Hey, why weren’t you here yesterday?’”

The brand, owned by Town Sports International Holdings Inc., recently launched NYSC Lab in two locations in New York and one in Boston. The Lab features trendy open-space studios with upscale finishes and a rotating roster of six classes that includes strength, cardio and high-intensity interval training. Celeb trainer Kira Stokes is at the helm of the Chelsea studio.

“We were just listening to what the consumers wanted,” said Ryan, who noted the company is also exploring online streaming options, which are also popular at many fitness boutiques.

In 2015, approximately 31 percent of members said they participated in at least one small group class, from a low of 4 percent in sports-specific studios like yoga to a high of 36 percent in personal and small group training studios, paying an average of $35 per class, according to the study by International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association.

Still, experts say most gymgoers still want to put on headphones and work out on their own at a low-fee monthly membership gym.

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