FBA 22: 7 ways boutique, specialized fitness studios can thrive and stand out

In episode 22, Jack talks about the top ways boutique fitness studios can stand out, thrive and compete against big box offerings.

There is certainly a place in the industry for both big, traditional gyms and small, specialized studios. For boutique fitness success, you must understand how the two offerings are different and double-down on the things that make studios unique and have contributed to their explosion in popularity.

In today’s episode:

  1. Know your clients
  2. Retain your staff
  3. Know what you do; do it well
  4. Find your niche
  5. Tailor your marketing
  6. Build a community
  7. Inject soul into it



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EPISODE https://fitnessbusinessasia.com/boutique-studios-thrive



My name is Jack Thomas and this is the FBA podcast. If you’re new to the podcast, thanks for tuning in. We are on episode 22 now so I strongly recommend going back through our previous episodes to see if there are any topics we cover that are good for you.

If you’re a regular listener then welcome back and I hope you’re well.

Before we crack on with today’s episode, I am speaking at the FIT Summit in Singapore on March 20th, now the FIT Summit is a new b2b conference that’s aiming to build up the fitness and wellness industry in Asia so I’m very proud to be involved and to be speaking.

I will be in Singapore during that whole week so if you’re at the FIT Summit and would like to catch up over a coffee or beer, please do reach out, I would love to meet as many people as possible and make some new connections while I’m there.

So I was asked recently what boutique fitness studios need to do to succeed long-term and how best they can compete against the big box chain gyms.

I thought this would make a good podcast topic so that’s what today’s episode is all about, and we’ll be going through the top five things that smaller, independent businesses and studios can do to stand out.

Now if you’re involved in a chain gym it’s still worth listening to the podcast. Boutique fitness didn’t really exist 15 or so years ago and now they take in more revenue in the US than traditional offerings. So I believe that its imperative for chain gyms to have a close eye on what the boutiques are offering and the best ways to compete with them.

I just want to say that I think both boutiques and chain gyms very much have their place in the market. I come from a boutique fitness background but I don’t want anything I say today to come across as knocking chain gyms. I think both can peacefully co-exist and what I see today are each making the other one better – chain gyms are trying to improve their group class offerings, for example, to compete more with high end group class studios. And I see the boutiques offering nicer amenities and showers to try and match what the chain gyms do so well.

Ultimately, healthy competition is good for everyone, especially the consumer.

OK, so with that disclaimer out of the way, here are my top five tips, or areas of focus, for boutique fitness studio owners to thrive

Number 1, get to know your clients.

It’s simple math that with many more staff and clients, it’s going to be harder for big box offerings to know everyone that comes in. This presents a massive opportunity for boutiques to create a connection with their clients that they can’t find elsewhere.

Everyone in your business should know your client’s names and have a chat with them before or after the session.

Your coaches need to know if each client has any injuries, if they liked to be pushed or left alone during the session. This will help your coaches deliver a first-class session to them and that, to me, is what boutique fitness training is all about. At BASE, we call this ‘building your mental profile’ of each person that comes in the door. The more you find out about each client, and that absolutely starts with their name, the more you can do to deliver that high-end experience.

Number 2, retain your staff.

Now everything I’ve just said about knowing your clients isn’t very useful if every other week a coach or instructor is leaving and a new one is joining. The process of knowing your clients has to start all over again and you don’t know how new staff will connect with everyone. The same goes for all other staff including front desk and even the cleaning staff. If you have friendly cleaning staff that get to know the client a little bit or at least smile at them, that goes a long way.

Simply put, the longer good staff stay with you, the stronger your community and vibe is likely to be.

How to retain good staff is another topic for another day, but how long your team members stay with you should be one of your key indicators for success.

Number 3, know what you do, and do it well.

If you run an indoor cycling studio, that’s the only thing you do so you can put all of your energy into creating the best offering possible, focusing on every little detail in a way that is hard to do for huge companies with many different offerings. This may sound like an obvious one – do what you do well – but, frankly, I can say that I’ve been to studios and the offering is about the same level as what I would get in a chain gym – again, I’m really not knocking chain gyms here but if a boutique indoor cycling studio cannot deliver a better overall experience than a cycling class in a big box, why would I go?

And it doesn’t just need to be better, it needs to be a lot better – Soul Cycle classes are $35 per class, so after a few classes it’s the same price or more than a gym membership, which comes with unlimited spin classes and everything else. Soul Cycle needs to be damn good at what they do. And they are, which is why the company is worth $100s of millions of dollars.

The leads us to number 4, find your niche.

Opening your own boutique fitness studio gives you the opportunity to create something new and different to the market. Create and design something special that cannot be found elsewhere and people will be able to justify paying what you charge

All the industry’s leading studio offerings have got this right and have something that they do better than everyone else

Number 5, build a community.

If your staff get to know your clients well, it starts to build a sense of community and belonging. Honestly, everyone knowing each other, spending time together and having shared values and interests is the foundation of what a community is. If you all love training in the same place then that is a shared interest, so that’s a good start. Bring in the right people to your company that will help create a culture that connects the people in your business, both staff and clients, and you’re taking positive steps forwards.

Number 6, tailor your marketing.

Let’s look at chain gyms – they might have 10 locations in your city with tens of thousands of members. Boutiques perhaps need 200-300 regular clients to have a successful business. This presents a big opportunity to feature these members and tell their stories. The personalized nature of your offering should make these stories more relatable to your community of clients. They will recognize these clients and will have seen and perhaps even played a part in their success. You can tap into this by:

  • Tagging clients in social media stories and posts
  • Reposting client’s posts and
  • Sharing success stories of your clients through all channels.

That takes us to Number 7, the last point today on how you can make your boutique studio thrive, and that is… inject soul into the experience.

A key factor in Airbnb’s success is that people want a more personal experience and to be part of a community. Hotel chains can feel sterile and impersonal.

Like someone’s home, how can you add soul to the customer experience. I’m sure you can use your imagination in how this can be done but for a few ideas, you can add designs and artwork to your studio that tell part of your brand story, you can create unique terminology, slogans or chants that make up part of your experience or you could host workout parties or host special sessions for clients birthday. These are just a few ideas but if you build your concept putting soul and customer experience at the forefront, you’ll be on the right track.

Those are our 7 ways to make your boutique studio stand out and thrive. To summarize, they are:

Each of these points could be a whole podcast in itself – these tips today are designed for you to identify what things that small, specialist studios need to be doing well and what your particular business might need to improve on.

I love the way the industry has gone, with many specialist offerings doing an amazing job in their space. Chain gyms have also raised their game and there are some really strong outfits out there offering a range of high quality sessions. I said it once and I’ll say it again, successful boutiques will carve out their place in the market and will do it so well, it’s very hard to recreate.

That’s it for today guys – if you got something from today’s episode I’d love to ask a couple of small favours

  1. Give us a five star rating on whatever platform you’re listening on – this helps that platform know that we’re putting out good stuff and they will put us out to more people
  2. Subscribe so you’ll be notified every Monday when we put out a new episode
  3. Tell a friend or share with a work colleague

As always, I hope you’ve gained something from today’s podcast, at the very least I hope that a seed has been planted for you to do something positive for your business that will help you long-term.

Thank you for listening and have a great week ahead…

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