Fitness cocktails and boutique cannibalisation

Fitness and technology expert David Minton shares insights from his latest report on the evolution of boutique fitness and explains how technology will help to power ‘Fitness 2.0’

What were the key findings from your recent report on boutique fitness?

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Chay's 13-minute circuit

With the days getting shorter and weather getting colder, day-to-day exercises such as walking to the shops will soon be replaced by a quick drive in the car. Instead of having a lovely picnic in the park, you may soon be watching a movie under a blanket.

If you are worried about putting on a few lbs, don't fret! I have you covered. 

Follow this 13-minute circuit, 3 times a week to burn calories and define your muscles over the coming months.

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The dumb-bell economy: inside the booming business of exercise

As millennials become increasingly preoccupied with their physical and mental wellbeing, has the gym become the new pub?

Jo Ellison, FEBRUARY 9, 2018

An imposing corner building south of Green Park, in Piccadilly, 12 St James’s Street occupies an area associated with London’s gentlemen of leisure. It’s the home, after all, of TS Eliot’s Bustopher Jones — the “cat about town” — who had eight different clubs and white spats. The street, rich in the grandiose architecture of wealth, is studded with members-only bolt-holes.

Twelve St James’s Street also houses an exclusive club. But unlike its neighbours its allure is not in the promise of cognacs, cigars and the company of other men but in technologies designed to “redefine your potential”. E by Equinox, which opened officially last week, is a gym commanding a £500 initiation fee, plus a £350 monthly subscription, in return for sport’s most advanced innovations. Beneath the original cornicing, nestled among vast marble colonnades, runners work out in a mezzanine area, designated the Precision Running Zone, where a suite of treadmills fitted with O2 vaporisers filter out nitrogen gas to allow the body to work harder with less stress; a Pilates studio offers the Cadillac tower, from which you can balance suspended in a state of perfect spinal alignment; and an on-site valet sits ready to launder your gym kit and hand out clean towels impregnated with the tang of eucalyptus.

The dumb-bell economy is booming. Members’ clubs and boutique gyms (those smaller outfits offering specific, signature workouts via pay-as-you-go classes) are mushrooming in every metropolitan area in which affluent folk seek a spin class. They’ve become a magnet for celebrities, too: where once the paparazzi loitered outside hotel bars until the small hours hoping for a snap of someone in a state of drunken disarray, today they stalk the morning streets searching for A-listers running into Zumba lessons, or doing ballet at the barre. Drop by Barry’s Bootcamp on Euston Road on a Saturday morning, and you may well find yourself doing an hour-long “thousand-calorie workout” alongside Victoria Beckham (who, it is said, seldom breaks a sweat).

Where once consumers looked for acquisitions to express their status, our spending habits are shifting towards more holistic expenditures. In the past 20 years, the leisure industry has emerged as one of the most dynamic, disruptive and fashionable of forces. It’s all part of a new focus on the “lifestyle experience”, a trend that has possessed consumers and found luxury brands spiking with sporty new offerings — sneakers, leggings, apps and accessories — designed to harness the burgeoning market. As Harvey Spevak, the executive chairman and managing partner of the Equinox group, likes to say: “Health is the new wealth.”

David Minton, the founder and managing director of LeisureDB, who has been tracking UK consumer habits for more than 30 years, predicts the next two years will be a “golden age” of fitness. “The industry is likely to hit several milestones in 2018,” he explains. “The number of UK gyms is on course to go over 7,000 for the first time, total membership should exceed 10m, market value is expected to reach £5bn and the penetration rate should easily surpass 15 per cent. The growth will only be limited to the imagination of those pushing the boundaries.”

Likewise in the US. According to Marketwatch, Americans spent $19bn on gym memberships last year — and a further $33bn on sports equipment. But the study’s most significant feature was the scale of millennial spending: 36 per cent of 18- to 36-year-olds paid for a gym membership — twice the percentage of people older than them.

On a Wednesday lunchtime in midwinter, Equinox’s new Piccadilly outpost reflects these statistics rather well. The turnout is fairly evenly split between men and women, and most of them appear to be under 35. Some wear the hipster uniform — hoodies, man-buns, beards — others are more tidy and corporate-looking. A young woman performs a series of hanging leg lifts — up and down, up and down — with the same core strength and grace as the gymnast Simone Biles.

“They’re Type A personalities,” explains Spevak. A Bronx-born executive whose own schedule runs to three sessions a week with a personal trainer, five weekly runs on the treadmill and, when he can, a couple of SoulCycle classes, he’s fairly Type A himself. “They want it all,” he continues. “They want to figure out a way they can feel good, look good, be active, and be with like-minded individuals as well as thrive in whatever their personal objectives are . . . That could be their career, their relationship with their spouse, getting ready for their wedding, or post-divorce. It runs the range. Everybody’s got their own objectives. But our mission is helping people maximise the potential within themselves, and nobody does a better job at that than we do.”

Part of the US-based Equinox portfolio, E by Equinox is the second of the group’s standalone gyms of its type — the first opened in Kensington in 2012 — and the most expensive. Further Equinox fitness clubs will open in Shoreditch and Bishopsgate in late 2019. According to Spevak, the club offers “full-service luxury fitness using science-based research to create an experience that satisfies a high-performance lifestyle”. He wouldn’t mind at all if I described it as the Hermès of the exercise world.

Spevak has spent 25 years working in the leisure sector. He was an early gym pioneer. At Equinox, he oversees a portfolio that also includes Blink Fitness, a more accessible gym that operates 65 clubs across the US, and SoulCycle, the cult exercise boutique they purchased in 2011, and which currently operates 84 US outposts (it will arrive in London soon). Last month, they bought a minority stake in Rumble, a boxing boutique whose unique selling points are their “teardrop-shaped, water-filled” training bags and a “premium nightclub quality sound system”. It currently has two branches in New York.

As a privately owned company, Spevak won’t disclose the numbers, but business is brisk: Equinox’s 92 clubs currently have about 350,000 global members, who spend a “blended average” of about $3,500 each year. Blink Fitness is closing in on almost 400,000 members spending about $250 a year. Spevak will spend a further $1bn “in fresh capital” on reinvestment and expansion over the next five years. “We’ve always been a high-growth company,” says Spevak. “And high growth as we see it means growing 10 to 15 per cent from a profit perspective. That’s how we’ve grown for years, and that’s how we continue to grow.”

Meanwhile, next year will see the first Equinox hotel opening in New York’s Hudson Yards, the first in a rollout of Equinox hotels earmarked for billions more in investment. The hotels will be founded on the same full-service ideal as the clubs. “Our vision for the hotels is to cater to the high-performance traveller,” says Spevak, “and we think about it as we do, historically, from a science perspective. We call it MNR — movement, nutrition and recovery — where a high-performance lifestyle and a healthy lifestyle is a three-legged stool.” The clubs will also be a key feature of the hotels, where local members will be encouraged to work out with hotel guests in order to curate a more “authentic” traveller experience. “Because, if you think about it,” says Spevak, “nobody wants to hang out in the hotel restaurant or the hotel lobby with another business traveller.”

Twenty-five years ago, it was a different story. In 1999, investors weren’t interested in building gyms. “When I went to landlords and to investors, trying to raise capital, they would say to us, ‘You’re in a fad business, I don’t believe you’re going to exist in the future,’ ” says Spevak. At the time, there wasn’t a lot of stickiness in the gym world. “It was very mom-and-pop-y,” he continues, “and the financial and real estate community just didn’t want unstable business in their space. They didn’t want something that connoted something that they didn’t feel good about.”

Sitting in St James’s, in an area unparalleled for its grand associations, it’s clear how far that attitude has shifted. In the current landscape, businesses clamber over themselves to advertise their proximity to clubs. The gym has become a landmark feature in areas looking to gentrify and regenerate. And we’re all signing up. No question, millennials have had a profound influence on this new enthusiasm for exercise. As pubs continue to close at a rate of 29 a week, according to the Campaign for Real Ale, the culture of leisure is changing. That young people today prefer to sweat pints than to sink them is a fact we must consider. A study conducted by the student letting app SPCE last year found drink featuring last on the list of student expenditures, with 18 per cent of the 2,000 people asked saying they spent nothing on alcohol at all.

Additionally, as our lives have become busier, atomised and more urban, the gym has emerged as the new place in which to gather: to be part of a community. As Minton points out, not only are millennials more likely to buy gym memberships, they’re driving the boutique business as well. The rise of the group workout, club membership and all of the attendant accessories that come with it have become part of the new language of “wellness”. Self-care is now considered a luxury indulgence, and one’s club the new status symbol.

“Today’s consumer has an insatiable appetite for healthy living, or — as we call it — high-performance living,” says Spevak. “And that is a dramatic change from 25 years ago. If you were a health nut in 1995, you probably went to the gym twice a week. Today, being a health nut means taking two classes a day. The consumer wants to be healthy and feel good and look good. And you don’t just see it in our category, you see it in beauty and skincare. You see it manifesting itself in so many different ways.”

Where you work out, who you work out with, and what you wear to work out in have become totems of fashionability. Spevak traces the first shoots of the wellness trend to 9/11, when he saw a jump in the number of people becoming focused on holistic health and taking care of themselves. The proliferation of gyms in the years after was also a product of the 2008 recession, which opened a swath of prime real estate the new leisure entrepreneurs could exploit.

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But more than anything, the fitness boom must be a corollary of a digital revolution in which working out has become a ubiquitous feature of our online life; our social media feeds are saturated with videos and images of people doing dance classes, or advanced yoga poses, or supping post workout smoothies. Podcasts proliferate with meditation guides, sleep guides and inspirational lectures to make us more active. The gym hashtag has become a key signifier of a tribal society seeking to identify itself as part of a gang. Could one of the weirder ironies of phone addiction, and our increasing self-absorption, be to make us more health-conscious? As if to speak to precisely that point, I observe a young gym-goer in a crop top and leggings flashing selfies as she readies to work out.

“People go to the gym because they want to identify with the people they see there,” says Spevak. It’s presumably this same instinct — to engage and be seen as being part of something — that possesses a world-famous star such as Beyoncé or Victoria Beckham, who could afford to build state-of-the-art gyms in their basement, to attend group classes in public instead. “While we believe the home experience is growing, it’s a compliment,” says Spevak. “But at home you don’t get the chance to be with your community; and your community could be your bestie, or your partner. Or just like-minded people that you want to hang out with.”

Minton agrees that a gym’s success depends on cultivating this tribal loyalty, delivering a unique experience and then selling product that marks its members out. “Some of the most interesting clubs are those that are expanding into less obvious areas,” he says. “We now have over 600 boutiques across the UK and they are growing faster than traditional gyms as they have a smaller footprint and can take pop-up spaces. One of the best examples is Boom Cycle at the Curtain hotel [in east London].” The club takes over the hotel’s nightclub during the day, “and then morphs back into a club at night”.

The experiential market is throwing a lifeline to retailers, as well. “The fashion link is growing,” adds Minton. “Fitness apparel brands like Lululemon, Sweaty Betty, Reebok, Nike all now offer free in-store workouts, which provide them with an opportunity to market their brand lifestyles more directly and forge a connection with the consumer.”

The E by Equinox tribe is a crack elite. At the bar, an alpha type with hipster hair takes a conference call with his New York office. At the club’s food bar, Munch Fit, women choose between protein smoothies with ingredients such as acai, cashew butter and whey protein. Post-valet, they are dressed in the designer wardrobe of the super-wealthy: all Dolce & Gabbana and Chanel bags — one is enveloped in a huge Balenciaga shearling throw. Such a material display of wealth seems incongruous where one’s status is more often insinuated via the tier of trainer you chose to work with and how often you like to be embalmed in a cryogenic wrap.

On a wall near the entrance sits a range of branded sportswear, T-shirts and water bottles all marked with the Equinox stamp. I wonder whether a water bottle might one day surpass the handbag as a status symbol? “The demise of retail is a permanent shift,” says Spevak. “It doesn’t mean retail’s going to go away, but it’s going to look very different. The consumer, in my opinion, will continue to buy nice things for themselves, but I think in the scheme of priorities the experience is more important than the handbag.”
In the distance, a now-familiar whirr from the mezzanine announces the start of another oxygen-rich run. Eucalyptus infuses the air. The scent of wellness is very rich indeed.

Original Article - Financial Times

10 Years After - Fitness Participation

In 2005, The Leisure Database Company reported for a client on the state of the UK fitness industry. Not, on that occasion, our annual snapshot which transforms the country’s most comprehensive and up to date record of leisure facilities in the public and private sectors into a statistical digest, enabling us to make year on year comparisons (the 2015 State of the UK Fitness Industry Report will be published in the next month or so) but a broader attempt to put the nation’s efforts to mobilise the population towards a healthy lifestyle into perspective. At the same time, the main aim was to see participation levels (as they were) in their true light and look ‘outside the box’ at the huge majority who remained largely inactive.  That inactivity, of course, threatened to have huge implications for the health of the nation, long term costs to the health services and – and this is where our client was clearly interested – business opportunities for those who could display innovation and a fresh marketing perspective.

You have probably guessed where I’m going with this.  I had a look through some of the figures which formed the backbone of our conclusions then and compared them with similar numbers from 10 years on.  We all know that there are ‘lies, damned lies and statistics’ but for the most part they did not make for pretty comparisons.

Fitness Industry UK

In terms of the percentage of the population who is a gym member - a gold thread which runs through our annual State of the Industry Report - this has risen from around 12% then to more than 13% now. This might seem modest but we should bear in mind the fragmentation of the fitness sector in the interim which has given rise to a whole gamut of alternative options – military fitness, studio-based activity (including spinning) and fresh fitness concepts - which may not fall under the heading of a conventional gym and prevent that gym membership figure from eating more significantly into the numbers of non-participants. That was one of our themes in that original report: for every minority which was engaged in a sports or leisure activity (15% in aerobics or keep fit type classes, for instance – the names themselves date it!) there was, by implication, a much larger majority who appeared unreachable, on either practical, educational or financial grounds.

Since 2005 this country has had the great good fortune to host the Olympics, the greatest sporting show on earth; a once in a lifetime opportunity to promote elite sport as an attainable goal and, further down the pyramid, to set a generation of young people on the road to a healthy lifestyle. The fear remains that, to a great extent, the opportunity has passed us by; that it is the same committed regulars who make up the vast majority of weekly participants. Their activity of choice may change, since those regulars are the most receptive to new ideas but many of them could be the same faces you would have encountered at your gym or club ten years ago.

In the wider sporting world, too, the picture threatens to make depressing reading. We know the travails that swimming has suffered as falling participation levels have led to a cut in central funding; one participation survey records that the number of people playing squash regularly has fallen by half; the percentage of the population visiting yoga classes (5% of us 10 years ago) increased 5 years ago but has now dropped below 2005 levels.   And, it seems, 44% of us are trying to slim now, compared to 36% 10 years ago (is that good news or bad?)

At the same time, the demographic changes which we expected in 2005 were never going to be held at bay. The associated costs of looking after a UK population of well over 64 million now, compared with just under 60 million then, are ever greater – particularly when the share who are over 50 continues to increase.

All is not lost, however. In 2005 we berated those leisure providers who were happy to expect the general public to dance exclusively to their tune, with a ‘one size fits all’, ‘take it or leave it’ philosophy. The gym operators, in particular, who clung to that view found themselves overtaken by those who offered 24 hr convenience at bargain basement prices, without the frills which 99% of users didn’t want.

The fitness experience – and that includes using the Great Outdoors! – has also made huge efforts to become brighter, happier and more user friendly. There are some great innovators out there and many are using new technology to make sure that monitoring health & fitness can be a permanent part of our lives.

Some of our conclusions from all that time ago must, however, remain largely unaltered, which you can see either as slightly depressing, or still a huge opportunity for growth and engagement, depending on where you stand.

Non-participation in sport has been addressed up until now largely from a medical and curative perspective – by doctors and hospitals, way too late, in other words – rather than a preventative and educational one.  As the proportion of the population who don’t take part in regular exercise and who are endangering their health through this omission increases, so the chances to form partnerships with health providers from all areas to make exercising a more natural and widely available part of our everyday lives continues to increase. 


Jon Huxtable - The Leisure Database Company

#ThisGirlCan but more importantly #ThisGirlDoes!

Edge Cycle, Indoor Cycling Studio, Holborn. Get Fit - Get the Edge.

Edge Cycle, Indoor Cycling Studio, Holborn. Get Fit - Get the Edge.

In those winter months when you look out the window and the wind is blowing the bin down the road, or rain is lashing against the window, the last thing any of us want to do is grab our trainers and go for a run. How do you drag yourself out the door once you’ve returned from work, braced yourself to get changed, and then get back out the door in the freezing cold? The trouble is, Spring is on its way and there will just be more excuses, it’s not only the weather that can put us off leaving the house. I can assure you there are many times when I would rather enjoy a glass of wine than 45 mins on a spin bike. So what is the best way to motivate ourselves to get our freak on, as the Sport England campaign so eloquently puts it?

Our New Year’s resolutions have been and long gone, most of them didn't make it to the end of January and Summer still seems a little too far off to be worrying about that beach body. It doesn't matter who we are, we all need to be motivated in order to wiggle into our costume and make it to the pool, without being distracted with something that is much more important. But what really is the secret to finding this motivation that we all need?

The problem is that everyone is different. All of our fitness goals vary from person to person. Very few of us have the same needs when it comes to our fitness regime. And what works for one person isn't going to work for everyone. I have always believed that if you don’t like sports it’s because you haven’t found the right sport for you. From Zumba and Pilate’s, right through to Weight Lifting and Netball, the classes and training are so vastly spread that there must be one thing you enjoy. I always noticed at school that the girls who ‘hated’ PE, seemed to thoroughly enjoy trampolining and dance. It’s just about our personal tastes.

The second problem I feel comes from the way we advertise and discuss fitness. We make it seem like a chore and that everyone who chooses to visit the gym or join a club, does so based on guilt. Such a negative view on the fitness industry is not the most justifiable basis for a fitness plan. I'm sure most of us have said it at one stage or another ‘I have to go the gym tonight because of the rubbish I ate at the weekend’ or ‘It’s OK I can eat those crisps because I went spinning at lunch time’. By using exercise to make us feel less guilty we are using our HIIT class as a punishment for our junk food crimes. It’s an endless cycle that just creates negativity causing us to give in and stay home with the box of chocolates and think about how terrible you will feel when eventually Summer arrives and you have to dig out the bikini again.

So I have decided to take it upon myself to enjoy my sport and to visit the gym for the thrill and the buzz I receive from it. When I first took up netball at the age of 13 it was for the pure love of sport, the desperation to win and the sense of achievement I felt after I had work my butt off, regardless of the result. This is still true; I still experience this buzz, and funnily enough netball has never felt like a chore. Why? Because I choose to go for the love I first felt as a teenager. But I decided this isn't enough. It’s time I felt like this about all exercise. I've chosen to stop using the gym as punishment. So instead of sitting in my spin class and counting calories, I now get up on that beat and think about how good it feels to actually be able to take part.  At the end of the class I love the sense of achievement and the thought that yes ‘this girl can' but more importantly 'this girl does'. I leave the gym with a smile on my face itching to get back. I even enjoy it so much that tonight I'm off to my third spin class of the week, something I never thought I would be doing.

So I challenge all of you to stop thinking about how cold and painful your next run is going to be and instead find a reason that will help you fall back in love with your exercise - no matter what it is, just make it genuine and make sure it has nothing to do with that tiny bikini at the back of your drawer!


Jennifer Schooling - The Leisure Database Company