Lessons from the Boutique Studios

Dean Hodgkin | 04 May 2018

Boutique studios have revolutionized the fitness landscape by adopting a high-ticket price proposition, boldly differentiating themselves from a sector that had increasingly shifted towards the budget gym offer. Whilst the emphasis on unique, luxury interior design plays a role, the key factor responsible for the continued success of this market segment is the level of service delivery. So just what is they do so well, and could PTs adopt and adapt their approach to better satisfy our own clients and attract new ones?

There are 3 clearly identifiable and hugely significant components of the boutique proposition, as follows:


Millennials now comprise around 48% of gym goers and in addition to being more active than previous generations, they commonly seek experiences and look to engage with brands rather than simply use them (The Nielsen Les Mills Global Consumer Fitness Survey, 2013). They also want easy access so will book workouts online.

Social events are a platform of the offer with classes often conducted with a live DJ or musicians and partnerships are formed with drinks, food, fashion and beauty companies to provide extra services and entertainment after classes in the studios. This emphasis on fun is important as a recent study revealed the highest drop out rate in gyms is not those who wanted to get fit and didn’t but those who wanted/expected enjoyment and didn’t get it (Hillsdon, 2014).

The programming is centered around group exercise sessions and a set timetable that drives the consumer into a routine. This has been proven to positively impact adherence with studio participants being 26% less likely to quit than their gym-only counterparts (Hillsdon, 2014).

It’s reported that 82% of gym members do some form of workout at home with 63% of those using a digital platform (Les Mills Seminar Series, 2017). Some of the boutiques have taken advantage of this phenomenon by streaming live workouts, allowing for a much broader reach.


  • Ensure workouts are always fun by constantly experimenting with locations, props and challenges.
  • Demand that your clients commit to a set routine rather than an ad-hoc approach to their sessions.
  • Use tech to your advantage, an app such as MYPT will enable your clients to book sessions with you at their convenience, even when you’re not available and offering online workouts will keep your current clients on track when they can’t get to a live session with you and serve as a prospecting tool to attract new clients.


A study at Aberdeen University discovered that having a training partner was a huge factor in adherence and separate research revealed that gym members who make just a 1 new friend are 40% less likely to leave (Rackow, Scholz & Hornung, 2015).

The boutiques’ cool interior design and regular events combine to create a fitness destination where customers don’t just sweat and go but hang around to enjoy and absorb the healthy, positive vibe and importantly, to connect with others. Human behavior studies have shown that we are genetically programmed to seek social inclusion. This tribal instinct is hard-wired into our DNA so when Seth Godin talks of tribes needing a shared interest and a way to communicate, clearly the boutique studios tick both boxes.

We all have a primal desire for social acceptance and the boutiques have cleverly conceived environments where people can be with people like them and so gain a strong feeling of belonging.


  • If not already doing so, add small group training, of varying themes, to your list of services, to bring people together.
  • Organize a group booking to attend a fitness event or team up with fellow professionals to host your own seminars offering group workouts and lifestyle talks.
  • Arrange social events to bring together your clients, allowing them to make new friends, an easy start being to use the obvious calendar dates such as Christmas, Easter, valentine’s day, etc.


In her book, Riches in Niches, Susan Friedmann states that no matter what industry you’re in, the consumer yearns for specialization. By focusing on just a couple of programs, boutiques are perceived as not only being exclusive but also carrying a high degree of expert knowledge and guidance. They feel like purposeful places where serious work is done and meaningful gains are made.

Under the mantra, ‘We aspire to inspire’ the leading player in the boutique market, SoulCycle, clearly positions itself as a lifestyle brand with no reference to the word fitness. As a result, it has been able to build an incredible retail offer accounting for around 16% of total revenue.

Because of the above, people believe boutiques will deliver an incredible experience and believe boutiques will deliver results and as Michael Hayman declares in his book, Mission, belief is the new economic currency.

The rise of the boutiques has given birth to a new type of trainer who is highly skilled, supremely professional and has a presence on social media. In addition, they are required to live the brand and (I know this will dichotomize opinion) they need to look the part. It’s not uncommon for boutique trainers to grace the front pages of both fitness and fashion magazines.


  • Rather than simply offering a route to shape up, start to think of yourself as a professional; lifestyle business and ensure your uniform, promotional materials and social media communications reflect this.
  • Build a retail offering that supports your training services and consider including apparel, footwear, supplements, beauty and grooming products, etc. Create bundle sales by combining sessions with various product packages.
  • Commit to on-going education, constantly striving to refine your skills and look to develop any strengths you have into a signature method or session.
  • I can’t think of a better way to summarize than to quote motivational speaker, Jay Danzie - ’Your smile is your logo your personality is your business card and the way you make people feel is your trademark.


  1. The Nielsen Les Mills Global Consumer Fitness Survey. (2013). Consumer statistic trends & insights for fitness facilities. Retrieved from: https://w2.lesmills.com/files/GlobalCentral/GRIT/ResearchDocs/Nielsen%20research%202013%20exec%
  2. Hillsdon, M. (2014). The TRP 10,000 Study.
  3. Les Mills Insight Seminar Series. (2017). Relationships beyond memberships. Retrieved from: https://www.lesmills.com/us/relationships-beyond-memberships/.
  4. Rackow, P., Scholz, U. & Hornung, R. (2015). Received social support and exercising: An intervention study to test the enabling hypothesis. British Journal of Health Psychology, 20, 763–776. doi:10.1111/bjhp.12139.

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Dean Hodgkin

About the author: Dean Hodgkin

A truly international fitness ambassador, having appeared at both consumer and trade fitness events in 36 countries resulting in being voted Best International Fitness Presenter at the 1 Body 1 World awards in New York. In addition, he recently received the Lifetime Achievement award at the International Fitness Showcase, Europe’s largest group fitness event. Dean has been teaching sport and fitness since 1981, is renowned for delivering a wide range of master-classes and seminars covering many themes and has accumulated a wealth of experience that reaches into several domains.

He has appeared as a guest expert on a large number of television and radio programmes both in the UK and overseas and in trying to preach the fitness gospel to as wide an audience as possible he has filmed workouts on a boat in the middle of Lake Windermere, on the set of Coronation Street, on the end of Blackpool pier, in Times Square, on the roof of a Mumbai skyscraper, in a busy hotel lobby in Taipei and in an Amsterdam park with a Dutch soap opera star. Leading a mass workout in London’s Battersea Park, standing in front of the accompanying Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, is a particular highlight.

Dean has created two unique products for The Great Courses that combine education and exercise to help the viewer to better understand how the body works and how physical activity can positively affect it in so many ways. He has also co-authored two fitness books and regularly writes features for mainstream newspapers and magazines with a list that includes The Times, Sunday Times, GQ, FHM, Men’s Health, Esquire, Cosmopolitan, Health & Fitness, Zest, Women’s Fitness, Slimming and Bodyfit.

His unique ability to create diverse lifestyle programmes also led to him working with major brand names including Reebok, Marks & Spencer, Weight Watchers, RAC, Nike, Remington, David Lloyd, British Dental Association, 3 Mobile, Boots, Aviva and Whitbread.

As a sportsman, he was 3-times World and 2-times European Karate Champion. Coaching experience includes working with basketball, soccer, tennis, golf and American football players.

Dean is currently retained as a consultant by both multi-award winning spa resort Ragdale Hall and Energie Global Brand Management, the leading fitness industry franchise operator.

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