A visit to a mall or an urban shopping area used to be marked by stops at Gap, Sharper Image and Barnes & Noble. Now it’s about taking a Pilates class, maybe followed by an indoor cycling session or hot yoga and ending in a detoxifying sauna.
As brick-and-mortar retail stores have taken a beating from the internet, yoga, Pilates, rowing, boxing, cycling, barre and HIIT studios are entering the spaces formerly inhabited by apparel, books and electronics stores. Taking a group fitness class, it turns out, is one of the few things you can’t order from Amazon.
Along with the influx of boutique studios has come associated services, such as pay-by-the-minute massages and wellness-focused retail enterprises where you can get the exercise-induced ache in your shoulder rubbed and then rehydrate with a coconut water.
The number of these shops springing up in shopping malls makes up a big part of what’s been called the “experiential economy,” after the “experience economy,” a phrase first coined in Harvard Business Review 21 years ago and amplified to the max by the more recent advent of Instagram selfies.
Amanda Freeman, founder and CEO of the Pilates-inspired SLT (“Strengthen, Lengthen, Tone”) fitness company on the East Coast, said that when opening a new studio, she looks for a location near other boutique fitness studios. Her hope is to take advantage of the so-called “restaurant effect,” which is when a row of eateries becomes a dining destination for customers who may want Italian one night and Thai another. Or, in this case, Pilates one day and yoga the next.
“If I’m opening a new location, I want to open where a comparably priced studio is already thriving by offering a different workout,” Freeman said. “Co-location creates a fitness community. Plus you can play the music as loud as you want and no one cares.”
Fitness clusters are growing in number, said Jeff Weinhaus, president and chief development officer for Equinox, a luxury fitness club brand. In fact, the boutique business has become so strong that some gyms are spinning off their own outlets right down the street.
Consider Equinox: On one block of New York City, it operates a full-sized fitness center plus a separate cycling club and another separate yoga studio. Although the fitness center offers both indoor cycling and yoga, the three facilities attract different clientele, Weinhaus said.
The grouping of the three clubs doesn’t surprise Keely Watson, who owns a string of Pilates franchises in California and has started opening yoga studios near them. The proximity of her businesses enables them to share personnel, including instructors who work at both sites.
“It’s really nice to have that kind of proximity for logistics,” Watson said. “And from a sales perspective, it’s nice to tell clients who are shopping us that they can try both.”