Slim one-room gyms are in, and the low cost of starting them is turning gym rats and workout instructors into entrepreneurs.
There are no Olympic-sized pools, rows of treadmills or steam rooms in these small fitness studios. Instead, devotees sweat through hourlong classes in tiny spaces, swinging heavy kettlebells or practicing yoga poses. Some of the studios resemble high-energy nightclubs with dim lights and loud music. Classes can be pricey, at about $30 each, but that’s not keeping people away.
Boutique fitness studios are growing fast, popping up in cities around the country, taking over small spaces that once housed businesses such as beauty salons or video game shops. Starting out small makes these slim gyms a low-risk bet for aspiring entrepreneurs.
“We started this with zero dollars,” said Brittany Blum, co-owner of yoga studio Ritual San Francisco. Ritual, which charges $25 for its classes, opened this year in a 1,000-square-foot studio inside a large gym. Ritual’s owners negotiated a deal with the gym, paying it a percentage of sales instead of a monthly rent.
Blum is looking for a second space for Ritual that’s double the size. The current studio holds 16 customers at a time. “It’s packed in there,” Blum said.
Boutique fitness studios are the fastest-growing part of the gym industry, said Meredith Poppler, spokeswoman for the International Health, Racquet and Sportsclub Association. They made up 21 percent of the fitness industry in 2013, the first and most recent year the IHRSA measured boutique studios. Awareness may have grown with the E! network’s “Hollywood Cycle,” a reality show that followed the owners and instructors of Los Angeles cycling studio Cycle House, that was broadcast in July and August.
The trend has been fueled, in part, by cycling chain SoulCycle and intense workout craze CrossFit, Poppler said. And word of mouth helps, too: “If you’re seeing results,” Poppler said, “you’re going to tell your friends about it.”
Fitness fanatics are willing to pay for the high-priced classes because they “see being fit as a status symbol,” health club consultant Bryan O’Rourke said.
O’Rourke said studios can be opened for as little as $30,000, if the space is small and not much equipment is needed, but can balloon to $500,000 if owners go all out with designing the interior. By comparison, hiring staff, buying exercise equipment and building locker rooms for a big, traditional gym can cost up to $1 million or more. Major cities face fierce competition from already established studios, O’Rourke said.
Garrett Roberts planned to open a 14,000-square-foot gym in Hoboken, N.J., but negotiations on the $30,000 a month rent fell through and a big gym chain snapped up the space. A real estate agent showed him a nearby 1,000-square-foot studio for $2,050 a month in 2011. He took it.
He opened GoRow, a studio with nine rowing machines that charges $29 a class. Many of GoRow’s customers live in Hoboken but work in New York, where they’re used to walking past boutique fitness studios. “I knew it would work,” he said.