Chantal: Hey, Emma, welcome along and thank you so much for joining us.
Emma: Thank you for having me. So, so happy to be with you down under.
Chantal: Down under.
Now, while we’re talking today about learning from boutique studios, and I thought perhaps you could set the scene by first defining for us, what is a micro-club or a boutique studio?
Emma: Great. So, easiest way to think of it is literally a retail trade. So, think of a big department store versus a small designer boutique store and it’s exactly the same with fitness. So, from about 2005, 2006, these had popped up. So, they’re smaller in real estate, so they’re more intimate in terms of scale.
They have a narrower programme offering. Now this might be one class, like a SoulCycle, or it might be a small series of classes and in some places it will be a collection of multidisciplinary exercise programmes. So, it’s schedule driven, which means you’re gonna find this class a lot of times a day, generally, and it runs on a high service model. So, that really schooled industry, really, on how to serve members.
And there are many fluid financial models. You’ll find you don’t necessarily have to get locked into membership. So, these operate in areas like bar, and cycle, and dance, boxing, HIIT, yoga, PT. There’s quite a span, but those would be the main ones.
Chantal: Okay. Perhaps give us a few brand name examples that we might recognise.
Emma: For sure.
Some of the bigger ones, and the queen of the category, of course, SoulCycle, which launched in 2006, so a little over ten years old now. There is Bootcamp, which you’ve all would have heard about, Orangetheory. So, these are big operations, very scaled.
And then each country or culture, or sometimes a city can have a series of boutiques, as well. So, some examples there, one of my favourites in New York, is Tone House, which is very athletic, it’s like NFL inspired. In London, I love Ministry of Fitness for example. So they’ve really built off the Ministry of Sound brand and built that out as a fitness [inaudible 00:01:58]. In LA I love GloveWorx, which is a boxing brand of some pro-fighters, and you do some amazing mat work. And of course your famous F45, the functional training from Aussie-Aussie-Aussie. Which I actually have just come out of doing a week with those guys in Hermosa Beach. So there’s some examples that I enjoy anyway.
Chantal: Emma, when I was in the States towards the end of last year I actually went along and did a SoulCycle class in Boston. I’m a cycle instructor myself, and all the listeners know that I love going to Soul. And what I found was particularly interesting about this, and you brought it up in that first answer, was the customer service. Because from the moment that I walked in the door to the moment that I left that studio, I had the most amazing end to end customer service experience just from the people that were working on desk, the instructor. It was complete. And quite often you mentioned that those facilities are known for their customer service and their customer experience. So what is it that really makes that so appealing. Talk to us about that experience that you get in the studio.
Emma: 100 percent. So, if you think about it comes down to being single-minded. And I’m going to bring this point up a little bit later in terms of what we can do our businesses, but to have one thing that you’re focusing on. SoulCycle is a great example. So when the ladies created that, they wanted to create a class that was part workout of course, part therapy, part rock concert. All of these things, and then they literally created one brand experience. So they’re very specialist. And it’s [inaudible 00:03:45] narrow in terms of its focus. And it allows you bring all those touch points into one pattern in a way that it never deviates from the reason that you’re there. They basically judge themselves on, ‘Did I shift your soul? Did you leave the studio feeling more magnificent than when you came?’ And if that’s a yes then we achieved success, and if not we [inaudible 00:04:07]. When you’re that focused on what the outcome is, everything you do, everything you touch, everything you pick up. The walls are branded, the gear’s branded, the water bottles. Everything about it is absolutely [inaudible 00:04:20] that one tune. And I think that’s the biggest lesson we can learn actually from boutiques.
Chantal: Yeah, the consistency is just amazing. And even, you mentioned Barry’s Bootcamp earlier, they extend it through the experience that you have in the exercise side of things, but then also through to when you leave and you grab a smoothie from the smoothie bar. That is also included in that consistency of branding isn’t it.
Emma: 100 percent. And also think about this, when you’ve got a series of people that are very very like minded it’s actually really easy to deliver to those people because they only really have a very small set of needs. If it’s bar for example, it might be the slimming juice that you get at the end because you know that everyone’s there to be long and lean. If it’s Barry’s Bootcamp you know that they’ve just left themselves on the floor and you’re going to need to replenish together. So you can see how it all stands together because of that singularity.
Chantal: Okay. So let’s dive in a little bit more to those lessons that we can learn. So we’ve got our club owners that are listing at the moment, our managers are possibly, or probably, big facilities or people that are just coming into the market. What are some of those key lessons that we can learn from the boutique studios.
Emma: Great. So I would say that it’s around really understanding your customer and really delivering to that need. So, the biggest thing I could say would be start mapping. Map your journey for your customer. Map your journey for your staff or your contractors. Map your journey of the actual workout, or the workouts or the programmes that you are offering. Because when you slowly and mindfully go through that process, and as I mentioned before, if you unpack each of those touch points, you learn a whole lot.
Say if I’m a customer, take SoulCycle for example, that started when I first saw the social media post and shout out from three of my best friends.
I then hooked up online, notice I did that online, they’ve automated the mundane. I hooked up online, I then had a phone call with someone who was incredibly friendly. She encouraged me and she said it’s absolutely vital you come in 15 minutes before your first class so that we can show you around. I did that because I was too scared not too, and I knew that [inaudible 00:06:37] has all these rituals around it and I didn’t want to get caught out on rituals. So I went early, I got welcomed by three people, given my water bottle, given a tour of the whole facility, told this is where you’re going to wait, your instructor’s going to welcome you etc. Look at that human touch to that [inaudible 00:06:52] and I haven’t even got on the damn bike yet. That’s amazing. And then you’d walk through, and then you’re welcomed onto the bike.
There’s always a concierge service. So people are running around making sure your bike fits, and water bottle’s there, and you got your towels, and everything’s beautiful. It’s pristine. It’s like when people open the doors and everyone runs into a concert. It’s the same thing. So then, when that instructor comes out, they are a rockstar right? Because everyone’s been doing the run around, they come in and they own that stage. And then on comes the music right. And that’s not just any system. It’s probably about, it could be anywhere from two to four times from a typical studio might spend in terms of sound. And you notice. The last time I was in the SoulCycle I looked up and there’d be like 18 speakers in the roof. So the sound is spectacular. They customise their music.
Their talent, let’s talk about talent because those girls did something very special. What we do in the fitness industry, and what we have done historically is to train people. “How’re you going, get certified and then…”, whatever. And then we’re going to hope that you had some charisma to pull a crowd. They did it the other way round. They became a talent agent. And they though, what if we took those stand up comics, those models, those actors, a few singing celebrities and taught them how to ride a bike. How hard could that be. So they flipped the whole model, and then trained them intensively. In the early days of Soul some friends trained in the first [inaudible 00:08:20] of people there. It was up to six months riding twice a day. Massive training to be able to create this vibe that their doing for people. So you’ve got that whole experience and then they do take you through a journey.
[inaudible 00:08:32] journey. You’re getting a result, but you’re also feeling a certain way. Because we are emotional beings that are just running around following our feelings when you think about it. And if that’s not powerful enough to pull you back you’re going to fail ultimately. So they do that.
And then after service, you get all the shout outs, people talking about who goes to Soul. You are not forced, but you’re encouraged to be in these social environments. You leave the room and there’s an actual sitting area. So you can sit there and compare how you’re feeling with your friends. The [inaudible 00:09:06] are there, like you say, you can shop on the way out, those sorts of things. So the whole thing has been very well thought out, and all those touch points are very mindful. And then you’re gently out the door and we look forward to seeing you tomorrow, thanks for coming.
Chantal: Yeah, Emma the thing that’s coming to my mind at the moment, I think a lot of the listeners are probably thinking, well that all sounds amazing, there’s heaps that we can learn from that, but what if we don’t have the budget to invest in training our group fitness instructors for such a long period, or we don’t have the budget to always have that beautiful concierge service that you get in the boutique. But there is another element that I wanted to touch on that I have experience, and I think that any club can do, and that is the way that the boutique studios handle their social media and their email comms. And you mentioned right at the beginning that when you book on for a class in any Boutique Studio it’s all online. So it’s super easy. They book in online, you pay online, there’s no money exchange in the actual studio. But the beauty of that is that all of a sudden they have captured their email address. And I purposefully keep signed up to Flywheel, SoulCycle, and Barry’s, so that I see the email communication that they send out. And I think that one thing that a lot of gym owners can observe and can learn from is just how well they have that communication with their members, and with their participants, after they have attended a class. Do you agree with that?
Emma: Yeah I really do. And just a couple of things before I answer that for you. First of all, you go to a SoulCycle you’re playing $42 a class, or $35, or whatever it is, it might vary a bit based on where you are. That is a lot of money to play with, especially if you’ve got quite a full class. That’s a lot of money coming in so you can add those service things.
That’s the first thing I wanted to mention.
Look it doesn’t matter, if you’re more value based, or maybe you just don’t make that much money, you can still create a very powerful point of view and you can still decide, “We’re going to be the friendliest place in town.” And then that comes down to, how do I greet you, how do I farewell you, how do we talk to each other, what’s our language, what’s the style of our communication. So you don’t need to have five concierges leaping on you to set up your one bike. There are other things that can come into play around those touch points. If you actually slow down and look at them it will come to you. And I 100 percent agree.
The second thing I wanted to bring up is, when you are working for a full service club how many things could you be doing in there. And I always felt this tension when I was with Equinox, and also when I was working ClubSide with [inaudible 00:11:54]. There are so many communications that can go out, you often have people saying in the comms department or the marketing department, “Oh, we’ve got too much going out.”
I just wanted to bring up, there was a great thing I saw last year over at [inaudible 00:12:08] actually, the Fitness First crowd in Europe had done some wonderful custom segmentation of the customer list. So they had actually broken it, and it ended up being like six different types of member. And then they were able to know what those members came for. This person comes in alone, they just want to do their own thing. This is the sort of ideal experience they might like. They only want to hear from us on these things, like what the open hours are, just that they hate the events, they hate anything that’s social so we don’t send them any of that.
So this sort of talks to your email thing, because I don’t know about you but if I get emails that don’t talk to me I just delete or get rid of them so fast. So I absolutely agree with you, there’s a huge opportunity of followup. And then the challenge around that is to follow up in a way that’s appropriate to that member. So I’ve already said if I go to SoulCycle I know that people there like riding bikes. I know that they’re not going to be a purist cyclist because that purist is going to be at some other cycling or [inaudible 00:13:05], they’re going to be somewhere where they cycle for real not cycle to shift their soul. It’s a different offering. So I would do that. And if pushing out through social media, everyone jumping on the selfie thing, but beyond that. Actually knowing what you do, and we know this. They can track your usage, they can track emails that go to you. We know that a lot of emails don’t get opened. They tend to take an omnipresence. There tends to be a lot of Social Media, a lot of shares, because what you share with your friends is more likely to get through all the filters and really target the algorithms in that way. So I 100 percent agree with you, you’ve got many many opportunities to follow up.
Chantal: Emma, with that Fitness First example that you mentioned that you saw in [inaudible 00:13:52]. I don’t know if you went into this level of detail with them. I was just wondering, do you know how they collected the information in order to categorise their members into those six categories. Because I think that’s a phenomenal idea, and I know that a lot of CRMs these days can quite easily segment your audience or your members. Do you know, did they collect that information in the initial meeting, or was that something that they did post membership joining.
Emma: Look I believe there was quite a deep amount of work, and I don’t brush over that lightly. I know that tracking peoples behaviours if you are not technologically set up to do so is challenging. So I think they actually undertook a [inaudible 00:14:36]. So there would have been, I expect, some [inaudible 00:14:37] around that. I’m sure they would have watched some of the behaviours of their members. Obviously you’re getting people tracking in, so I think they were tracking both from memory. I think they were tracking who was being attracted to the brand, and then who was staying in the brand. How were they using the brand, exiting the brand, staying or becoming an evangelist. Because there’s all of those things that happen within your club.
You’ve got to measure stuff. So you’ve got to know when the person walks through the turnstile do they go right to group first, or do they go left to personal training, or do they go around the corner and do their own thing, or do they just go sit in the spa, or do they go and sit in the café, they’re just being social. So they somehow gather that. Some of it was technology I believe. Some of it was watching members. And they would have had to undertaken some research from the membership as well. I’m pretty sure they had some focus groups and stuff like that.
But, if you’ve got a small operator, and maybe you don’t have too much money, you can still create a nice little group of members and actually ask them stuff. You can watch things. Trust your instinct. You live in this business, you can watch what people are doing. You can survey people if you don’t have the tech systems to support that. At least you should be able to get check in and check out.
And what they actually saw, the good news from all this, is that all those segments started earning a lot more money for them. They had more people joining because they were clearer about their offering. And then they had people staying longer because they were served in a very relevant way to why they were using their facility.
Chantal: That’s what it all comes down to doesn’t it. Thank you so much for sharing that example. Last but not least Emma, I’m hoping that you can leave us with a couple actions that we can take away to immediately implement into our business based on the learnings that you shared with us around boutique gyms.
Emma: Fantastic. So my first one would be, make sure you’ve built a powerful point of view and brand. Now, you may be an existing business, you might have been there for a while, but I urge you to go back and really say, “Look, what are we and what are we not.” Then unapologetically be who you are. You are never going to keep everyone happy. There’s plenty to go around, we’ve all got an offering that will interest someone.So build a powerful brand, or revisit that, and then centre all your touch points around that.
Then chose what you’re not going to do anymore. If you’re going to be the friendliest bunch in town, there’s going to be a whole lot of things that fall off because you can’t be everything. But you might decide if a person needs something, I’m there. That’s what we’re going to be really famous for. We’re going to be famous for human connection or something like that. That might mean that some other things fall off and that’s fine. So, that would be my first thing.
Secondly I would really take a deep look at your staff, your contractors, your people who work for you. Because, there have been some really real shifts. I actually just finished a chapter for the Europe Active Guides, and it will published later this year actually in a few months I think, around human capital. And there’s a shift happening in the people space. Instructors are becoming influences. Competency models have been replaced with charisma. Staff are becoming entrepreneurs, or they want to have a bigger say, or be a bigger part in your industry. And generalists are becoming specialists. So we have to factor these things in as the millennial mindset. I’m a millennial now. I want things hard and fast. If I’m not happy now, I’m out of here so fast. So we’ve got to get with the times, and the people space.
So I would say, what do your instructors want. They want fame and fortune. Now we’re probably not going to be able to give them much fortune, but you can certainly give them some fame. Celebritise your instructors. Train them on social media. Increase their fellowship. Offer sponsorship deals. Put them up for things. Because they want to be famous. And why wouldn’t you do that, because it’s going to serve you, it’s going to make them happier. And I think those are simple things that can be done and people who do do that definitely reap the rewards for sure. So I would look after the instructors. They want to be part of the business, and if they don’t like your business they’ll go and find and place that they love. So like’s not good enough anymore, you have to love. And I know [inaudible 00:18:38] so I gotta get that out there too.
So that would be my second thing. Another one is really just embrace technology. I’m just gobsmacked that people are still trying to deny that it’s coming. I follow it a lot. I love TechCrunch, I follow Brian [inaudible 00:18:55], and people like that. He was laughed off the stage five years ago for talking about AI. Now that we’ve pretty got AI running a lot of things that we’re not even aware of. So embrace tech to automate the mundane so that you can focus on the stuff that matters, the human stuff, the [inaudible 00:19:13] stuff, the creative stuff, the strategizing. We’re actually all about expression, so we should be able to do those things and let those other things be taken care of without being fearful. And that was a great conservation I had with Brian the other day. People are so fearful of change, and when you think about it when the fax machine came, and when the computer came, and when the wheel was invented. All of these things are threatening at the time, and providing we use them in good ways they become enabling for us over time.
Chantal: You know I think Emma we’re actually spoiled with the amount of technology that we have at our fingertips now as fitness business owners and managers. We actually have incredible systems available to us and I tend to agree with you in that I think there is a fear factor. That if I haven’t seen someone else use it before me then I’m a little bit nervous about diving into it. But I think that there are a lot of people, and boutique studios are a fantastic example, who have paved the way and who have gone out and gone yep here’s the online booking system or here’s how we’re going to communicate with customers and we’re going to automate all of this. So I think that we do have some great case studies of what works and how effective it is to take advantage of that technology. So that’s a really fantastic take away.
Emma: And just coming off that, don’t be [inaudible 00:20:39] try stuff. I’ve been very fortunate to be on so many innovation committees where we try stuff all the time. It’s kind of like, I’ve got an idea, great. I want someone doing it next week so we can get some real feedback on it. So with the tech stuff, try stuff. Everything’s crowd sourced now. You don’t have to get married and decide this is going to be for ten years. Try stuff. Partner with someone and say, I’d love to try your system. Here’s a small group of my members, or my staff, whatever we’re going to try it on and let’s do it. Just give it a go.
Chantal: Yeah. That’s really great advice. Now I’m incredibly excited because we’re going to be seeing you here in Sydney very very soon. You’re coming along to Filex 2018, which is going to be-
Emma: I know. I’m so excited. Such a homecoming.
Chantal: Now do you want to tell everyone what you’re going to be speaking on at Filex?
Emma: Absolutely. So I know I’ll be joining you and some of the business staff. So I’ve got a few topics that I’m very blessed to be presenting. So it’ll be a little part of the [inaudible 00:21:39]. I know that these are going pretty well at the conferences around the world right now. I’ll be doing a piece on trends. I’ve been in the US for four years now. A lot of my life has been in LA and New York, so I’m in the boutique [inaudible 00:21:51]. And looking at reviewing products every day of the week and programmes and stuff like that. So there’s a lot of things that happen in the US, particularly on the coast. A lot of bicoastal trends here. So I’ll be doing a session on that. It will relate to fitness, but it won’t just be fitness because we really are being shaped by the [inaudible 00:22:09] and whatever he’s doing and all the driverless cars that are on the street and all of these things. So we’ll talk a little bit about that, but it will relate to fitness. So I’m very excited to be doing that.
And then I will also be doing a session on building a fierce people culture. And that is sort of across my 25 years of doing stuff in that stuff. And very very excited about that, especially with these new insights that we’ve been looking into around the shift in human capital, and being led by great companies like Google. And how important education and growth is on our millennials and how people are actually purpose over finances and things like this.
Really excited to be talking about that. I’ll be around, I’m there for a week and hoping to catch up with very many people. I know there’s a lot of people from the US. And I know it’s a long way, because it’s a fabulous, fabulous conference. It’s still one of my favourite around the world, and it really really adds value. I just love the job that Filex has always done for the industry.
Chantal: We are very very lucky to have a conference of such high quality with such amazing speakers. And it sounds like your schedule is going to be extremely busy over those couple of days, so we’re lucky to have you speaking. Emma, I am just so thrilled, and so grateful, that we had a chance to catch up and talk all about the lessons that we can learn of course from boutique studios and also to hear about your sessions coming out for Filex 2018.
Thank you for joining us, and I cannot wait to meet you in just a few months time.
Emma: So welcome. Same here.
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