MINNEAPOLIS - Chances are the explosive growth of boutique fitness is within reach in your neighborhood as Minnesotans move beyond traditional fitness, transformed by the core of this personalized craze.
Visit any boutique gym in the Twin Cities, and you will likely hear the phenomenon isn’t just about a workout, but the community and friendships cultivated through fitness.
Today, nearly one in five Americans belongs to a gym.
The International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association is an industry organization tracking the growth of boutique studio membership and in a 2015 Health Club Consumer Report, IHRSA says 35 percent of the 55.3 million members belonged to a studio.
An estimated 2,300 fitness studios opened around the country in 2015, IHRSA reports.
Andrea Jones co-owns Alchemy - a fusion of yoga, conditioning and strength - with a group fitness following so popular Alchemy just opened its third studio in Edina, with a fourth studio soon opening in Highland Park.
Jones, her husband and business partners formerly owned the Twin Cities largest CrossFit business before developing their own fitness experience, first opening in 2015 in the North Loop.
Alchemy charges $20 for a single class, and $155 for a monthly membership in addition to other class packages. Jones finds millennials are willing to put a value on this social phenomenon.
“They care about their wealth, they care about their health and they want to spend it and experience things that will make them feel healthier, more alive, more fit,” said Jones.
“We’ve heard a lot of feedback on that it can be life-changing that someone can remember your name or notices when you are gone, a high five, whatever it is, just knowing somebody cares that you are there, it is a different experience,” Jones added.
Alchemy also recently took the social factor to another level, launching fitness based retreats for members to travel to places like Iceland and Mt. Kilimanjaro.
“I value more friends and being part of that community that forces me to come in, as opposed to going to a bigger gym and having to do it all on my own,” said Jordan Hagel, an Alchemy member.
The concept also takes flight at The Aviary, an aerial fitness studio in Northeast Minneapolis, now newly expanded to a second location in Minnetonka, where at any given time of day, strength and flexibility take flight.
Owner Christine Longe opened the doors to suspend stereotypes of what a workout can be. The following recently became so popular, she opened the doors to a new clientele in the western suburbs.
“Being involved in the boutique movement has been very exhilarating. We see the women who walk in the doors frustrated by the big box experience,” said Longe. “I think that it's beautiful, they feel empowered, and they get stronger doing it, and it's the combination of those three things that gives people confidence.”
The Aviary charges $20 for a single class and a monthly unlimited membership is $199.
“Creating the community is half of what we are doing – in additional to making people fit. We come down to the fact we will provide you so much value, you will be able to get over the pricing,” said Longe.
At the rapidly expanding CycleBar in Uptown Minneapolis, spinning is a luxury experience.
People check in on iPads, enjoy free amenities, parking and then exercise become entertainment in the Cycle Theater.
CycleBar charges $23 for one ride, or $159 for monthly unlimited, in addition to many packages.
“We’ve been open seven months, it's catching on like wildlife, classes are filling up,” said Zach Pettus, owner of CycleBar Uptown Minneapolis.
Pettus opened the doors last fall and designed the concept to appeal spinning novice or elite athlete. He said many of CycleBar's devotees belong to other gyms in addition to CycleBar. Regulars can burn up to 1,000 calories a ride.
“We want a place where people know they can be sweating and smiling at the same time,” said Pettus. "We have built a sense of community that is not intimidating but in fact super welcoming."
Tish Watson owns weRow in northeast Minneapolis, where inclusive fitness is at the heart of a rowing revival. Cost wise weRow charges $18 a class, and $129 for monthly unlimited classes.
“I wanted to have a place where everybody felt like they belonged no matter their weight, size, age, fit level, so weRow,” said Watson.
She is among the wave of boutique owners finding strength in numbers, creating a crew of believers.
The idea came to her when a friend mentioned the East Coast was home to rowing gyms, but none could be found in Minnesota, so Watson, already a fitness devotee, set out to open the first rowing gym in the state.
“It’s typically a community of people where we just join together – a common bond – whatever that common bond or exercise is and that’s why it’s resonating so big. I haven’t heard one concern on the money part of it and honestly, I don’t think you can put a value on your health,” said Watson.
LIFE TIME FITNESS REACTS
One of the nation's biggest health club chains, Chanhassen-based Life Time Fitness, is reacting to this micro-movement.
Lighting and technology now amp up spin Life Time classes to boost the entertainment factor. At lunch hour, a spin instructor kicked off class with a vibe.
“I feel like bustin’ loose,” he shouted, while dancing on top of a stationary bike, red mood lighting overhead.
Inside the Chanhassen club’s free weight area, new signage alerts members to the new Life Time Alpha program.
“It is the same kind of a workout you would get in a CrossFit, small groups work out together,” said Bahram Akradi, Life Time Fitness CEO.
Life Time is moving forward with a philosophical programming revolution, focused on branding classes for a boutique feel by creating smaller, specialized communities under one roof.
As Life Time reaches its 25th anniversary in July, it’s finding new ways to engage its 1.4 million members soon spanning 130 locations in 26 states.
“In order for us to serve the customer in the right away, we need to have that small boutique mentality always,” said Akradi. “But we believe you can find all those boutique experiences as good as any place under one roof, and then when you get tired of one modality of exercise, which is inevitably going to happen, you can seamlessly, jump into another.
“When I started Life Time I wanted to design the clubs big enough and flexible enough so we can continually change, so when the customer wants this newer style of workout, they get it,” Akradi added.
Akradi calls competition from smaller gyms necessary because it reinforces value. On average, Life Time charges $85 for a single membership, and average dues range between $85 to $210 for singles, couples and families.
“People are willing to pay $25, $30, sometimes in New York people pay $60 to $75 bucks a class, to go to the class, so basically the customer has spoken and said if you give me the type of exercise I want, with the type of quality I want, convenient to me, I am willing to pay for it,” said Akradi.
Akradi said the other players in the fitness industry are important to the success of Life Time’s overall mission.
“To us, all other competition is fantastic. It helps promote the healthy living, healthy aging, gets more people interested in staying physically active, which is really our mission. We want to make America healthier, and we can’t do it alone,” said Akradi.
What will you pay for fitness in the Twin Cities? KARE 11 searched prices for dozens of studios.
On average, one boutique class is $20. Monthly boutique memberships run from $150 to $200 dollars or even more. Compare that to a big fitness membership between $40 to $90 per person per month. At the bottom, budget gyms charge about $10 a month.
The International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association (IHRSA) tracks these stats nationwide, saying last year, people paid an average of $87-$131 dollars a month for small studio memberships.
Amanda Kujawa is a former CrossFit member, but now works out at Anytime Fitness, which she says is more budget-friendly and open 24 hours a day, convenient to her shift work at a hospital.
“Being a recent college graduate and finishing grad school, this fits my budget a lot more with student loans, but if you have the money to pay for boutique fitness it’s definitely a great experience but for me it was not sustainable,” said Kujawa.
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