Like many New Yorkers, freelance producer
starts her weekdays with a morning exercise class—in this case a group treadmill workout at Mile High Run Club, a boutique fitness studio in Manhattan.
But then it gets weird. She immediately follows the 45-minute class with a second, 60-minute treadmill class, and sometimes a third. After work, she typically heads to Barre3 in the West Village to take two consecutive strength-training classes.
“I’m definitely a power user,” says Ms. Meisch.
On weekends, the 36-year-old ultradistance runner plans even longer workouts. For several months this year, she took five consecutive group treadmill classes every Sunday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., logging 20-plus miles and scarfing snack bars between sessions.
“It’s ridiculous. Absolutely ridiculous,” she says of her routine. “It’s so funny. Who does that?”
Plenty of folks, actually. While Ms. Meisch is extreme, she’s among the many power users crowding Manhattan’s boutique fitness studio scene, an industry that, like Ms. Meisch’s workout schedule, has reached eye-popping proportions and shows no signs of slowing.
“New York is the experimental lab for the industry,” says
founder and chief executive officer of Zeamo, a national fitness passport platform based in Manhattan. “If it works in New York, you can scale it out.”
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While the specialty fitness studio trend started more than a decade ago with places dedicated to yoga, Pilates and then spinning, recent years have seen an explosion in new offerings.
New Yorkers willing to spend $25 to $40 a class now choose from studios dedicated to rowing, stretching, cold training, hot yoga, naked yoga, yoga with sonic vibrations, HIIT, boot camp, sword fighting, trampolines, rock climbing, pole dancing, circus arts, and, of course, fitness boxing accompanied by a full liquor bar.
These studios have clustered in several Manhattan neighborhoods, creating outdoor fitness malls where gym-bag toting power-users hop from one storefront studio to another.
“They do Barry’s Bootcamp one day and SoulCycle the next,” says Mr. O’Reilly-Hyland.
Indeed, there are four ZIP Codes in Manhattan—Chelsea, the East Village, Flatiron and Midtown West—with more than 100 fitness spots, according to ClassPass, a platform that offers members access to 1,600 of New York City’s 5,500 gyms and studios.
The epicenter is likely 10 square blocks in the West 20s between Fifth and Seventh avenues that host more than 70 gyms and studios, including one of Mile High Run Club’s three Manhattan locations.
Mile High co-founder and CEO
says the clustering boosts business at every studio. “We’re all drawing off a like-minded customer, and that customer wants choice and convenience,” he says.
At a traditional gym, the ideal customer buys a membership and stays home watching
But at specialty studios where most pay by the class, the power user is king. Studios say they make 80% of their revenue off 20% of their clients.
So far, there seem to be enough fitness fanatics around town to feed the boom. ClassPass says its New York members spend more on fitness than folks in any other city, buying 30% more credits a month than the national average. They are also far more likely to buy additional credits when they max out their monthly subscription plan.
a 43-year-old aesthetic laser technician, is a typical ClassPass power user. She buys the $230 monthly plan, the largest package available, but often spends another $200 a month on additional credits so she can take her usual 18 classes a week—typically a 6:30 a.m. strength-training class at FlyBarre in Midtown followed by evening barre, Pilates and yoga class at Exhale and SLT.
“A lot of times my friends will go to happy hour. I give that up to go to my classes,” she says.
Not surprisingly, fitness fanatics like Ms. Theodoris are courted by studios.
“Power users are your brand maker, the ones most likely to speak highly of you,” says Mr. Heath. He says his treadmill studios reward these clients with extra class credits and balloons for hitting milestones.
president of Row House, a rowing studio that has expanded to more than 30 locations since launching in Manhattan, says the chain retains power users with goal challenges. Folks who row a million meters—that’s 620 miles—get a Row House backpack, for example.
And because these clients are likely in great shape, they serve as walking billboards.
“They wear it to the coffee shop and the dry cleaner and the grocery stores,” he says of the swag.
Is New York’s market saturated? Probably not yet, says Mr. O’Reilly-Hyland. But he often sees the most successful new class concepts adopted by big-box gyms, adding to the competition.
So try them while you can—just like with curious new restaurants, the failure rate among fitness studios with quirky concepts can be high. “A lot of them won’t last long,” he says. “It’s a tough industry.”
Write to Anne Kadet at Anne.Kadet@wsj.com
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