Boutique Gym Prices: How Expensive Is Too Expensive?

The Economics of Boutique Fitness

boutique gym prices
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The boutique gym world is booming. You can find these specialty studios on practically every corner —SoulCycle, Pure Barre, Orangetheory Fitness, Bikram Yoga, and local studios catering to any number of niche fitness markets. On the one hand, it's amazing—fitness is trending, which means there are more opportunities than ever before to get sweaty and find an activity you love. On the other hand, boutique fitness classes are often ridiculously expensive, often ranging from $20 to $40 for a single class.

Do that three times a week, and you're looking at spending thousands of dollars a year on your workout habit. 

The truth is, boutique gyms aren't cheap to run. They require an engaged and excited staff at a much higher ratio of trainers-to-clients than a traditional gym. They don't have open access availability where members can simply use the facility and equipment on their own time. This can limit profitability because facilities only make money when classes are held, and class size is limited due to space and equipment availability.

The Basic Economics of Boutique Gym Prices

The business model can veer in two directions. For the new studio owner, it can be tough to fill classes, pay rent or maintain trainers...and empty studios quickly become closed studios.

However, for the boutiques that find success, not only do classes fill, but they can become cult favorites, where clients never want to leave and every class has a wait list.

Basic economics helps make such popular studios profitable: when demand exceeds supply (i.e., classes have long wait lists), prices increase.

So where a new studio might keep prices relatively low at $15 to $25 per class, popular studios can easily charge upwards of $25 to $40 per class without blinking an eye.

In other words, a single studio that has space for 30 clients can easily make anywhere from $600 to $900 per class. For studios that hold four to five classes a day, that easily crests $20,000 per week.

Of course, there are costs involved—staffing, equipment, rent, utilities and so forth—but when per-class price is at a premium, studios can make a handy profit without the overwhelming upkeep of a full-sized gym.

Are Boutique Studios Worth It?

Herein lies the problem—is it really worth it to spend $200 to $300 per month for the equivalent of a few specialty classes per week? Of course there's no easy answer, and of course, everyone has to make their own decision about priorities and benefits, but given the many options available to exercisers, it's hard to entirely justify the high cost of boutique gyms. Consider the following before taking out a second mortgage on your exercise habit:

Benefits of Boutique Studios

  • Highly Trained Instructors. Most boutique studios go out of their way to find the best instructors in their niche, while also providing additional training specific to their studio. This means you'll usually have a positive and beneficial experience when training at a boutique studio.
  • Camaraderie and Community. Most boutique studios also place a high premium on developing camaraderie among class members while also giving back to the community. It's not unusual for studios to host charity events or to donate a portion of each class' profits to non-profit organizations.
  • Focus on One Form of Training. If you're in love with one form of training, whether it's dance, cycling, or yoga, you'll be more likely to "find your tribe" and further deepen your love of the practice by committing to a specialty studio.

Drawbacks of Boutique Studios

  • Limited Class Type. Yes, you know when you sign up for a cycling studio, you're going to have access to cycling classes. And yes, sometimes there are a variety of different cycling classes available. The problem is, what if you get tired of cycling after a few weeks or months, but you've already invested a lot of money in a membership? Boutique studios don't offer class variety the way other gyms often do. 
  • Scheduling Limitations. Boutique studios have two types of scheduling limitations. First, you're limited by the schedule the studio sets. If they don't offer weekend classes, or if your child's soccer practices are suddenly scheduled for the same time as your preferred Pilates class, you may not be able to find another suitable workout time. Second, popular studios fill classes quickly. Even if you have a membership, you may not be guaranteed a space in your preferred class.
  • Cost. Specialty studios are expensive. You may pay $30 for a single cycling class at a studio, but you can go to your local gym and pay $30 per month for a membership that includes cycling classes and a wealth of other amenities. In other words, you may be able to enjoy the same type of workout at a much lower cost if you forego the boutique studio atmosphere. 

The Changing Face of Fitness

About every seven years, the fitness industry sees a major shift in trends. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, big box gyms, such as 24 Hour Fitness and Life Time Fitness, were booming, with new facilities opening up all over the place. These gyms offered lots of (often unnecessary) amenities, including spas, tennis courts, outdoor water parks, and juice bars, and could charge just about anything they wanted—often more than $100 per month.

During the economic downturn, small gym chains, such as Snap Fitness and Anytime Fitness saw a boom in memberships. By keeping facilities small and lean—without the unnecessary amenities of the big box model—members could pay less per month, but still enjoy access to gym equipment and the facility at any time. 

What was lacking, however, were classes and a community atmosphere.

As the economy started turning around, trainer-led classes in smaller facilities (such as CrossFit), started gaining steam. The costs of these facilities far outweighed the costs of small gyms, and in some cases, big gyms, but the expense was justified due to the trainer engagement provided during personally-led classes. The phrase, "a month membership of trainer-led classes costs much less than personal training," started getting thrown around.

It's this mentality that spread to other models, leading to the boutique fitness studios you see today. And they're everywhere. Boutique classes are high-quality, they're engaging, and they get results. They offer a community atmosphere and personal motivation and accountability.

These are all good things, but again, the model is incredibly expensive.

Which begs the question—how long can the trend really last? It's hard to know for sure. Some chains and workouts are likely to be around for the long haul, much like Jazzercise of the '80s and Curves of the '90s, but there's also likely to be a swing back toward big box fitness facilities and home workouts, especially as mobile and online workout classes gain steam. 

The fact is, big box gyms (and online workout programs) often offer many of the same classes seen in boutique facilities, plus access to a wide range of other amenities. When boutique studio fanatics start looking at the prices they pay for their memberships, they may decide to ditch their specialty gym and head back to the bigger facilities. 

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