Free Enterprise Staff  | July 1, 2014

The Rise of barre3 and Boutique Fitness Chains

If you’re thinking about ditching your gym membership, you’re not alone. Deciding whether to forgo a standard gym routine has become less complicated over the past few years, amid a proliferation of boutique fitness chains like SoulCycle, barre3, and Barry’s Bootcamp, which offer a unique spin—in some cases, literally—on the traditional workout.

The growing number of boutique fitness companies is the result of a number of factors. The health and fitness industry was only temporarily slowed by the recession and its aftermath, as Americans were more inclined to spend money on their health and well being as they reduced their budgets elsewhere. The fitness sector’s march toward specialization, moreover, mimics a wider trend, as many business owners increasingly work to appeal to an enthusiastic core group of customers, as opposed to a larger and potentially more ambivalent one.

Yet for many people, the lure of boutique fitness studios is about something more, says Sadie Lincoln, the founder of barre3, one such boutique fitness company. Barre3, which now has more than 50 studios across the world, has found success by going above and beyond the service and amenities offered at traditional health clubs.

“I think that what we’ve learned is that people really want a connected community and that’s really attractive to people,” says Lincoln. “I think, in this day and age, we’re all so removed from each other with all the digital stuff that we do and that our lives are so busy, and I know that the one thing that everybody says about barre3—and I think this is true for all the studio concepts—is that they meet the most amazing people, and that they love that people know their name.”

Unlike chains like SoulCycle, which have essentially reimagined one kind of workout, barre3 is an amalgam of yoga, Pilates, and ballet. Each of these disciplines brings something fresh to the classes, says Lincoln, who devised this holistic approach to working out during her more than 20 years in the fitness industry.

“Yoga is really the wisdom of yoga,” Lincoln says. “The ballet bar is an amazing prop and I love the grace you get from using a ballet bar for balance and some of the improved posture you get from doing balletic-like moves. Although, we don’t do traditional ballet and we don’t do any choreography. It’s more isometric, meaning we hold our body with contracted muscles in a still position using the bar to balance and then we layer on a really small, controlled range of motion, which quickly taxes the muscles.”

As barre3 has grown over the past five years, Lincoln and her team have worked to ensure that people from all walks of life can enjoy a boutique fitness experience—even if they can’t afford the often-pricey cost of admission. Though many boutique studio chains like barre3 offer membership plans, the majority of their customers take advantage of class passes. At SoulCycle, for example, a single spin class in New York City runs $34.

“It’s a higher-end product,” Lincoln says. “But a lot of people can’t afford that and we have our online offering now, which is online subscription workouts. Our online workouts are attracting a much broader audience, which has been such a joy. We are in 65 countries and counting where subscribers are doing our workouts.”

Anyone can buy unlimited access to barre3’s online workouts for $15 a month. These online classes, Lincoln says, have attracted a wide variety of devotees. “We are getting people who are too intimidated to come into our studios [who are] doing them religiously at home,” she explains. “The people who are intimidated aren’t necessarily who you would think. They can be gorgeous, fit people who just lack that confidence or are intimidated by a group environment. They’re also people who are sedentary and just not fit and shy.”

Ultimately, Lincoln says that barre3 aims to be more than just a place where you can get your heart rate up.

“One of our mantras here is that it’s not just about the 60 minutes that you’re spending with us in the studio that matters,” she says. “It’s how that 60 minutes affects the rest of your day. You’re getting a really smart workout and you’re learning how to move better all day long and you’re learning how to breath through stressful situations, connect your mind to body, feel good about yourself, and be energized instead of being depleted.”