THE RISE OF BOUTIQUE FITNESS FRANCHISING
The COVID-19 pandemic has energized the health and wellness industry across the board. From healthy eating concepts to fitness centers, people are proactively taking more control of their health and lives through healthy living. But the pandemic didn’t start the health craze.
Planet Fitness lead the pack posting record numbers from its first franchise in 2003 to 1,400 locations by 2017 with more than 10 million members— 17 per cent of the total market. The company targeted the
non-gym members and built a casual “no judgment zone” to keep people comfortable about their individual fitness levels.
The other areas where gyms and fitness centers knew they could create new revenue streams were adding in personal trainers, aerobic group classes, tanning machines (especially in the 90s), and merchandising.
At this point, fitness centers started to feel static. They all had different names but essentially offered the same thing. At that point, it became a game of real-estate and locking down high traffic areas, but this
over-saturated the market, and it started to flatline.
During this time, a phenomenon started to occur. To stand out from the monotony of the big-box fitness centers, boutique fitness gyms began opening, targeting the hardcore fitness clientele. Mainly those
who wanted to get back to the “blood, sweat, and tears” workouts that we watched Rocky Balboa conduct time and time again (or at least five movies worth). This breakaway focused on a highly tailored experience and typically cost a bit more than the static gyms of the day.
This was the moment when fitness boutiques defined themselves as a viable fitness option while redefining the landscape of the entire industry. Each concept adapted a unique fitness modality to cater to specific age groups, fitness levels, and micro-communities. Many people, at this point, were seeking a more specialized, unique fitness experience other than hitting the weights and the nautilus machine circuits. They wanted to find the joy of fitness again. Highlighting their rapid expansion, the definitive trade organization IHRSA notes that boutique memberships expanded 74 per cent from 2012 to 2015, compared to five per cent for health clubs.
Admittedly, boutiques started from a smaller base, but their share of total revenue—some 35 per cent—showcased its staying power. The move of boutique fitness concepts shifted the overall fitness industry paradigm and left the big-box gyms somewhat holding the (punching) bag.
Boutique concepts offer value and experience over hype and promise. Regardless of laying down a yoga mat or saddling up to our front-row spot in cycle class, the big business of fitness faded into the background. With that said, the shift was taking place and has recast the entire industry into a diverse landscape of select modality boutique fitness concepts.
Starting in the early 2000s, boutique fitness centers grew aggressively and continued to build momentum. People now had many choices to select the type of fitness regimen they wanted. Through this growth,
many boutique fitness concepts launched in regions across the nation. Barry’s Bootcamp in the northeast; CorePower Yoga in the west; Pure Barre (ballet inspired group exercise) in the Midwest; and ISI® Elite Training in the Southeast, to name a few. These boutique concepts created unique cultures and fitness beliefs that attracted many.
As we see today, many fitness boutique concepts were either crushed or strengthened by the COVID-19
pandemic. ISI® Elite Training fell into the latter category. Our brand is growing exponentially and has emerged from the initial pandemic phase more vigorously than ever. We’ve sold 62 units in three years, opened three new locations at the height of the pandemic and are approaching 30 locations in development across eight states. Impressively, and a nod to our unique modality and member dedication, we increased membership by 51 percent in the first two quarters of 2021, maintained 84 percent membership rates through the pandemic and kept the community engaged in fitness by pivoting to live, virtual classes. As we’ve transitioned back to fully in-person sessions, all locations that have opened
in 2021 have opened profitably and with hundreds of eager and excited members.
Today, we are back to basics, working hard and getting our members fit from the long months of isolation, shutdowns, and poor eating habits. COVID may be around for quite some time, but so is our desire to
overcome this challenge together and live happier, healthier lives through proper nutrition and fitness.
In 2011, ISI® Elite Training Founder, Adam Rice opened his first facility in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Adam selected the name ISI® Elite Training based on Proverbs 27:17: “Iron Sharpens Iron, as one person sharpens another.” In 2019, ISI® Elite Training opened its successful boutique gym concept to franchising built on a philosophy of community alignment where likeminded people inspire, motivate, and hold each other accountable to achieve their desired results.