Where is the OC Fitness Community headed?

Image above is of the Wildfire website, which is down after members and studio owners received an abrupt email notice last night from Wildfire, stating they are ceasing business operations immediately (with no mention of a reimbursement to members, much less payment to studio owners…who haven’t been paid in months!). 

By the title of this blog, you might guess I could go in all sorts of directions. I’ve been a Fitness “expert” for a local OC website, taught at multiple studios for years, subconsciously (or consciously) assess just about every studio and class experience I have, and of course (on a rare occasion) allow myself to simply be a client. With this said, my brain has been whirling around, thinking about the direction Orange County’s fitness community is going, for better and for worse.

Not only have studios multiplied, with a new hybrid “best workout ever” popping up every month, the value of many classes have gone down with discount deals through 3rd party partnerships. (Seriously, there’s no such thing as a best workout ever. Your body can’t sustain itself, nonetheless thrive off of one type of workout. Cease and desist with the false advertising.)

The Back Story: I wrote the following blog (check below) weeks ago, after talking with some friends who also happen to be local studio owners. I was confused about how local studio owners are making enough money, as many people are choosing deals through Groupon, Living Social, ClassPass and Wildfire. So I asked these owners and entrepreneurs, many of whom have been here long enough to see things change.

The feedback varied. Good, bad, and ugly.

Groupon and Living Social were helpful in getting the word out about studios and perhaps to even increase numbers. But you’ve seen the deals, 4 pilates classes for $40. A studio makes ZERO profit from these deals – they have to pay the instructor, rent, and so on. The only way they will benefit is if someone purchases a package deal and becomes a regular client. Sometimes this would happen, sometimes not.

Other feedback I’d hear (and one I can attest to myself, having worked with these clients) is that some clients – via Groupon and Living Social – were not invested in the class and experience. Dare I say, they were not respectful of the process? I think this was particularly apparent in a discipline like pilates, which is slower paced and requires a lot of mental focus and body awareness. Could it be? Just because you pay only $10 for a class instead of $25, you don’t put as much effort and respect into the experience (for yourself and for the studio)? Think about it, if you drive a $100,000 car, you’re probably taking extra care not to ding that bad boy up. On the other hand, if you’re driving a well-loved $2,000 car that’s been around the block more than a few times, are you going to treat it the same? However much you invest in something can influence how well you take care of it. DUH: Hopefully you know that I do not mean everybody who uses Groupon or Living Social abuses the experience. I’ve used it myself, have been introduced to great places and services, and I have some fantastic clients who found studios initially from these affordable deals.

After Groupon and Living Social, a clever concept appeared by way of ClassPass (based in New York). A fitness membership to heaps of unique studios and gyms in your area, ClassPass can be used in many major cities across the U.S. and even internationally. Take classes, pay a monthly fee, get variety. Sounds pretty awesome. The company Wildfire (originally Fitn, based in San Diego), similar in concept, popped up after.

I held out on posting the following blog because my investigative antenna was telling me I needed to expand the subject. Yet in lieu of Wildfire unexpectedly closing their doors last night, perhaps it’s best I share this now. I am looking at the longevity of our studios and fitness community. Can it thrive when the money is going to a 3rd party and only a small fraction is going directly into our studios and local economy?

We can look at this from many angles. For today’s purpose, let’s start with a simple question about value:  Is personalized and customized attention worth the same as a large, generalized group experience? Let’s explore this question (put your own investigative antenna on!) and the influence that 3rd party companies have on your personal experience, as well as that of your local studio and the local economy.

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We are grateful, as consumers, to have the opportunity to experience such a variety of fitness classes at a very reasonable price. Thanks to your company, I – and much of Orange County (among other locales) – have been able to try out a new studio, meet friends for a sweat sesh, and switch up their workout routine. Good fun!

Yet what we, as a community, have sacrificed in lieu of a “good deal” is knowing and respecting the value of personalized attention. Let me explain:

  • Would you rather your child (or yourself, for that matter) be in a classroom of 50 kids or 4 kids?
  • Which class do you think would provide more personalized attention?
  • Would you expect to pay the same amount to send your child to a school with 50 kids per class compared to a 4 children to 1 teacher ratio? Heck, that’s practically having a private tutor.

I’m going to take a wild guess and say you’d opt for the 4 children to 1 teacher ratio. Me, too. And I think it’s fair to say that you’d expect that you would pay more for it, ya? It’s a no brainer. Heck, think how much more your child could learn and really hone in on their personalized needs. I think we both know that no body (or mind) is alike. The more experienced and well-educated attention we can receive, the better.

I have been an Instructor (of a variety of disciplines to variety of people) in Orange County for 8+ years. Yet it feels like a lifetime because of the massive growth (more like explosion) that has taken place here in OC’s fitness community. Even in 2011, when I wrote for myhealthyoc.com, a local “all things healthy” website, I remember counting 17+ fitness gyms or studios within the 1 mile stretch of 17th street in Costa Mesa. 17!

Yet there was a time when there were just a couple studios each of pilates, spin, personal training, and yoga. There were no hybrid trends (e.g. traditional pilates meets circuit training), no Groupon or Living Social deals. Class prices and packages reflected the amount of personal attention one received (not to mention the quality of the class and the level of experience of the instructor). 

Many things have changed since I retired from professional sports and fully committed to instructing. What’s the biggest change? Hmm, is it society’s perception and value of personalized attention? Let’s look at this possibility. We, both as the instructor and client, know personalized attention should cost more than taking a large group class, no matter the type of activity. Just as it would cost more to put your child in a 4 person classroom compared to 50. I really do think we are willing to pay for it. Yet here’s the doozy….

If we can find a better deal, we’ll take it. We’re human after all. If we can save money, we will. Myself included. 

Ahhhh, this is where you come in. You have created a fantastic platform that clients and studios can’t resist. As the client, you get a great deal and access to a long list of studios. As the studio, you can fill classes and bring in new clients (though how much the studio actually profits, is a different issue entirely. I’ve got crazy respect to all the small businesses out there – keep it rolling, friends). I imagine it must be difficult as the studio to decide whether to cut their prices, sometimes dramatically, in exchange for higher numbers*. Do they already have a solid member and financial base to stay in business either way? Will hopping on the bandwagon of promotional memberships help or hinder?  

Yet what I can attest to, what I do have a lot of experience in, is giving attention to clients. Small group classes, say a 4-6 person reformer pilates class should cost more (for the client) than a 25 person circuit training class or a 40 person spin class. 

People are going to keep buying from you either way. People will keep buying baby clothes for $6 from ____ store even though it’s made with formaldahyde and nasty toxins. Why? Because it’s cheap. Yet wouldn’t it be cool if ____ store changed how they made the clothes in the first place? Ahh, that’s what we call getting to the root of the issue.

The root of this issue: Not all fitness classes are created equal. Yet you treat them so.

I’m going to put this in your court, ClassPass (I had Wildfire on here too, but I guess they dropped their torch). You have the power to change the direction of how people do fitness. You already have. As Ron Burgundy says, “stay classy”. Be a gladiator. CVS took out their tobacco products taking a big financial loss. Yet in place they are gaining trust and respect for making a commitment to healthier lives. They made a choice of values (and potential future financial gain, let’s be honest). What are your values? What if you could do the same for small businesses and personalized attention?

Just saying, you’d be a pretty rad gladiator.

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There are many factors to deciding how much to pay (or charge) for a fitness class. The size of a class may influence how much a studio actually earns (ahem…the subject of this blog), but there is more to take into account in regards to pricing.

Here are a few things to keep in mind that can (and should) influence costs:

1.The QUALITY of experience. Is the equipment up to date? How are the amenities? Location? GRIT cycle in Costa Mesa may have (approx) 50 peeps in their class, but they provide a high end experience. Aad let’s be honest, cycling in a pack brings the energy and is way more fun than cycling on a stationary bike by yourself.

2. How much ATTENTION do you get? The amount of personalized attention we receive is not solely dependent on the size of the class. The teaching style and education of the instructor (huge factor!) and even the style of a class (fast paced class vs. slower pace) can play a role in this.

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*Owning a studio is not my “expertise”, simply an observation of several years working for a variety of them.

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