Together: Why Boutique Fitness Has a Unique Opportunity To Change the World in 2023

Do you remember December 2021? We were so excited for a new year, to be out of the pandemic, and to move on. Then the brutal next wave of COVID was upon us through January, putting a huge black cloud over the start of the year. For fitness, it was crushing. We need that month. We need that beginning to fire up our engines for the year ahead. And, yet, another blow. 

So here we are again. A little bruised, a little more cautious, but much more hopeful. It appears that the last year brought us, as an industry, together more than ever before. Many of the studio owners we work with have joined groups like Boutique Fitness Solutions, The Yogapreneur Collective, Thrive Community, or the Profitable Studio Community. Our clients are regularly engaging in our Walla Facebook group. And we seem to be viewing what used to be competition as soldiers fighting the same battle. We are all in this together—to collectively rise the tide of wellness, so we can prevent 2020/2021 from happening again.  

I’d argue that together matters more than ever right now. After almost three years of collective disease in the world, and stats showing us that life expectancy in the US has continued to trend down to the lowest in 20 years, we need leaders working together for change. I believe that fitness and wellness studios have an opportunity to make a greater difference than ever, with a more lasting impact. Here’s why: 

  1. Community + Mental Health: Illness is not just about physical health. Our collective mental health is suffering. 20% of the population says their mental health is “poor” or “fair,” and the pandemic has only increased the severity of symptoms—especially loneliness. Studies show that loneliness can be worse for your health than obesity. We know that regular exercise improves mental health, and boutique studios have a unique way of doing it collectively. Studios offer a remedy that scientifically lifts spirits. Our exercise “high” primes us to connect with others and increases the pleasure we experience from the interaction. 

    I’ve seen yoga studios offering “yoga church” on Sunday mornings. CrossFit studios regularly have community “Murph” workouts. Many fitness studios celebrate milestones with parties when students cross 100 classes. Example after example exists within studio walls. People come together, overcoming obstacles, accomplishing things together, and ending the time together with a smile and a dopamine rush. 
  1. Well-trained Teachers + Curated Programming: Studios spend more hiring experienced and well-trained teachers. The bar has only gotten higher for exceptional teaching, and as competition has grown over the last decade, the expectation for physical “results” has become critical for studio success. Studios have designed programming that has proven outcomes and that’s accessible to students at any level. Modifications and advanced options are now table stakes to customize the experience further, and clients can have a personalized studio journey mapped for them. 

    Simply put, most people need guidance and accountability to stick with a wellness regimen. Now, ideally, we could all afford a personal trainer who motivates us daily, but most people can’t afford the over $100/hour to make this possible. Studios have prepared themselves to be an obvious solution for the 80% of people who aren’t motivated to stick with the gym every year and need a reasonable price tag. Memberships at boutique studios range from $80 to $350/month (often featuring unlimited classes). You get the best of both worlds: A personal touch, with exceptional programming and a cost you can swallow. 
  1. Customization + Flexibility: Our lives changed pretty dramatically over the past three years. Our expectations have changed as well. Since so much of our lives exist online, we now have an expectation that we can accomplish most things in the way we choose. Live and in-person or virtually on demand. Parent-teacher conferences, doctor appointments, and, yes, fitness classes all had to adapt. We, as consumers, have gotten used to getting what we want when we want, and studios have been able to adapt beautifully. You can take your 6 am Vinyasa in the comfort of your living room—or sweating it out next to your mat neighbor in a 105-degree room. Your choice.

    Software like Walla has given studios the ultimate flexibility to adapt to consumer demand. This included the functionality to automatically send links to livestream classes and manage rosters of people both online and in the studio. Studios can also upload a library of videos for their clients to use on demand. Tapping into the power of expected and anticipated choice. 
  1. Donations + Scholarships: Boutique fitness has often been accused of being elite. The tides are changing here, and we see it across all types of studios. At Walla, we see studios offering donation-based classes or “pay what you can” memberships. We have noticed membership scholarships being promoted and studios being more involved with nonprofits in their communities. Studio owners are an incredibly passionate group of people who want to share their gifts and classes with as many people as possible across multiple demographics. 

While boutique studios are clearly positioned to catalyze big change across the health spectrum, it’s a lot to put on the shoulders of a community that took such a hit during the pandemic. Beginning this year with a sense of togetherness will be a welcome respite we need. Take this as your sign to reach out to another studio owner in your community. Join the online community or mastermind you’ve been eyeing, and step into 2023 with a support system. The last couple of years burned us out. So let’s begin again together and collectively start this year fired up!