Is this the biggest threat to the gym sector?

Christina Albe is the Marketing Director of BOOM Cycle, “A high energy, bike-based, music focused fitness experience.” In 2011 American Model Hilary Gilbert partnered with Robert Rowland to set up BOOM Cycle. Their Shoreditch site was London’s first indoor cycling studio. In 2013 they opened their Holborn site, and are looking to open further sites later this year. Christina has been instrumental in growing the business and creating a thriving online and offline community for BOOM Cycle.

We met with Christina to find out about the factors behind BOOM Cycle’s success.

How have you marketed the business?

The focus has been on creating a BOOM Cycle community by hosting lots of events – part of which has been done by partnering up with influencers and bloggers then co-hosting events to create mutually beneficial partnerships. We’ve also upped our social media in order to engage with our community in conversations rather than talk ‘at’ them.

By creating a community, you almost create a sense of accountability along with a relationship. When someone comes in I can say “Hey Amy, you’re back, what size shoes do you want? You’re on your normal bike, right? Cool.” They want to come down more because they’re a part of something bigger and they feel safe.

If someone wants to make money for a charity we ‘donate’ our studio and one of our instructors, which gets lots of new people through the door. Giving something away and doing something good at the same time sets a really good first impression for people. We’ve created brand partnerships with companies like Urban Fruit and Rebel Kitchen (Coconut Mylk) to expand our audience into complimentary industries. The health and fitness industry is extremely complimentary and often times food brands will share the same market with us. So to partner with them to do events you spread your brand message to a receptive audience. That’s what I like to call efficient marketing.

When it comes to digital, I wouldn’t necessarily say our website has been a huge driving force behind our growth, because you can’t experience BOOM Cycle by looking at the website, you need to go to one of our classes or events. We treat every class and event as experiential marketing, ensuring everything is ‘on point’ from the second you walk in the door to the second you leave; then continue the relationship through social media.


Why do you think group fitness, namely indoor cycling, has become so popular?

Coming from the States, group fitness has been trending for a long time. I remember my parents doing spin classes when I was a kid in the 90s! In the capacity that BOOM Cycle does spin classes, it’s completely different from back in the day as there’s a set program. We’re doing HIIT (high intensity interval training) as opposed to road cycling training. We might be using all these trendy buzzwords like HIIT, but BOOM Cycle is all about making people sweat and change their bodies in a fun and efficient manner. That’s why group fitness is taking off in London – it’s fun and efficient. Let’s face it, we’re all time-poor, we want to get in, get out and know that we’ve worked as hard as we can, and know that we’re done for the day.

It’s also that feeling of being part of a community and included in something, which is people’s driving force to return. We actually changed our program last summer to focus less on actual cycling and more on the music. Our instructors arrange their music like a DJ – naturally taking people up to an intense heart rate and then bringing it back down (aka HIIT). Through that change, people are coming back, not just doing their New Year resolutions, but throughout the year. They’re working out not just to stick to a resolution, but because they are part of something bigger than themselves and consistently motivated through the community.

Our hardest part is taking people out of a pub after work, and putting them in the studio. Our class costs less than a few hours at the pub and I’m not sure people recognise that. That’s why it’s so important to make it fun! Women are the driving force in this change, they’re starting to change what they define as a “fun night with the girls.” Our Friday night classes at 6pm are getting great attendance, so people are starting to change habits which is important for the industry.


What does this mean for the traditional gym model?

It’s a struggle. Traditional gyms are everything that we’re not – not personal, not flexible in their payment schemes. Who has fun or gets a good work out in by going to a gym by themselves, unless they’re meeting a Personal Trainer? And PTs costs way more. The traditional gym model is slowly dying. The only exception might be GymBox who are pushing the boundaries when it comes to messaging and atmosphere. But the likes of LA Fitness and Fitness First don’t give you the same personalised experience as BOOM Cycle. As well as having the flexible payment plans, we do one thing really well. You get the focused attention to detail that you don’t get elsewhere.

The budget gym model gives you the equipment but not the motivation, and that works for some people. It depends on the person. There are two groups of people – those who can always motivate themselves and go ‘all in’, and those who need external motivation and only get half the results without it.

While the boutique fitness industry is competitive, we almost all support each other – the better the entire boutique fitness industry does, the better we do.


How is technology impacting your business?

We don’t rely on technology from a marketing and operational perspective. Our priority is focusing on the in studio experience, and we use the website to enhance this experience. As a relatively new business you want to do everything, but have to prioritise. For example, our website is user-friendly, but it doesn’t currently need to be top of the line.


What is the gender balance like and how do you see that changing?

It’s about 70% women and 30% men, but we see more and more men are coming in – sometimes forced by their girlfriends or sometimes in groups. We got some key press in Men’s Health that really helped influence the way men see BOOM Cycle. Women like it because they’re communal creates who like doing things with their girls and in groups. Men aren’t necessarily like that. When a man experiences finally experiences a BOOM Cycle class and experiences how tough the workout is, they’re in. We’ve actually had quite a few athletes come in – boxers love it for endurance training, and it’s easier on the joints than running for basketball and rugby players.

Women are the driving force in group fitness – look at the rise of yoga. And now we have ‘broga’ (bros doing yoga!). Men are embracing it more as they realise it’s harder than they think and that’s where all the hot women are!


What advice would you have for a new business in the health and fitness sector?

You’re either the first or the best – and that’s how you’re going to get success. It’s about finding a niche. You have to have a USP that’s different from what’s already being offered, and not something that’s too lofty and hard for the public to understand. I think we’ve turned a corner in London where people understand the boutique studio concept, but it hasn’t gone mainstream yet.

I truly believe in influencers and community – it takes longer and can be harder to measure, but I believe it is most authentic form of marketing. It causes your business to grow and stabilise with the ability to be less affected by any change in trends or economic downturns. Be as authentic as you can be, do something you’re passionate about, and make people feel like they are a part of your business.


Posted in Gyms & Clubs, Interviews, Most Popular Interviews, The Fitness Network.