Why group fitness isn’t just for London

Jonathan Woodward and Nick Luder are the management team of Edge Cycle, an indoor cycling studio based in Holborn, London. The studio has been described as London’s most innovative cycle studio, offering a wide variety of combination-based workouts alongside the classic ‘spin’ class. With Nick’s background in finance and Jonathan’s background in professional rugby, their unlikely partnership is yielding fantastic results.

We met with Jonathan and Nick to talk about Edge Cycle’s success, why the group fitness model shouldn’t be limited to the London market, and the biggest threats to indoor cycling studios.


What are some of the most successful things you’ve done to grow the business?

We’re the only studio that combines things like yoga (Edge Yoga), dance (Edge Latin Craze), group PT (Edge Sanity) and Plyometric Circuits (Edge Urban Raw), with spin. This summer we’re looking at running pop up classes across London. It’s important to change the offering depending on the season. If it’s lovely outside, many people don’t want to go into a dark room and do spin, so we’re trying to pre-empt it and do some Edge summer boot camps in local parks.

We put lots of focus on the trainers – their personalities and their brands. We want to say we have the best trainers, classes and studio in London. People are generally very loyal to a specific trainer. We offer the first ride free, which takes the pressure off and gets people in the door.

Another thing we offer is the ‘learn to ride’ – we bring people into the studio for half an hour to show them how the bikes work, and the kinds of things they’ll be doing in the classes. The conversion rate from the ‘learn to rides’ is strong because we take the time to get people comfortable with the idea of indoor cycling. About 70% of our clients are women, but we do have a higher proportion of men than many studios and believe our challenging and varied workouts are suitable for many different people.

We focus on retention by providing an excellent level of service. Once customers have been to a few of our classes, they get hooked. Of course, having friendly and helpful staff really helps with retention too.


Can group fitness work outside of London?

We haven’t done enough research to say for sure, but we cannot see why not. Group fitness is pretty successful in lots of ‘secondary’ cities in the US, and very successful in large cities in Asia. The vast majority of members in a studio such as ours live or work within 10 minutes of it, so if you want to set up a spin or group fitness studio, the key is to put it in a dense metropolitan area. Further evidence that the group fitness model can work outside of London is that we are seeing yoga and hot yoga studios successfully operating in a number of provisional UK cities.

What interests me in London is that you have these sorts of studios opening in suburbia. They’re quite a long way out, so it will be interesting to see how they do. Even a town like Bedford with a population of about 100,000 has lots of yoga studios, so one or two small group fitness studios could survive there. The model could certainly work in cities with a population of 500,000+. If you set up one of these businesses in a city like Leeds, you’re operating off a much lower cost base, so the cost pressures are significantly less.


What advice would you have for someone opening a group fitness studio outside of London?

Brand your business well; make it clear you’re offering effective workouts and a fashionable place to be. Create latent demand. In the North, like many parts of the UK, appearances count whilst new trends are met with enthusiasm. It’s about offering something different; something that is interesting and available on a pay as you go basis. You’re also taking on all the big box gyms, many of which ask for a one year contract. The flexible pay as you go group fitness model gives people more freedom and gets them interested. This is all about getting people through the door, that’s why we offer the first class free.


What are the biggest threats to businesses like Edge Cycle?

It’s quite easy to overspend because of the high number of fixed costs. Unlike big box gyms that often get preferential treatment from Councils because of the sites they take, boutiques studios like ourselves have to pay retail costs. In addition to this, the likes of 1Rebel have created more pressure to have quite luxurious facilities; but I think some of the big spenders have got it wrong – what you really need is a good studio, good classes and good bikes.

We also have to pay attention to the rise of ClassPass; although they probably won’t take the size of market share that they have in New York, as British people are generally less transient in their habits than Americans. ClassPass is pretty good value if you’re doing 3 classes per week at £89 per month, but fining for non-attendance puts lots of people off. Although investments that don’t incur liabilities are usually fantastic for investors, I think ClassPass will struggle to be profitable. It can work if you feel like a roving membership is right for you; but generally we’re finding that people here like to settle down to one type of club and get to know the staff and members at that club.


What will the health and fitness industry look like in the next five years?

Big box gyms will find themselves under a lot of pressure. People paying £20 a month or thereabouts just want to do their thing – their gym membership is renting machines and having access to a basic locker and shower. Other people want health club access to the likes of Equinox and Virgin, and pay £100+ per month.

The gyms in the middle are targeting people earning £30,000 to £40,000 per year, and membership is a big outlay for them. Boutique studios will take a piece of that market, but I don’t think they will become the mainstay. British people still like the traditional gym. We’re also continuing to see a rise in things like barre classes and Pilates.

The only counterpoint is that it’s a growth industry. I don’t think the increased onus on health will go anywhere, especially with cuts to healthcare, so the focus will be more on personal health for the next 5 or 10 years.


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