The nation's capital is about to get 25 percent more SoulCycle.
The spin-class chain is opening its fifth studio in the Washington, D.C., area on Thursday, bringing its total number of U.S. locations to 52. Next year, SoulCycle plans to expand internationally, though it remains in a "quiet period" until completing its much anticipated initial public offering, so it has yet to name which countries it's targeting. The company is expected to price its offering before the end of the year.
In addition to its studios, which are all company-owned, SoulCycle generates revenue through a clothing line and stationary bikes that sell for $2,200 apiece. But how did the company, which started out of a lobby on New York City's Upper West Side in 2006, grow to become a fitness sensation with $112 million in revenue and $26.5 million in net income last year?
Co-founders Elizabeth Cutler, a former real estate broker, and Julie Rice, a former Hollywood talent agent, say that since the beginning, SoulCycle's strategy has been to create an unparalleled workout experience that spreads through old-fashioned word-of-mouth marketing. An estimated 12,000 riders now participate in the company's high-intensity music-filled cycling classes each day.
Still, Rice said, "We have never been in this to create users. We've always been in it to create evangelists."
There's no magic bullet for turning indoor spinning into something people practice, like a religion. The company's loyal client base comes down to a combination of employee training, brand consistency and customer service, according to Rice.
For example, each of SoulCycle's more than 1,200 staffers start by working at the front desk to learn the organization's culture from the ground up before taking an eight-week training course. While this process might be part of the reason SoulCycle has attracted comparisons to a cult, the co-founders are quick to point out that all of the company's spin trainers have a significant amount of autonomy when it comes to how they run their classes.
"It's freedom within framework," Rice said. "The combination of both of those things is what creates such a successful atmosphere."
SoulCycle also creates a sense of community for its members that is hard to give up.
"That fun atmosphere and the feeling that customers are part of an inner circle are what make superfans so dedicated," Geoff Smith, senior vice president of marketing at business software company CrowdTwist, writes at Inc.com.
One of the brand's other core principles is actively responding to and making changes based on customer feedback.
"If one person has the guts to tell you that they don't like something, then probably 100 people were thinking it," Rice said. "They just didn't want to tell you."
Customer feedback has influenced everything from the look and feel of the studios, to what music the company plays, to how to the studios smell, according to Cutler.
What other details are key to the company's success?
"Hair ties and gum," Cutler said. "I always forget my hair tie, and I should know better at this point."
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— By Graham Winfrey, special to CNBC.com