Boutique fitness studios are going digital during coronavirus pandemic, but they're not making money yet

Key Points
  • Boutique fitness studios have shifted to online workouts during the COVID-19 pandemic. 
  • Many studios are offering free workouts, leading to a sharp pause in revenue. 
  • Trainers and customers also have to adjust to at-home workouts, rather than their normal studios.
Carl De Grazio, center, works out at Barry's Bootcamp in Miami Beach, Fla.
Peter Andrew Bosch | Miami Herald | MCT | Getty Images

Barry's instructor Nate Berry led thousands of people this week in a full-body workout from his beige, carpeted home over Instagram Live, a far cry from his normal studio setting in Northern California. 

Barry's, a boutique, high intensity fitness studio with more than 70 studios across the world, is known for its "Red Room," where the lights cast a red hue over customers, music blares and the temperature is kept high. 

Fitness studios across the United States are turning to online platforms to keep their audience connected during the COVID-19 pandemic that's caused many of them to close due to stay-at-home mandates. But so far, the boutique classes are largely offering sessions for free, meaning their once-pricey classes are no longer bringing in money for the companies and their instructors.

"Innovation is at the core of everything we do, so pivoting from in-person to social media to host live-at home workouts was instinctual for us," Barry's CEO Joey Gonzalez said in a statement. "Instagram Live, allows for the viewers to interact with us in real time - and as a brand that places our community at our core, that was important to us."

Barry's, formerly Barry's Bootcamp, began offering free Instagram Live workouts on March 17, which the company said contributed to an increase in social media followers. It normally charges $25 to $38 per class. 

"We plan to continue to offer complimentary content, for as long as the studios remain closed," Gonzalez said. "We're thinking about creative ways to generate revenue and to keep consumers engaged, but as of right now, we have no plans to monetize our virtual workouts through a pay wall."

Studios are unsure of when they'll be able to open their doors to customers and generate their normal revenue. President Donald Trump extended the nation's social distancing guidelines to April 30 in an effort to slow the coronavirus that's sickened at least 245,500 people as of Thursday in the U.S. But the coronavirus could last into the summer, keeping studio doors closed. 

Classpass, an online marketplace that connects studios and users, said 95% of its revenue dried up due to the virus. It laid off or furloughed 53% of its staff, the company confirmed Thursday. Flywheel, a cycling studio, laid off 98% of its employees, as did the pilates studio Solidcore. On Friday, the Labor Department said the unemployment rate rose to 4.4% from 3.5%.

And once studios do reopen, there's the question of whether they'll hold classes at full capacity or keep attendance at a minimum. Before entirely closing their studios, several boutique fitness studios, such as SoulCycle and Rumble, cut their attendance in half in order to comply with social distancing recommendations. 

"Even if the pause on the workforce gets lifted, who knows what's going to happen to group fitness," Kyle Axman, a Rumble instructor, said. Rumble, a boxing studio, has more than 10 locations in the U.S. and charges $25 to $36 per class.

"We might still have to cap classes at 30 not 60, or we might have to cut half the schedule," Axman said. 

Rumble has also been doing free daily workouts on its Instagram page. The company did not respond to a request for comment on whether it has plans to monetize its workouts. Y7, a hot yoga studio with 15 locations across the nation, has been offering two digital workouts on its Instagram account per week. A person familiar with the matter said the company is working to launch a new streaming platform for accessing Y7 classes, but could not provide further information since the project is not yet announced. The company charges between $25 per class or $179 per month for unlimited classes.

Instructors who are no longer teaching classes through studios can turn to avenues like paid, one-on-one personal training. Rumble sent out an email last month to customers that had ways to contact each trainer to set up independent training lessons. Axman, who promotes his digital coaching on Instagram, said he charges $10 per online class, and his turnout has been good so far. 

"The people that have taken my classes for years, they've seen my face every week. So it's out of ordinary for them to not see me," Axman said, while providing classes "gives them a sense of normalcy."

Jimmy Adames, who was furloughed this week from his title services coordinator position in Orlando, considers himself an Orangetheory super fan. Adames said that before the studios shut, he would take Orangetheory classes six times a week at one of the studio's more than 1,200 locations across the United States. He and his fiancee, Tiffany, now do Orangetheory's digital classes five times a week in the couple's living room. 

"We do miss that connection, that rah rah, that hearing the coach every morning," Adames said. "It's hard not having that on a daily basis so we have to make the best of it, we have to really improvise at home."

Orangetheory offers its daily digital workouts across a slew of platforms, including its own app, YouTube and Instagram. Dave Long, Orangetheory Fitness CEO and co-founder, said the company isn't planning on a mandatory charge for classes but is considering donation-based classes.

"The community piece is what they're telling us they miss the most. We're trying to do as much as we can to recreate that," Long said. "Our goal is to continue to build out platform with a focus on community."

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Correction: Joey Gonzalez is CEO of Barry's. An earlier version misstated his name.