The Business of Fitness: The State of Boutique Fitness in London

On Tuesday 4th October, I attended the launch of the latest Courier Paper whose front cover story was all about the business of fitness. Myself, and quite a trendy bunch if I may say so, sat down to listen to the panel of boutique fitness studio owners including the likes of Bootcamp Pilates, 1Rebel and FRAME.

Image Credit: Courier Paper

It was a very interesting discussion and coming from the personal angle of being an instructor, a customer, a small business owner and also currently pursuing higher education in management and business innovation I was intrigued to hear insights from those who have been in the business for a decent amount of time and I wanted to share a few things I picked up from the evening with you all.

What Is Boutique Fitness?

On the night, Boutique Fitness was described as personalisation, the ability to pay as you go, based around classes. All customer touch points are considered and used to make the studio unique such as chilled towels, nice soaps and great instructor.

The Bricks and Mortar

When I worked in retail I found all the behind the scenes conversations eye opening. Renting a property for business shares many similarities with renting a home but then there are some distinct differences. Firstly, it seems that convincing a landlord to even allow your fitness business to use the premises (classified as D2) is the first hurdle. In times gone by, landlords were more swayed by retail and restaurants who could pay higher rents to occupy the space. Once you’re in, you then have to consider other costs (above rent) such as service charge, business rates, waste / rubbish disposal before you even think about choosing a mains gas supplier along with other amenities like water and electricity.

What’s Acceptable In London These Days?

We spent a fair proportion of the evening talking about rents and rates in the capital. Some sage advice given was that your business rent and rates should never equate to more than 18% of the projected revenue. The panel also shared that when looking for new locations they try to seek out ones that maybe have more potential just off the beaten path (Bootcamp Pilates) and try to stick to under £30 per square foot for property (FRAME Fitness).

Did you know that 17% of the UK population have a gym membership? And that statistic is even higher for London by itself.

Image Credit: Courier Paper


If you’re into fitness and live in a big city then Classpass has probably been the topic of conversation a few times. Launched in london back in March 2015, Classpass can essentially be described as a “fitness passport”. Customers pay a monthly membership and then have access to a large array of studios and facilities in their city. Sounds perfect, right?!

But of course it does come with its limitations. Having experienced Classpass from both the studio and client point of view it’s interesting to listen to the conversations that come up. For the studios, many believe they are not paid enough to warrant having Classpass members in; James Balfour of 1Rebel even spoke about that time he led a revolt against Classpass (but then essentially backed down after a lot of customer feedback).

He also shared his suggestion of Classpass members paying a surcharge for using premium studios – the results of a twitter poll I conducted however, showed that people would be very against this idea but I guess the reality could be different. With just a 20% conversion rate of Classpass attendees to actual customers it may not seem like the best resource for studios unless there is a specific new studio or product which they are trying to boost.


From the customer point of view I’m aware that Classpass did have a recent hike in their membership fees which from what I could garner, they really need. Being an American based company, they’re actually staying afloat using investment capital and it seems the model they’re employing right now may actually not be sustainable for the longer term. But I mean, they still have circa 100,000 members in london so they must be doing something right?!

To sum up the evening, I’d say the vibe is simply that the business of fitness needs a shake up and I’m inclined to agree. And I’m not just talking about studios; I mean Personal Trainers, Fitness Instructors, regulations and standards. Considering the growth of the sector over the past few decades, you’d think we’d have gotten our shit together really!

Are you a fitness professional?! Ever considered opening your own studio?!

Are you a Classpass user?! Or have been previously? What has been your experience?!

I’d love your feedback on this post; it’s very rare I talk about the business of fitness but it is something I’m passionate about having been in the industry for nearly 14 years now!




  1. Lex Rees
    October 7, 2016 / 13:56

    I'd add Frame (Queens Park) to this also!

    • Elle
      January 8, 2020 / 14:18

      Shame they closed that location. I never once made it there!

  2. Lex Rees
    October 7, 2016 / 13:56

    Thank you for this: Makes up for not being able to attend. Interesting insights on ClassPass (like you, I have both a consumer and commercial perspective). I think consumers are much more fickle and less loyal (and ClassPass feeds this, which isn't a bad thing, but a thing nevertheless!), and those who prefer the boutique fitness environment are definitely looking for almost a cultural, experiential experience when they work out. It's not enough to offer "just" a workout. IMO, places like Psycle London (Mortimer St), Total Chi (Baker St) and Equinox (High St Ken) have a sustainable model reflecting the market desires (whilst I'm aware Equinox isn't a boutique gym, it certainly feels like one).

    • Elle
      January 8, 2020 / 14:19

      Prob time for me to update this article and compare now to what the landscape looked like back in 2016.

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