Exercise Crazes in the Experience Economy

If you’ve ever been to a fitness class like SoulCycle, Pure Barre or Flywheel, you understand the hype surrounding these new, wildly successful Canada Goose jackets sale exercise crazes. Perhaps the most popular of these, SoulCycle is now in 8 states, recently partnered with Target to bring pop-up classes to 10 new cities, and you’d be hard-pressed to spend a day Manhattan without seeing a pair of leggings or a hoodie displaying their logo—a bright yellow wheel. This wide base translated into $93.8 million in business for SoulCycle in 2014 alone.

If you’re not familiar with any of these companies, however, here’s a quick rundown:
SoulCycle, which brands itself as “indoor cycling re-invented,” offers classes taught in a club-like atmosphere led by a highly energetic instructor who guides the class through climbs, sprints and even weights, all set to blaring, often themed playlists such as “The Evolution of Britney Spears,” “Rihanna vs. Jay Z,” and “90-Minute Broadway Challenge”.

Pure Barre is a ballet-based full-body workout that uses small isometric movements performed at the ballet barre to burn calories and gain lean muscle. Again, the Pure Barre experience is tied together with “fantastic” music and a group dynamic—participants move together and are encouraged to share their experience on social media with the hashtag #ISurvivedPureBarre.
Flywheel offers a more competitive cycling experience, featuring stadium-style studios, bikes that allow you to electronically set your resistance and revolutions per minute, and a TorqBoard, or leaderboard, that shows where your RPMs stack up against the rest of your class (you can choose to opt out at the TorqBoard of the beginning of any class).

Of course, there’s nothing new under the sun, especially when it comes to exercise fads, but if spinning and isometric training have been around Cheap Canada goose forever, why have these brands taken off in such a big way? The answer is that they’ve managed to tap into what many are calling a new “Experience Economy.” Millenials—and other groups, but millenials more so—are showing a growing desire to spend their money on experiences rather than things. Over the last 30 years, the share of consumer spending on live experiences and events relative to total consumer spending has grown 70%, and the fitness industry is not immune. Where 10 years ago, “exercise” may have meant buying a gym membership and slaving away on a treadmill with headphones in, people are now seeking out fitness classes that boast just as much fun and community as they do exercise. 

The numbers behind the Experience Economy are undeniable: millenials currently command over $1.3 trillion in annual consumer spending and when surveyed, 78% would rather spend money on a desirable experience than an object, 69% say that those live experiences make them more connected to their communities and the world and 70% say that if they don’t share in those experiences, they feel FOMO, or “fear of missing out”—a phenomenon exacerbated by social media use, making the #ISurvivedPureBarre tag a clearly calculated (and smart) marketing move.

We can turn to SoulCycle again to see the effects of this experience economy—driven by a desire for community, inclusion and excitement—on the exercise industry. SoulCycle classes are $35 each, but the brand recently started selling a bike that can be purchased and used in-home for $2200. An avid cycler could by the bike one time, forego classes once a week and the bike would pay for itself in just over a year.

And yet, since the release of its bike, SoulCycle membership has only grown. Could this be in part because people don’t want to put down $2200 for an exercise bike? Maybe, but for active cyclers, the bike would ultimately save money. This preference for the in-studio classes, then, highlights the fact that most of SoulCycle’s draw lies in the class experience and community. The same can be said for all of the new fitness brands that hook users by offering an exciting in-class experience and cultivating a sense of community and group ethic.

Put simply, if they can, millenials and many others would simply rather spend $35 on a 45 minute class—plus $52 for a SoulCycle tank top and $102 on the matching leggings—because it’s worth it to feel like part of a community united in a shared, enjoyable experience. Biking alone in your living room or on a gym floor is just not that fun. What is? A “Missy Elliott vs. Justin Timberlake” themed ride with friends and maybe an Instagram after with your favorite instructor.