The popularity of pedaling to the sound of high-energy music at fitness boutiques shows no signs of slowing down. But where people are doing the pedaling seems to be changing.
Mid-market gyms like 24 Hour Fitness, made up 51% of foot traffic the nation’s gym chains this year, followed by Planet Fitness PLNT, -0.20% — which Foursquare puts in its own category — with 24%. High-end gyms like Equinox made up 11% of foot traffic, other types of gyms accounted for 10% and 3% for specialty fitness chains, Foursquare said. Mid-market chains dropped 5% in foot traffic this year, and high-end chains grew by 7%.
The share of foot traffic at specialty fitness chains grew 19% this year, although last year saw 34% growth. Some of these chains, like SoulCycle and PureBarre, have become household names in recent years, but they might be approaching their peak, according to data from location technology company Foursquare, which analyzed foot traffic from over 50 million monthly global users.
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“Like many boutique fitness studios, 2016 was a challenging year for unique and first-time visits and Pure Barre was no different,” said Scott Breault, chief marketing officer of Pure Barre. “We’re all competing for a share of the consumer’s fitness wallet.”
Large, traditional gyms generate first-time gym-goers in their local areas when they open, which is actually a positive even for Pure Barre, he said, since it introduces more people to fitness, who may then be interested or look for other types of exercise. Pure Barre saw an 8% increase in first time visits from first to second quarter this year. (SoulCycle did not respond to a request for comment.)
Planet Fitness offers “affordable, non-intimidating fitness,” the company said in a statement. The company now has more than 10 million members across the country, 1.2 million of which signed up in 2017 so far, it said.
The overall fitness industry is still growing. Revenue grew 3.6% last year to $27.6 billion, and total membership reached 57.3 million in 2016, up from 45.3 million in 2009, according to the Boston-based International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association, a trade association for commercial health clubs, including gyms, fitness centers, studios, sports centers.
There’s are many reasons why customers may prefer one over the other: Boutique or specialty fitness chains provide may be less intimidating and more social than large gyms with buff bodies parading about, so people can interact with the same members during classes every week, and they often receive more attention from an instructor than they might at a traditional gym.
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At larger gyms, people who are not exercising as much as they used to can still have a quick swim or run on a treadmill, which may encourage them to hang onto their gym membership, but that may be more difficult to do at a gym that specializes in just a few intensive workout sessions.
And some research shows that money and motivation don’t go together. For some people, not even free cash will make them go to the gym. When researchers offered 836 new gym members at a private gym some sort of incentive ($30, $60 or an item worth $30) for visiting the gym nine times in the first six weeks of their membership, it had no effect on visits thereafter.