Personal Trainer Software & Fitness Business Blog

Fitness Business

The Path That Led to Boutique Fitness Studios

They always say that reflecting on the history of a country, concept, or general topic will help you to better understand and predict its role in the future. In such a time of change and strangeness in the fitness industry, it’s important for us to look back on the roots of segments of the industry that has been massively influential on the way we approach fitness today.

Boutique fitness studios have been consistently popular and seen consistent growth since the beginning. Here’s a breakdown of how they came to be and some trends that boutique studios thrive on.

What are boutique fitness studios?

Boutique fitness studios specialize in a specific form of fitness for group training and fitness classes. Examples of boutique fitness studios are SoulCycle, Pure Barre, or iLoveKickboxing. They appeal to those who are highly involved in improving their level of fitness and staying consistent with their fitness goals.

Boutique studios cultivate a sense of community around a style of exercise. In fact, these studios are not open to the individual to come and exercise in a gym setting. These studios only host group classes and community fitness experiences. According to a study by Les Mills, 63% of people attend these studios because of the relationships they form with their peers. They generate experiences that make fitness challenging and interesting enough to retain the clients it attracts.

Moreover, these studios are often priced higher than other gyms like Gold’s Gym, LA Fitness, Planet Fitness, etc. People pay by the class, class bundles, and monthly subscriptions.

Paving the Way for Boutique Fitness Studios’ Success

Men have always been held to the standard of being fit and strong, whereas women have not. Yet, that was set to change at some point and in the 1930s a shift occurred in the way that women regarded their bodies.

The Ladies of War Paint – 1930s

The moguls of beauty and all things femininity, Elizabeth Arden and Helena Rubinstein, pioneered makeup and the idea that beauty is in the woman’s control. They tie into the boutique fitness world with their integration of physique in beauty ideals.

The two of them, fierce rivals, owned and operated many shops. More importantly, they owned and operated massive, luxury salons that hosted an array of departments to meet beauty needs. One of those departments was health and wellness centers. These were areas where women could go exercise before they shower and slip into the salon experience. To go even further, Rubinstein hired in-house physicians and dietitians to provide consultations and sessions with clients who attend their salons.

This made the idea of the physique as a component of beauty indelible in the minds of women. Thus, it became a well-established practice of employing all aspects of beautification in a specialized and localized manner. Sounds familiar to the definition of the word boutique, huh?

The definition, according do Merriam Webster: “a small company that offers highly specialized services or products.”

Slenderella – 1950s

Slenderalla had a genius name and branding for the time period with a generally idiotic downfall. The first to attract women to fitness salons. Places where women could attend and shake off a few pounds without actually needing to put in any work. Women laid on a vibrating table to shake the weight off to reduce weight through passive exercise.

Sounds ideal, right? Well, it was to an extent from the business perspective until the IRS caught the owner on tax evasion.

Nonetheless, the idea of women slimming down and shaping up began and gradually evolved into what we see today. The evolution came naturally, and less gimmicky, with the science and research behind the positive effects of getting and staying fit.

The In-between Years

After the salons and Slenderellas, exercise become more and more established for women and all of society. Though some practices received no support from science, they initiated the ideals and the desire to be fit. This desire for fitness can be viewed in two directions.

On the negative end of the spectrum, Debbie Drake inspired women to better themselves for their husbands. Meanwhile, on the positive end, the Ladies of War Paint inspired women to embrace their femininity. Although capitalistic, combined, they pioneered the focus on fitness and physique that we still value today.

Not to mention, they pioneered the idea of having fitness centers where women could go and spend an hour or two of their day focused on boosting their confidence and health. With the development of scientific methods behind exercise (thanks to Dr. Kenneth Cooper and his development of aerobics) and the combination of these practices, centers for using these methods, and instructors to teach classes of these methods. We then begin to enter what we consider boutique fitness. However, there was just one push needed for this fitness model to integrate with a successful business model…

Jazzercise – 1970s

The founder of Jazzercise, Judi Sheppard Missett, first coined the concept of group fitness classes. She started training at Giordano Jazz Dance Chicago where her trainer asked her to teach classes of moms whose kids were participating in the beginner classes. Missett created a class that did not fly for the moms who just wanted to get in shape and look good instead of actually train to become dancers.

Thus, she toned down the difficulty and increased the level of fun and then it grew. Now, Jazzercise has 8,500 franchises in over 20 countries.

Missett laid the foundation for group exercise. She was the first instructor to incorporate a microphone to shout motivation and commands to her large classes. She ignited the model that most if not all boutique studios follow. An instructor hosting regular classes and bringing mostly women together over intense fitness classes sounds like the definition of boutique fitness in its concept.

From this point forward, classes and group exercises became wildly popular. From here, the doors were wide open to other specialized forms of fitness classes and gatherings.

Also Throughout the 70s, 80s, and 90s

Jane Fonda and Richard Simmons (70s and 80s) are popular names in the world of group fitness that led to boutique fitness. These two concepts melded with technology and innovations in fitness equipment to support group fitness classes that involve exercises like cycling, rowing, kickboxing, pilates, and CrossFit.

Other Trends on the Path for Boutique Fitness Studios

Boutique fitness has seen its greatest success and failures through the trends that stick and that do not stick. In the case of Jazzercise, it may not have seemed like it stuck, but it’s still growing to this day 50 years later. Its growth can be credited to a successful method of exercise and the experience that attendees have with it. Jazzercise laid a foundation for women to build their own businesses off of and find empowerment in the community of women that are drawn to it.

A point to make from the growth of the Jazzercise brand is that it empowered a certain group to grow with the company. Creating a franchisable method like fitness bootcamps and places that cultivate community like CrossFit

The Rise of Fitness Experiences

These days, a shining star in fitness experiences is Les Mills. The fitness mogul has dominated and innovated the effectiveness of fitness through experience. In a previous article, we broke down what makes Les Mills classes so successful and widely available in gyms across the world.

Generally, the appeal for a population of people who are so desensitized and over-informed is to have good experiences. At our core, we appreciate senses of community and shared goals. Creating fitness experiences in the way that boutique fitness studios do contributes tremendously to their success.

Rounding out The Experience

A trend that has fast-tracked the growth of boutique fitness is the supplemental body-conscious methods for maintaining health. By this, I mean businesses like ClassPass have made the idea of fitness classes an exchangeable commodity. Because of the specialization in fitness classes offered at these boutique studios, people grow tired of the same routine and want the option of choosing their yoga classes with their rowing classes. Now switch out yoga and rowing in that sentence with just about any other specialized class and you have yourself an ecosystem of health, fitness, and wellness-focused businesses.

ClassPass throttled these ecosystems. Essentially, the customer can hop, skip, and jump between these classes and develop a relationship and community with different studios. What makes this so easily successful is the way that these boutique fitness studios have franchised around the world. This growth could be comparable to that of termites in the house of box gyms. Boutique fitness is ever so slowly eating away at the foundation of the power that box gyms have.

To be frank, you can consider just about anything outside of box gyms boutique fitness. If a business entity specializes in a form of fitness and draws in a community… then that’s all folks.

On Demand Boutique Fitness

For many studios, the last year was quite eye-opening. I’m sure you have read plenty on the ways that virtual fitness became an important pillar in the continued success of all fitness centers alike. But once again, it is important to note the ways your potential competitors have expanded beyond the brick and mortar to provide fitness classes to people anywhere, anytime.

On demand fitness programs and classes outside of the studio can expand your potential revenue tremendously and provide you and your team with the opportunity to touch more lives than ever before.

Companies like Jazzercise, OrangeTheory, Pure Barre, and more have developed apps to reach members and non-members anywhere in the world. This is also a great way to generate awareness and more leads for conversions to the in-person fitness classes.

What is the demographic of people who attend?

Women, of course.

From the beginning of the course of boutique fitness, women find themselves taking on the brunt of marketing for this concept. Boutique fitness is particularly attractive to high-class women wanting to look and be fit and find themselves committed to that value. In fact, Missett described her Jazzercise audience as, “‘body beautiful-conscious’ customers packed her music- and dance-filled exercise classes.”

It only makes sense! After all, boutique fitness began with the idea of marketing beauty ideals to women in a number of ways.

The results from a study of boutique fitness studio attendees from London, New York, Mexico City, and LA that a whopping 77% of attendees were women.

Notice, however, that these are generally high-class areas where boutique fitness is popular. Boutique fitness is generally very costly and appeals to those who have money and time to spare.

Let’s Get Males’ Attention!

Despite attracting mostly women and still seeing major growth, men can still reap the benefits of boutique fitness classes. Getting men into these spaces requires that marketing efforts equally represent men and women. Additionally, more male perspectives should be included in marketing efforts as well

Finding the right niche within a segment of fitness to market to men could grow the industry even more. Often, fitness goals for males and females differ outside of the realm of weight loss. Men typically want to build muscle while women want to tone down and firm up. Conveying the benefits of classes that meet the desires of the potential customers will help tremendously in getting more men into your studio over time.

Of course, it’s still awesome for women to have a dominant space in a segment of the fitness industry!


As people, we have plenty to learn from history. From a business perspective, we have plenty to learn from how studios came into fruition and what makes them so wildly successful.

Boutique fitness formed around and still thrives on societal trends. Keeping a finger to the pulse of what is trending is important to understand how to stay competitive. People appreciate experiences and a sense of community. How you create that in your studio is entirely up to how well you listen to the needs of your clients and staying creative!

A good sense of marketing the experiences your studio offers will also benefit you in the long run. Look at the success of Jazzercise and the salons. They sold ideas and concepts that women wanted to feel more fulfilled throughout their lives. With the addition of science-backed fitness methods, people bought into the idea of bettering their lives in fun, actionable ways.

One thought on “The Path That Led to Boutique Fitness Studios

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.