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Given that the price of everything – from butter to petrol – keeps getting higher, why are we still staying loyal to high-end boutique gyms? Lola Alao investigates.

I’ve stayed loyal to the same gym for five years. I like the convenience of it. It’s a five-minute walk from where I live (that’s the perfect journey length for someone like me who’d get put off travelling to any gym that’s more than 30 minutes away), and in the sea of all the varying priced gyms, mine is a moderately priced one. 

But for others, like Manale, splurging on the gym is just as important as splurging on nice meals out, new clothes or nice holidays.

When the 22-year-old law student moved to the UK in 2017, she was looking for somewhere with a welcoming atmosphere that would give her an experience. “I feel like I’m stepping into a fitness oasis,” she tells me. “It’s like an hour out of my day when I can disconnect”. 

Manale buys classes from studios like Barry’s, 1Rebel, Willow and BXR (where she is a loyal attendee of Marvin and Olivia’s classes). She also sometimes uses ClassPass, an online platform that allows subscribers to mix and match different classes and studios without getting a membership, which often works out cheaper.

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“Every week for me is different,” she explains. “Right now, I’m going through a bit of a reformer pilates phase. Two months ago, I was into boxing and cardio. I like the fact that with boutique gyms, you can be more flexible.”

Boutique gyms like 1Rebel and Barry’s Bootcamp are quickly gaining traction. By the end of 2022, the UK fitness industry is expected to have grown by 32.5%. And according to a report by IBISWorld, mid-market gyms will be overtaken by boutique gyms and low-cost gyms. While low-cost gyms like The Gym Group have been succeeding, boutique gyms have also been enjoying an increased popularity with those who don’t mind paying a bit more to break a sweat in luxury. 

In a cost of living crisis, how are top-tier gyms retaining customers?

Barry’s Bootcamp was one of the UK’s first boutique fitness concepts when it launched in Euston in 2013. At this branch, one class costs £24 if you’re buying it individually, but there are other packages available, ranging from £70 for three classes, to £231 for 12 classes (to be used within a 30-day span). “The more you buy, the lower the price per class,” their website reads. 

According to ONS data, household disposable income in the UK will fall by 2.2% in 2022/23. That’s the biggest fall in living standards since 1956 – when this type of data was first produced. For a lot of people, classes at gyms like Barry’s are an unaffordable luxury. So why do boutique gyms still have so many loyal customers?

“If you just scratch the surface and you don’t really think about it, that sounds like a lot of money for a class,” says Sandy Macaskill, Barry’s Bootcamp London co-founder. “But I think we’re incredibly competitively priced. The majority of our classes are 60 minutes, whereas a lot of our competitors are doing 45 minutes. That’s 25% less time in a product, yet most of them are charging the same prices.” Macaskill also points out that their prices have hardly increased in the past 10 years. 

“We put our money where our mouth is every single time someone walks into our doors. If you don’t like it, you’re never going back,” he continues. “Whereas when gyms traditionally sign you up, they get you for a year and then they don’t care if you never come back because they’ve got your money already.”

Dr Josephine Perry, sport psychologist and author of The 10 Pillars of Success, attributes gaining a sense of community to the appeal of boutique gyms: “After two years of ambiguity and uncertainty with the pandemic, we are all keener to treat ourselves where we can and focus on building up a greater sense of belonging.”

That’s how Manale feels too. She’s also been using TikTok to vlog her workout days and from this has found new people to connect with and build a community. “I’ve had a lot of girls reach out to me from my pilates videos,” says Manale. She now has a group chat full of messages flying around like “Hey girls, have you seen this class?” and “Let’s book this?”. She’s even recently organised a reformer pilates meetup. 

Manale adds that she doesn’t mind paying that bit extra for these classes, and tries to look for deals and discounts to save money where she can. “Everybody has things that they like to splurge on,” she says. “Wellness and fitness are such a big part of my life, and social life. It’s a priority for me.”

But for media producer Jacquie, it’s more of a luxury: “I attend those classes via Classpass and that’s the only way I’m able to afford them. I do think they’re a little out of my range and I have to be mindful of how much money I’m spending.” She says that she likes to balance these classes with her own ‘fitness stuff’ (like outdoor runs), which means she gets to treat herself every so often. 

When she does attend a boutique gym class, she loves 1Rebel and enjoys the whole experience of getting to use softer-than-soft towels as well as the expertise and support of the teachers. “It’s a lifestyle for them, so they know what they’re talking about and I like that they don’t push you to do anything that would be damaging to your body.”

Luxury surroundings can be a good source of extrinsic motivation

Of course, we all have our different motivations for moving. “With extrinsic motivation, you exercise because you know you should, you like the friends you make or you want the kudos that fitness gives you,” Dr Perry says. “With intrinsic motivation, you do it because you love the physical feeling of it.” 

She adds that if you’re intrinsically motivated, you won’t really mind where you exercise – the important element is the movement and we can get that at many types of gyms. But if your motivation is more extrinsic then sure, having a lovely place to exercise where we feel special, get treated well and have luxuries when we finish will be much more enticing and mean we are more likely to show up to train. 

Ultimately, times are hard and the cost of living is only set to rise. Do what works for you, whether that’s treating yourself to the occasional boutique class or doing YouTube workouts from the comfort of your own home.

Stylist has reached out to 1Rebel for comment.

Images: Getty

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