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Sweat Equity: How the Top Fitness Studios use their LMS as a Competitive Advantage

Jason Bacaj | 5 min read

Boutique fitness studios are the fastest growing section of the health and wellness industry. They grew by 121% in the four most recent years for which data is available and, as of 2017, make up 40% of the market, according to the International Health, Racquet, and Sportsclub Association.

Of course, boutique fitness isn’t necessarily new—we see you Jane Fonda—but this neo-boutique revival has been marked by a few distinguishing factors: unique fitness offerings, a personalized workout, and a social environment. This new variety of fitness devotee has a desire “to connect with instructors who give the sense of being deeply marinated in what they’re doing,” according to a study done by the Kurt Salmon Review.

Studios have been popping up across the country over the last decade. Because of the lower overhead to operate smaller gyms, it’s more affordable to open one compared to a traditional gym. Barre3 realized this early on and quickly expanded its number of studios and client base using a savvy franchise system.

This bottom-up growth gives locations a community-oriented feel. Clients seek out a particular location because they’ll see the same people and trainers week after week. A workout has become about more than just living a healthy lifestyle, it’s a social experience.

As boutique fitness companies continue to grow and develop, they have to redouble their commitment to exceptional service and hospitality. Because boutique fitness companies have an increased expectation to supply a specific experience to their clients, they have to stay light on their feet and respond quickly to changing trends. One of the best ways to do this is with a Learning Management System (LMS).

Women work out in a Barre3 fitness studio.

Using an LMS as a Competitive Advantage

1) Streamlines Communication

Communication can be difficult in any business—especially when you have locations spread out across the country. There’s just more opportunity for messages to get lost somewhere along the way. That sort of growth is usually spurred by strong culture and passed onto members in face-to-face interactions. Emails and team communication tools can’t quite replicate that experience. Barre3 learned this first-hand as they managed a growing number of locations.

“Before Wisetail, we’d communicate with instructors using a combination of mass emails and Facebook messages. It really was hit or miss,” said Heidi Waltermire, barre3’s Small Business Development Leader. “We would send out information and cross our fingers in hope they would eventually get the message.”

Barre3 found that using an LMS helped bring a consistency to its internal communications. They could make sure each location received timely updates to training and procedures. Analytics and reports in the system allowed barre3 to see who was and wasn’t getting the needed information and manage accordingly.

“The sharing of this new theory or posture used to take weeks if not months, but now we can post a video, run the analytics on who watched it, then decide whether we need to do more outreach all within one week!”

Heidi Waltermire, Small Business Development Leader at Barre3 

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2) Delivers Consistent Training

Whether it’s a spin class or a yoga routine, an essential element of any boutique fitness class is the character and culture of the specialized workout. Making sure trainers and coaches are properly trained is necessary—not only to avoid safety and liability issues, but to keep members engaged and coming back.

Jazzercise is one of the most enduringly successful fitness franchises. The company has more than 8,000 franchises around the world, and 2019 marked Jazzercise’s 50th anniversary. It’s an understatement to say that consistent training and education for those franchisees has been a focus of theirs for a while now.

Jazzercise turned to an LMS because it offered those franchisees a direct line to the corporate offices. The corporate team could then offer franchisees everything from the smallest tips like how to do your halloween class to “I’m opening a new center and I need help with my pricing.” And corporate could be sure that the business training reached the people it needed to reach.

“It’s no joke the biggest improvement we’ve made in our business model, in my humble opinion, in a couple of decades,” said Allison Stabile, Director of Marketing.

When people within an organization see the value of an LMS, they’ll pick up the system and put it to use.

For instance, barre3’s focus on cultivating a culture of learning has been a driving force behind the use of its LMS. Providing new content to trainers not only gives a reason for learners to keep coming back, but it also keeps them up to speed on the newest techniques being used by other coaches all over the country. Barre3’s instructors have been eager to use the new system.

Adoption was robust in the first month that Barre3 rolled its LMS, which they branded the “b3  HUB.” Nearly 85% of its instructors logged on in the first month, and within two months that number had reached 100%.

“Our instructor culture is based on a love of learning, so they are all gathering on the HUB for the content and techniques to help them be better instructors,” said Waltermire. “Our training content is now consistently being kept up to date, thanks to the ease of the HUB admin.”

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“The Studio has just completely revolutionized how we are able to get information to our franchisees. We can just share in a totally fresh new way all of our initiatives from marketing to programming to things that are just for fun.”

Claire La Breche, Training and Development Manager at Jazzercise 

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3) Helps Build Culture + Community

Creating a sense of culture and community can be difficult when locations are spread out over great distances. Although each studio might have its own uniquely thriving culture, translating that same culture throughout the entire company can be a difficult undertaking.

SoulCycle faced down that exact challenge. Training was initially done in-person and through a Google Drive. The drive was unbranded, bland, and trainers simply had to trust that learners would download and absorb material.

SoulCycle found that an LMS could match its brand identity, reach all learner groups individually and as a whole, and reporting to ensure training sank in. The SoulCycle team worked to transform its LMS, named The Wheel, into something more than a training platform. The Wheel became a one-stop shop for forms and files every location and manager needs. The Wheel acts as the single source of information that powers opening new locations. Since The Wheel launched, SoulCycle expanded into 11 states and Canada.

“The Wheel feels like our brand, smells like our brand. It is our brand,” said Gabby Cohen, Senior Vice President of Public Relations and Brand Strategy. “It’s something that’s easily scalable and something we never could do before with the resources we had.”

Not only can information from any meeting—be it field, finance, or operations—be uploaded and made available to the people who need it. But the LMS works as a conduit connecting everyone in the organization. Learners have the ability to upload their own content and interact with one another, in addition to the content itself.

“It’s how we’ve scaled the business,” said CEO Melanie Whelan.

“At the end of the day, we chose Wisetail because of the emphasis on design and storytelling that was fluent throughout their mantra. What’s great about Wisetail is that you can mold the site to a platform that speaks to your brand and who you are.”

Patrick Ryan, Senior Manager of Field Operations and Training at Soulcycle