MARYLAND — Boutique gyms are popping up in Baltimore.
The trendy classes tend to be pricier than traditional gyms but the cost hasn't had an impact on attendance. Many of these studios have developed a cult-like following.
And it's not just millennials embracing the new fitness trend, Steve Hartman, 53, has become a loyalist at REV Cycle Studio. He's now past 100 classes in just nine months and owes much of his weight loss to the Baltimore spin studio.
"When I came here, I was 98 pounds heavier than I am now," Hartman said.
He attends one, sometimes two or three classes, almost every day and speaks of his instructors like someone would their kids.
"Sam, who's very special to me. Nick, Jamie, Kelly, Sean," said Hartman.
While this program worked for him, it's also come at a price. Hartman went from a $9.99 monthly membership at Planet Fitness to a $144 unlimited monthly pass at Rev. It breaks down to around $4 per class for someone who goes every day, but for a novice, or someone who wants to pay for a single drop-in class that costs $21 for a 45 minute ride.
Surprisingly, that's not unreasonable. Other boutique fitness gyms can run anywhere from $19 to $37 for a drop-in class.
Loyola University Maryland Assistant Marketing Professor Marie Yeh can understand why people are willing to pay so much for these singular-focused fitness studios.
"They make it more fun and intimate. It's a much smaller boutique gym, smaller size, and the instructors they employ are really into it," Yeh said.
These gyms are creating evangelists and word-of-mouth has become their most powerful marketing tool.
"I think their target market does have more discretionary income, but I also think it's a matter of priorities for people. People are willing to prioritize their health, willing to prioritize fitness, they're also willing to pay more for the experience," said Yeh.
"From the minute they walk in our doors to the minute they exit, it's a full entire journey at REV Cycle Studio," said Esther Collinetti, co-owner of REV Cycle Studio. "Whatever is your president's choice, we don't care. When you're here, you are human, you're on the Team Human and we're pedaling as one team."
For Hartman, it's been life-changing. He's not only found a way to achieve his fitness goals, he's found his tribe.
"Around here, it's also meeting a community of people, which is what's kept me here. The cycling's great but it's the people that have kept me here," said Hartman.
Yeh said people who pay for classes at boutique gyms also aren't giving up their gym memberships and may belong to multiple boutique gyms.
Traditional gyms still offer services that boutique gyms don't have, which include more variety in fitness classes, pools, spa/steam room, childcare, even nail salons.
Trying boutique gyms on a budget
Many boutique gyms offer a free class for first-time guests, and class packages drastically reduce the cost of a single class.
Many gyms, including traditional ones, are also on ClassPass. Using this service, fitness-goers can pay a flat-rate monthly subscription then use their credits for classes at various studios. The option provides more flexibility and typically costs less than a drop-in class.
And depending on your city, many of these studios charge different prices for the same workout. Solidcore, for example, costs $32 for one class in Baltimore, compared to $37 in Washington, D.C.