Previous Submission

Soulcycle: Intense Brand Loyalty

Next Submission

The fitness studio that created a community.

Soulcycle was founded in 2006 by Julie Rice and Elizabeth Cutler in Manhattan’s Upper West Side with the aim of creating a fun, inspiring and intense work out that was unlike a typical gym experience. They started with one small spinning studio, and have since grown significantly with 76% Revenue and 78% EBITDA CAGR’s over the last 3 years and 38 locations across seven major cities.

The company offers 45 minute spin classes multiple times a day, 7 days a week, but sees itself as much more than just a fitness studio. Soulcycle describes itself as an aspirational lifestyle brand, and therefore aims to build extreme brand loyalty among its customers through a unique fitness experience. This loyalty creates a community of dedicated riders who willingly spend hundreds of dollars a month on spin classes to “get their fix.” The intense commitment of its customers has shown very clear results, since 2010 ridership has increased 58%, revenue has increased 60%, and profitability has increased 85%.

Soulcycle’s operating model focuses on a few key elements of the user experience to achieve and align with their goal of creating an aspirational and exclusive brand and developing a strong sense of community with their riders.

Human Capital – The company invests significantly in their employees and instructors to ensure the highest quality experience for their guests. Every employee completes hospitality training at “Soul University” and all instructors undergo an intense eight-week training program. Many of these employees and instructors are in fact former devoted Soulcycle customers, and therefore become the strongest brand ambassadors and resources/salespeople for new customers. After training, the spin instructors are encouraged to develop their own unique style and to keep the classes enjoyable and fun. Soulcycle aims to be a fun and different form of working out, and these unique styles allow customers to find their favorite class or instructor that repeatedly bring them back to the studio. Unlike some other fitness studios and gyms, instructors are exclusively Soulcycle employees and cannot teach elsewhere, leading loyal customers to feel that they cannot get this same level of workout anywhere else.


Facilities
– The Facilities are nicely designed and look nothing like a traditional fitness studio from the outside. The studios are outfitted with high end, exclusive equipment, showers, water bottles, towels, and shoe rental, yet the small design details are what really make the difference. Interior décor is minimal with white walls covered in bold empowering Soulcycle mantras, scented Jonathan Adler candles placed around the dark studio and complimentary amenities like lockers, hair ties, and various flavors of Orbit gum at the front desk. In addition, each store has a small retail component that sells branded apparel to customers who forgot their workout clothes or simply want to brand themselves as a devoted Soulcyclist. The highly branded apparel and gear sold in the studios also serve as a great marketing tool, creating awareness and turning devoted customers into brand ambassadors as well.

Pricing – Through the pricing element of the user experience, Soulcycle has also managed to create a feeling of exclusivity that helps build brand loyalty.  They have done this through their pricing and their class scheduling policy. Classes are sold individually ranging from $30-$40 per class or in packages with very slight discounts on a per class basis. Soulcycle does not offer sales or promotions beyond their basic premium pricing model. Their class scheduling policy is also very strict, requiring members to cancel by 5pm the night before class or lose their money. Devoted fans would never consider missing a class and are often not price sensitive if they do lose the money. As mentioned in a Business Insider article from September 2014, “The expensive classes, gear, and candles are just a way of distinguishing themselves (and each other) as a part of a very cool club.”

Customers come to Soulcycle to chat with friends and Soulcycle employees, get in a good, fun workout and be a part of the exclusive community. Soulcycle’s great success as a pioneer in the boutique fitness space has led to an increase in competition with many others trying to replicate their model. However, Soulcycles’ first mover advantage has been huge in developing its’ exclusive, intense and loyal community that is committed to paying for the Soulcycle experience and becoming a true brand loyalist.

 

 

 

Sources:

Company Website

Company S-1 Filing

Forbes – http://www.forbes.com/sites/sarahmckinney/2014/02/05/soulcycles-intense-brand-loyalty-shows-no-signs-of-slowing-down/

NY Times – http://www.nytimes.com/2015/08/09/upshot/soulcycle-you-say-cult-i-say-loyal-customer-base.html?_r=0

Wall Street Journal – http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424127887323342404579081680434969954

Business Insider – http://www.businessinsider.com/why-people-pay-34-for-soulcycle-2014-9

4 thoughts on “Soulcycle: Intense Brand Loyalty

  1. This seems like a successful integration of the operating model supporting the business model. The investments that the firm has made are clearly focused on building brand loyalty and producing an engaging and enjoyable consumer experience while promoting good health. As the firm grows, do you believe that it will be able to a) capture market share in new markets with existing competitors; b) ensure quality over quantity in its “Soul University” training program; and c) not be replicated? Great post – thanks for sharing this.

  2. Great post! Agreed that intense brand loyalty has been absolutely integral to SoulCycle’s success, largely fueled by its first mover advantage and its intangible operating assets – i.e., their organizational culture and their human capital assets…which brings to question whether any of their tangible assets bring sustainable competitive advantages – are the high-end facilities inimitable? There’s also a question as to whether their product/service offering is a trend – what happens if spinning falls out of favor and some new fitness class is the new fad? What becomes of SoulCycle’s value proposition then? Whether the alignment of their operating model and business strategy is more a product of favorable timing rather than a sustainable advantage is likely a question that their founders will have to answer in the next five years.

  3. Thanks for the post. SoulCycle is an interesting story and you did a great job capturing the essence of its value – namely, the (exclusive) community.

    There are two things I worry about for the company longer term though. First, a lot of the loyalty is to individual instructors. As you point out, SoulCycle has tried to combat that by making their instructors exclusive to them, but this isn’t a complete fix. One of the company’s biggest competitors, Flywheel, was founded by one of the founders of SoulCycle and a star instructor. The threat of new entrants aided by star instructors is inherent to their business model, but could be reduced if they made tweaks to their operating model – for example, by not announcing the instructors of classes ahead of time to make it harder for customers to follow specific instructors’ schedules. Of course, that could create new problems for the business, including reduced satisfaction of current customers.

    Second, I’m concerned that the high price point may limit the company’s ability to grow, especially in smaller (less wealthy) cities and towns. I wonder what the saturation point for their market segment is, and whether they’ll one day offer less premium locations in order to tap into new markets. That decision may ultimately be a question of how core exclusivity is to their operating model and business strategy.

  4. This was very insightful, especially since I have never been to a spinning class before. It is amazing how building the organization into a lifestyle has brought such success. It definitely seems to come from the value the organization is bringing to its customers. It is vital for Soulcycle to maintain the level of quality they are providing, otherwise the pricing structure falls apart.

Leave a comment