We recently enjoyed a virtual “sit down” with Julian Barnes and Ntiedo Etuk, co-founders of the Boutique Fitness Summit (BFS).

Julian & Nt’ have been building something incredible over the past 2-years with the creation of BFS and they have a vision for creating something that goes far beyond the conferences held in New York, DC (and soon to be held in Chicago). Between them, they have spent hundreds—probably thousands—of hours with the amazing entrepreneurs, savvy operators, kick-ass instructors and the visionaries who are all diving boutique fitness.

Through our enjoyable Q&A, they offered us their observations, thoughts and insights about the boutique fitness industry—the unique challenges and incredible opportunities that exist within the industry.

Question: OK, to kick things off, why did you decide to create a summit for boutique fitness?

BARNES: We created the Boutique Fitness Summit in 2018 because all of the other fitness business conferences were (i) 3 day events; (ii) on the West Coast; (iii) whose programming was designed for big box gyms, group fitness instructors and personal trainers. Nobody was producing conferences that focused solely on the boutique fitness sector.

BFS is the only 1-day business conference on the East Coast and in the Midwest that is 100% focused on providing business solutions to boutique fitness studio owners. Connecting them with thought leaders such as AJ Canzolino who owns Urban Athlete in Chicago, investors like Lema Khorlid and industry executives like John Bogosian.

 

Question: What is BFS’ mission?

ETUK: To help business owners launch, manage and grow thriving businesses that deliver innovative fitness programming to boutique fitness oriented community members by connecting them with thought leaders, industry executives and investors who share proven business methods.

 

Question: What did you both do before you started BFS?

ETUK: We are both serial entrepreneurs. My first company was an award-winning 3D multi-player educational video-game system. I am still the Executive Chairman of that company. And I’m also the Founder & CEO of FitGrid, a ground-breaking communication and connectivity platform for fitness communities.

BARNES: Before BFS, I owned another company that produced networking events in NYC and LA for fitness and wellness professionals for 5 years. And I have been a management consultant to small business owners for 15 years. I also taught at New York University and created their Institute in Entrepreneurship and Small Business Management.

 

Question: How did you get from education video games and practicing law to producing fitness conferences?

ETUK: I had an injury several years ago and I began taking pilates classes as one of my treatments. I quickly discovered the awesome power of the community in a boutique fitness studio. I immediately began thinking about how to leverage the power of community to help studios become more successful.

BARNES: I’ve been in the fitness industry my entire life. From being a competitive junior tennis and a certified professional tennis instructor. To serving on the United States Tennis Association’s Investment Committee and being the Director of Marketing for Velocity Sports Performance NYC. Furthermore, throughout most of my childhood, my mom was a volunteer at the local YWCA. Eventually becoming Chairman of the Board of Directors. So I’ve been involved in fitness at the amateur, professional and consumer levels for 40+ years.

 

Question: Now that BFS has produced two Summits in NYC and two in Washington, DC in the last 18 months, what have you learned about the boutique fitness sector?

BARNES: We survey every studio owner who attends a Summit. One of the questions that we ask is, “What is your #1 business challenge today?” Even though our attendees have included studio owners from 35 states and 10 countries, the answers have been consistent: The #1 challenge is client acquisition and the #2 challenge is finding and retaining talented instructors.

 

Question: Based on the assumption that customer experience drives everything in boutique fitness: What is the most important thing boutique fitness entrepreneurs and business leaders can do when it comes to the customer experience?

ETUK: Honestly—focus on it like a razor. And that’s hard to do, I know. There are so many things that owners and managers need to focus on (facilities, client complaints, training, logistics, scheduling, and so on) that they forget that fundamentally, the studio is a people services business—on steroids. The best and easiest way to ensure a business that has high retention, and brings new people in on a frequent basis is to focus on creating the connections between each and every person in your community (the consumers, the staff, the instructors) and strengthening them as much as possible.

There are a million studios that offer barre, yoga or bootcamp classes. There are a million studios that can recreate the lavender scented towels or get great real-estate or hire amazing instructors. But only YOUR studio can create that feeling of “home” in quite the way you do it. If studio owners focus on their own unique brand of “home” then they will attract the clients who like that—and they will stick. But that requires thinking very deeply about it and infusing it in everything you do. From hiring, to training, to marketing – and I don’t think studio owners go quite that deep just yet.

 

Question: The ‘naysayers’ have been warning of a bubble in the boutique fitness sector? Do you agree and, if so, do you believe that the industry will experience a ‘correction’ soon?

BARNES: It’s hard to call it a correction because the boutique fitness sector is barely 20 years old. Dating back to 1998, when Barry’s Bootcamp opened its first studio in West Hollywood. Instead, I believe that the boutique fitness industry is in a period of transition where everyone is still learning when, where and how to build sustainable studios that will survive the ebbs-and-flow of our economy. The industry is definitely exploding in some categories, specifically with the rapid growth of new franchises that are opening. But it is also maturing in other communities and it has barely taken off in still other cities and neighborhoods.

For example, Harlem, NY has a population of 500K people, luxury condos seemingly on every block and a Whole Foods; but it only has 6 boutique fitness studios. Conversely, there are some neighborhoods in Downtown Manhattan, Chicago and Los Angeles that have five studios on each block. Thus, while the high profile markets may be oversaturated, there are certainly lots of communities like Harlem and so-called ‘second- and third-tier cities’ that are under-served and which present growth opportunities for experienced studio owners.

Bottom line—we believe that the boutique fitness sector still presents massive growth opportunities for sophisticated and business-savvy studio owners.

 

Question: Back to BFS… What happens at the Summits?

BARNES: BFS-Chicago which will be our first Summit in the Midwest, will feature five panel discussions on topics, including:

– Pricing, sales strategies and building high performing teams.
– Peer Mentoring session where Attendees can get answers to their specific questions. These are 1:1 meetings with some of the panelists and other industry experts.
– A Partners Marketplace where industry leaders such as zingfit, FitGrid and Peerfit showcase the latest business management tools.
– Of course, lots of Networking, both organized and informal, that occur throughout the nine hour Summit.

 

Question: Who should attend BFS?

ETUK: We created BFS specifically for people who currently own or manage a boutique fitness studio; people who aspire to open a studio; industry executives and leaders; and investors.

 

Question: What’s next for BFS in 2020?

BARNES: The Summits were merely the first of several services that we plan to deliver to boutique fitness studio owners to help them build thriving companies. In 2020, we will launch more online services that will enable studio owners to connect with thought leaders, industry executives, investors and other studio owners so that they can learn and share the best practices that will vault the entire industry to the next level.

 

zingfit is an Annual Partner of the Boutique Fitness Summit. Our clients can use promo code BFSZINGFIT to get a $50 discount to attend BFS Chicago on November 1. Visit BFS-Chicago.com to register.