Foursquare Analysis Highlights Looming Bubble for Boutique Fitness Studios

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Forget those New Year’s resolutions. The biggest surge in attendance at gyms and boutique fitness studios actually happens in the spring and early summer, according to a new analysis of foot traffic patterns by the data science team at Foursquare.

Analyzing foot traffic data from more than 50 million monthly global users of Foursquare City Guide and Foursquare Swarm apps, Foursquare was able to determine that fewer Americans are visiting gyms, with just 31% visiting a gym in the second quarter of 2017 versus 33% during the same period in 2016. Still, visits from existing gym-goers are on the rise, and total visits to gyms across the country are up 2% in the past year.

Foursquare also took a deep dive into the specialty fitness market and found that certain categories of boutique studios are pushing past the point of market saturation. Indoor cycling studios, like SoulCycle and Flywheel, are in particular danger. The number of cycling studios nearly doubled between 2015 and 2017, but visits per location have declined by 30%, according to Foursquare’s data.

“As a cycling enthusiast, I was particularly surprised … because I have been hearing about so many new openings in my city, New York, and elsewhere,” says Foursquare’s Editor-at-Large, Sarah Spagnolo. “It makes one wonder about how long this bubble will last, and whether to combat this issue, studios will slow the pace of expansion, look to expand in different regional markets instead of in their backyard, or continue to diversify their offerings; SoulCycle started selling bathing suits this summer, for example.”

Fewer people are visiting both boutique studios and high-end gyms, thanks in large part to aggressive advertising campaigns and a push to integrate more specialty classes into the offerings at large multi-sport gyms. For example, Foursquare found that the percentage of visitors at Equinox fitness clubs who also visited SoulCycle studios decreased by 10% year-over-year.

But just because luxury gym chains are pulling ahead of boutique studios doesn’t mean they’re necessarily winning the race for market share, since high-end customers represent a small portion of the overall fitness market. According to Foursquare’s data, Planet Fitness — which frequently advertises a $10 monthly package—has become a market leader. Nearly 25% of the gym-goers tracked by Foursquare went to a Planet Fitness location in the last quarter, growing at 10% year-over-year.

While higher-end gyms chains like Equinox, The Bay Club Company, and Life Time Fitness are stealing back customers from boutique studios, Foursquare found that mid-priced gyms like 24 Hour Fitness and Snap Fitness are losing market share. Collectively, these gyms lost 5% of their visit share in the past year.

“A lot has been said of the growth of the discount and the high-end market. We’ve seen this tension in retail—during the holiday season, we reported that discount shops and some key luxury retailers were faring better than the mid-tier as well. Americans seem to be looking to save or spending on high-value experiences. So it isn’t surprising to see the same patterns emerge in the gym industry,” Spagnolo says. “What is particularly unique to this study are the indicators that specialty boutiques may have saturated the market; we’ll be keeping our eyes on this to see what happens in the months and years to come.”

Stephanie Miles is a senior editor at Street Fight.


Stephanie Miles is a journalist who covers personal finance, technology, and real estate. As Street Fight’s senior editor, she is particularly interested in how local merchants and national brands are utilizing hyperlocal technology to reach consumers. She has written for FHM, the Daily News, Working World, Gawker, Cityfile, and Recessionwire.