Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you either:
1) know somebody who goes to SoulCycle,
2) you’ve seen people wearing wheel-clad apparel
3) or you’ve heard about it.
The indoor cycling trend that first got its humble start in a small former dance studio in New York City’s Upper West Side in 2006 has now turned into 47 lavish, grapefruit-smelling outposts across the US (including 15 locations in New York City alone). And with revenue at $112 million a year, SoulCycle is doing something very right.
What appears to have made the company such a brilliant success story on the surface is a boutique approach to fitness. It has turned classroom cycling into a full-body experience for the mind, body and—you guessed it—soul. The reimagined spin classes are held in dark, candle-lit rooms (dare we say sanctuaries?) where riders cycle to the beat of hip-hop and pop remixes.
Once clipped in to your yellow bike, the darkness of the room invites you to let go of your inhibitions while the music reverberates throughout your body. Within seconds, you become part of a pack. Systematically moving with each other. Dancing. Sometimes singing. And after 45 minutes of choreographed spinning, push-ups and weight lifting, riders emerge from the darkness glowing in sweat and high on life.
SoulCycle has no doubt revolutionized fitness. But is it the fitness in and of itself that has lured so many celebrities like David Beckham, Lady Gaga, and Gisele Bündchen? Is it the act of cycling that’s converting patrons into loyalists, and loyalists into what’s often referred to as a near-cult?
It’s doing well—so well, it’s getting ready to start selling shares. But the offering is merely “unique” as more cycling studios are beginning to take note, trying their best to replicate the experience at a fraction of the cost. And there are many other specialized fitness studios popping up in effort to make exercise more personalized, more focused and more fun. In other words, there are a lot of like-minded choices out there.
But the SoulCycle following is prevailing and stronger than ever. And we have to ask ourselves, what’s keeping people coming back, $34 class after $34 class? Why are people going broke for Soul? Why are they setting alarms for noon on Monday so they can get into their classes before they sell out in 30 seconds?
Could the SoulCycle brand have something to do with it? And by brand, we don’t mean the yellow wheel logo and motivational wall art (although they’re nice). We’re talking about the entire brand experience.
SoulCycle has defined its role in the fitness world well. It’s high-end. It’s exclusive. And it has some real equity in the word “soul,” which is at the core of everything they stand for. And most importantly, they really know how to own it.
As Peloton Cycle founder John Foley commented to the New York Times, “SoulCycle and its brand have tapped into the notion of exercise as food for your mind as well as your body. What’s happening in those cycling classes involves spirituality, psychotherapy and some self-help.”
Walking into a studio, you feel like you’ve walked into a spa. There’s a soft white glow. It smells fresh. There are lots of happy people hanging around. And the customer service is, to no surprise, second to none. They really go out of their way to make you feel special. (The writer of this post may or may not have gotten a free t-shirt in the mail just because they didn’t have his size in the store.)
As far as costs go, you will pay what the class is said to be worth. You won’t find their classes on ClassPass, and memberships are nonexistent. SoulCycle’s team believe their classes are worth every dollar, and they firmly stand by that.
And, of course, they seem to know how to put the heart—and soul—in stationary cycling. The classes are positioned as a personal journey. The vibe is inclusive, not competitive. There are black lights, disco balls and even rumored bubble machines. And the famed instructors are just as theatrical as they are fit and motivational.
Some say the whole thing is preposterous. Some swear it’s the healthiest fun you could ever have. But all things considered and personal opinions aside, it’s hard to argue that SoulCycle’s instructors and personnel don’t give it their all when it comes to their brand. They know who they are and they live it in everything they do.
In turn, they attract and retain a devout community and ridership that’s busting at the seams, sweeping America (and soon, the world) by storm—and showing no signs of slowing down.
Michael Lalley is a writer and creative strategist based in New York City.