Omnichannel sounds like a buzzword. It's the future, though.

We talk a lot about how the fitness industry is changing and how omnichannel -- a mix of brick and mortar and digital options -- is the path forward. In one of the last articles I posted online, I talked about how we’re thinking of “disruption” in the wrong way. Think of the music industry from 2000 to 2010. That was the prime disruption decade for music and yet, live attendance and record sales essentially tripled. So we think disruption brings down traditional means and revenue streams, but in reality -- nope it doesn’t. Digital works with traditional for a bigger, better path forward. A rising tide lifts all boats. Right

In the fitness space, a good example is SoulCycle. I have termed SC as a “guru” brand in the fitness space. It’s probably one you’ve heard before, so I won’t belabor a lot of the key points here. I will say this, though -- and this is very important for entrepreneurs to understand and remember, whether you’re in fitness or another industry. Check out this December 2013 profile of SoulCycle, and pay particular attention to this quote:

“Elizabeth and I started SoulCycle because we were actually the customers — we were looking for an exercise experience that was going to be fun, exciting, challenging,” Rice explains. “There were a lot of workouts, but there was really nothing out there that was efficient, that was joyful, that was about community, that was something that you really looked forward to.”

That’s from Julie Rice, one of the co-founders. (The “Elizabeth” referenced is Elizabeth Cutler.) The first part of that quote is the money section: “... they were actually the customers.” That’s what entrepreneurship is, really. We pound our chests about what it means often in business journalism and thought leadership, but in reality it’s about experiencing something, realizing how it could be better, and acting to solve those pain points.

And hey, if you’re chasing money … this approach works. Cutler and Rice each got $90M when Equinox upped their stake in SoulCycle last year.

SoulCycle was such a firebrand in the fitness space because it had insanely good customer loyalty, and that loyalty drove profits and revenues through the roof.Remember my reference to this idea in the recent post Our Leadership Crisis is Punching Us In The Mouth ? For those of you who might recall here is what I wrote :

“If you move that logic forward, you need to understand this. It seems semantic, but it’s very important and many leaders ironically miss it entirely:
Profits and share prices … wait for it …
… are the result of organizational action … pause …
… not the goal of organizational action
The goal is to provide a product or service that benefits a customer. You create that customer, retain them, and maybe even get referrals from them. That’s the goal.”

SoulCycle thought of business in the right way “customer first” and the result is outrageous profits. In fact a review of their public filing (they are still waiting to actually go public but you can see the filing here) reveals that the unit economics for SoulCycle include a 53% EBITDA on revenue and a 2-3 year payback on investment, without any leverage included. You could look at it from the outside and say it was primarily a brick-and-mortar play, but it wasn’t. While that was the basis for a lot of what they did -- their first SoulCycle was actually in a former funeral home they subletted off CraigsList -- they also had strong social media following, quality online sales, and essentially created a lifestyle brand (a 360 lifestyle brand, at that) out of fitness. Many other fitness brands had struggled to do that.

Reference this 2015 AdWeek profile of SoulCycle and note this quote in particular:

"The genius of SoulCycle's marketing strategy mirrors the genius of their business strategy; they've found a way to make each and every interaction feel personalized and premium," says Lauren Crampsie, global CMO at Ogilvy & Mather. "Whether it be the relationship you have with your favorite instructor or a tweet reply you receive after a great ride, SoulCycle has mastered the customer experience both in and outside of the studio."

This is another important point about omnichannel in fitness. Customer experience is everywhere these days. We’ve all seen the stats. But I think this is what people miss about it sometimes: there are more mobile phones on Earth than people right now. Mobile is not a fad. It’s a very real thing, and it’s oftentimes an extension of a person. (How often do you walk past people who are heads down staring at their phone?)

As such, even if you own 40 brick-and-mortar fitness clubs, you absolutely need to realize that the experience doesn’t end there for your customers. They might want nutritional information when they leave. Can you deliver that to them? They might want a ping or notification about how great their workout was. And maybe they want the option to do a class in their office because they have to work late, but can’t stare at Excel for another 25 minutes. Look at what Peloton is now doing in the cycling space for further evidence of this omnichannel phenomenon.

Delivery has to be omnichannel in fitness now. SoulCycle showed that, as have other brands and concepts. SoulCycle did it with big money and big attention, though -- so hopefully you took notice. Extend the experience out beyond the bricks. That’s where the real growth is.

In short: don’t fear being disrupted. Look at what could disrupt you and incorporate it into your model, creating a more comprehensive experience that’s better for all your customers, both current and potential. This is the future of all industries and the health club and fitness industry is no exception.

Alright, there are my thoughts on Omnichannel and fitness. What do you have to add on the SoulCycle phenomenon? I’d love to hear.

See the original LinkedIn blog post here.

Bryan O’Rourke is an entrepreneur, consultant, speaker, author, executive and investor, who has successfully advised and driven global brands for over 30 years. He has presented as a keynote speaker at industry and corporate conferences on four continents. You can hire him to speak at your next event or facilitate your organization’s strategic meetings. He is widely published and quoted in periodicals like Inc. Magazine, the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times and is CSO of a well known Houston based health club chain. Bryan is presenting at the IHRSA EU Congress in Seville Spain October 17-20 2016, and at the IHRSA ChinaFit Management Forum event in Changsha November 15-18 2016. He and his partners are launching Vedere Ventures, a boutique private equity firm investing in and advising various health and fitness business models around the globe. To learn more visit or follow him @bryankorourke.