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The SoulCycle Business Model: Riding for Wellness, Soul, and Community

Women and men SoulCycling

Staying fit can be fun, inspiring, meditative, and tribal. Such was the game-changing idea of New York City-based wellness brand, SoulCycle. Back in 2006, co-founders Elizabeth Cutler and Julie Rice were looking for a workout experience that was both effective and fun. Not satisfied with the workout options available at the time, the pair thought of a fitness experience that was high-energy yet intentional, and inspirational. From this idea, the SoulCycle business model was crystallized. The goal: to provide a fitness experience that goes beyond the physical.

Thirteen years later, the SoulCycle business model has established a fervent customer base. SoulCycle has a passionate following that generates 10,000 rides per day. Celebrities like Vanessa Hudgens, Kaley Cuoco, Oprah, Beyoncé, and Michelle Obama all have their SoulCycle love affair. Primed for growth and expansion, the fitness brand currently has more than 90 studios across the United States and Canada. Now under the wing of a luxury fitness company, Equinox, SoulCycle is expanding its fitness offerings globally.

Melanie Whelan, SoulCycle CEO
The SoulCycle business model is simple: create a holistic fitness experience, then add music.

Laying the Foundations of SoulCycle

Co-founders Cutler and Rice met in 2006 over what they call as “the best blind date ever”. Little did they know that this initial meeting will lay the foundations of a fitness sensation. The two came from two different industries. Rice was a talent agent while Cutler was in real estate. But they shared a common vision: they were both looking for a fitness experience that went beyond physical wellness.

A practicing yogi, Cutler wanted a fitness experience that offered the same meditative quality. Rice was a hiker-runner who wanted the same sense of community from her wellness activities. They both agreed that working out should not be a mere task to tick off from a to-do list but an activity that energizes the body, mind, and soul.

SoulCycle Starts Running

Cutler found a space in Craigslist and Rice began researching about towels. Two days after, their next meeting was held at a back lobby of a dance studio on 72nd street – the first-ever SoulCycle spin studio.

The competition was fierce. The SoulCycle business model was up against established gyms and fitness brands. But Cutler and Rice offered their facilities and classes on a pay-per-visit mode. This was a bold move. Gyms and fitness facilities thrive because of membership fees. The SoulCycle business model nurtured member loyalty by giving higher value for consumer dollars… as well as the best possible customer service to their riders. Ultimately, a community of loyal riders was instrumental for the SoulCycle expansion and growth.

Elizabeth Cutler talking SoulCycle
Given the company’s popularity, SoulCycle expansion was inevitable.

The SoulCycle Business Model: Lifestyle Beyond the Bike

The SoulCycle 45-minute session is a fast-paced, high-energy, full-body workout. Instructor/gurus guide the sessions by sharing inspirational mantras to the tune of upbeat music. Studios are dimly-lit, offering riders a safe space to just let it out, overcome mental obstacles, and be their true selves. By creating a safe space, SoulCycle unleashes the strength within each rider. It is the kind of strength that has the power to transcend beyond the halls of the studio and empower riders in their daily lives.

While technology has seeped into almost every aspect of modern life, SoulCycle offers an opportunity to disconnect during classes. A no-phone policy is strictly enforced so riders can focus and be immersed in the experience. For new riders, it can be an emotional rollercoaster. Riders are pushed physically through strain from the bike’s increasing tension and attempt to keep up to the beat. However, more than burning calories, the surge of endorphins and positive and uplifting communal energy makes riders want to live a SoulCycle lifestyle beyond the bike.

Julie Rice talks about SoulCycle
The SoulCycle business model worked – so what’s next?

Equinox and SoulCycle: Spinning for Future Growth

In 2011, American luxury wellness brand Equinox Fitness partnered with SoulCycle to bring the innovative brand to the rest of the world. The SoulCycle expansion happened fast. The following year, the first West Coast studio opened in California. More branches were launched in the Bay Area, Washington, DC, Boston, Miami, and Chicago in the succeeding years. There are now 91 SoulCycle studios across North America.

With the SoulCycle expansion, the brand’s loyal following has grown exponentially. While there are more studios across the country, classes are still booked fast. Thus, in 2015, SoulCycle launched an app for iOS to facilitate class reservations. In addition, SoulCycle has partnered with sports apparel brands like Lululemon, Lilybod, and Nike.

The SoulCycle business model has had an undeniable impact on the fitness industry. With a focus on the holistic aspects of working out, the company has introduced a whole new meaning to the word “fitness”. Through the magic of candles and a stationary bike–and a high-energy soundtrack–it offers people a new way to feel more balanced and connected.

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