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Having conquered the country’s capital, Britain’s booming boutique fitness sector looks set to spread its wings beyond London in the year ahead.

Inspired by boutique pioneers in New York and Los Angeles such as SoulCycle and Barry’s Bootcamp, boutique fitness studios have taken London by storm in recent years and – together with the budget sector – have been the health club industry’s biggest areas of growth since the recession.

But with competition for affluent consumers – boutique fitness classes typically cost between £14-25 – and prime locations reaching fever pitch in London, it seems 2016 could be the year when boutique studios truly break out of the M25.

“We’re looking to expand at the moment and locations outside of London are definitely something we’re exploring,” Heartcore co-founder Brian Schuring told Health Club Management.

“I’m pretty sure everyone in the London boutique space will do sooner or later – we’ll all get sick of bashing each other over price eventually.”

For Schuring, who has quietly amassed an empire (by boutique standards) of eight sites across the capital with his partner Jess Schuring, the issue isn’t so much the number of customers available, but more the lack of viable spaces in London which represent value for money.

Site acquisition has been a perennial barrier to growth in London. Aside from exorbitant property prices, planning laws can also be cumbersome.

“We’ve still got the major hurdle of planning committees frequently blocking applications to convert A1 spaces into fitness studios,” said Barry’s Bootcamp UK co-owner Sandy Macaskill, whose efforts to find a third London location for his boutique chain have been frustrated by council planning committees.

“It’s as if the 2012 Olympic legacy didn’t even happen – councils are telling everyone to be more active but then they don’t want to see fitness studios on the high street.”

Aside from Heartcore, it seems that other boutique businesses are also looking to avoid such property problems and snap up sites in different parts of the country.

Pip Black, co-founder of Frame Fitness – which is about to launch its fourth London location – announced recently that the female-focused boutique chain is branching out beyond London.

Having received funding in December from angel investors, Black reiterated the company’s plans to launch two new sites each year and said Brighton, Bristol and Manchester are all possible locations.

Colin Waggett, CEO of Third Space, told Health Club Management last month that his chain's forthcoming boutique concept Another Space could also include locations outside the capital if the site was right. Furthermore, online gym pass provider PayasUgym is planning to take its new fitness festival Urban Movement on the road to showcase the best 'boutique-style' fitness classes across the UK.

Meanwhile, boutique fitness is also making its mark in the north east. Joanne McCue Bannatyne – the former wife of Duncan Bannatyne – recently introduced a range of boutique fitness concepts at her WattFitness studio on Teesside Industrial Estate.

“Small boutique fitness units are a new concept in the UK but they are the future of the fitness industry, not the old-style health clubs,” said Joanne McCue Bannatyne.

“They’re growing quickly in London after sweeping the US market, but you’ll find nothing like this outside of London anywhere in the UK, so Teesside is helping to lead the way for the future of fitness in this country.”

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Having conquered the country’s capital, Britain’s booming boutique fitness sector looks set to spread its wings beyond London in the year ahead.
Heartcore co-founder Brian Schuring says expansion beyond the capital is a natural progression for boutique operators


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