As the national retail industry continues to be disrupted, Baton Rouge’s shopping center landlords and property brokers are seeing one concept pump new life into retail centers: The boutique fitness studio.
Chains like Orangetheory, Regymen Fitness, Fit 365, Pilates Plus, Evolve Studio, Barre3, Yoga Rouge, Club Pilates and countless others have all entered the local market in recent years. And wherever one shows up, it attracts lease-seeking clusters of smoothie bars, spas and other health-related tenants to the community shopping centers they fill.
It’s happening with a simultaneous spike in e-commerce activity, forcing brick-and-mortar retailers to deliver their customers experiences that can’t be replicated online. Fitness studios—which offer pricey, but niche classes for cycling, hot yoga and high intensity interval training (HIIT), among other workouts—are shining examples of the kind of “internet-proof” businesses that once gym-averse landlords now find themselves courting regularly, says Lynn Daigle of NAI Latter & Blum.
“Ten years ago, it was hard to find them in a shopping center,” says Daigle. “Now, they’re fighting for the same spaces, and brokers are fighting for them.”
Landlords prefer the concepts to big-box gym chains because they take up much less square footage, while their patrons—usually arriving in staggered time intervals for scheduled classes—don’t gobble up as many parking spaces at once. Their mostly-open floor plans are also simple to build out, leading more studios to migrate from off-the-beaten-path locations into Baton Rouge’s busier retail centers.
The shopping center has evolved to a gathering place, says Carmen Austin of Saurage Rotenburg Commercial Real Estate, who has leased spaces to five fitness concepts in the past two months, most of which have replaced apparel stores facing disruption from Amazon.
Solid membership bases also promise more foot traffic, making the studios act like anchors for co-tenants and spurring local interest in the “cluster” retail strategy that’s occurring in urban areas across the country.
“Some landlords try to curate those types of complementary uses for their centers, where you can work out, grab a smoothie, get your nails done and have a quick, healthy lunch before picking up groceries,” Austin says. “They’re cognizant of that synergy. It’s a natural transition from traditional retail.”
A new class of fitness
Forget the fluorescent-lit gyms of decades past, where 100 members performed 100 different workouts on different machines throughout the space. Boutique gyms—generally between 800 square feet and 3,500 square feet—focus on group exercise and specialize in one or two fitness areas. They sometimes feature theatrical lighting, concert-thumping sounds and large screens guiding members through workouts.
Those features are what make Regymen Fitness and its HIIT concept work better in a smaller, studio environment, says Donnie Jarreau, who’s relocating one of the Regymen studios he owns from the Drusilla Shopping Center to Corporate Boulevard, and another from the South Gates Shopping Center to a still-undisclosed spot near Juban Road in Denham Springs.
With membership dues ranging from $100 to $150 per month, Jarreau is drawn to grocery-anchored centers located in high-income areas where households rake in at least $75,000 in annual income.
Perhaps surprisingly, fitness studios—each generally specializing in a niche area of wellness—are also comfortable being near each other geographically.
“We also don’t mind being next to a Planet Fitness, or a yoga studio or a spin-type concept, because we bring an entirely different component,” Jarreau says, adding roughly 75% of his members belong to other fitness studios as well.
About one in five American adults hold at least one fitness club membership, according to a 2018 report from the International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association, allowing the $30 billion health and fitness industry to grow by at least 3% to 4% each year for the past decade. But fueling much of the growth is the booming boutique fitness industry: While traditional gym membership rose 5% between 2012 and 2015, boutique studio membership grew 70%.
People like them not only for fitness purposes, but also because they’re viewed as status symbols. While considered prime ground for socialization or an Instagram photo, the studios also offer stressed-out members opportunities for mind-numbing activity.
“They’re told what to do every single second of the workout,” says Scott Russell, who co-owns with his wife, Lisa, the state’s first Orangetheory franchise location, in the Corporate Boulevard Towne Center.
Russell chalks up his studio’s membership base of roughly 1,000 to its specific, advanced focus on heart health—a blend of heart rate monitoring, coupled with circuit and interval training that pushes people to reach the “orange zone” (when the heart starts beating at 84%, its maximum rate) and leads to “afterburn,” whereby the body continues to burn calories for 24 to 36 hours after the workout.
“We don’t even allow ourselves to be called a gym—we’re a studio,” he says.
Long Farm developer Russell Mosely’s personal experience with Orangetheory helped inspire him to bring the fast-growing franchise (which has yet to shut down any of its 1,200-plus locations across 23 countries) to the retail component of his development in an effort to create a “health and wellness hub.” Mosely says his other tenants—including Rouses, Main Squeeze Juice Company, Massage Envy and the soon-to-open Modern Acupuncture—also benefit from Orangetheory’s arrival, indicating similar tenants could as well.
“If you’re willing to do heart monitor workouts, then most likely, you’re going to lead an overall healthy lifestyle,” Mosely says. “That’s a perfect opportunity for us to try to attract other healthy retail options.”
Indeed, businesses offering healthy-food options and athleisure wear say they also target locations with health-conscious customers, often looking to fitness studio locations for cues as to where to set up shop.
For example, Main Squeeze—a juice and smoothie bar franchise that sells plant-based products made without ice or artificial sweeteners—“pays close attention” to where chains like Orangetheory, F4 Fitness and Club Pilates decide to open for business, says owner Thomas Nieto. The openings of two Orangetheory studios in Arlington Marketplace and Long Farm are what attracted him to his business’ respective Baton Rouge locations along Ben Hur Road and Mosely’s mixed-use development on Antioch Road.
“We’re a young brand, and we have limited data we can use to understand where our customers live, work and play,” Nieto says of his New Orleans-based company, which has 12 locations between Louisiana and Texas. “Because our customer profiles happen to match almost exactly with theirs, we’re piggybacking on their analytics.”
Meanwhile, Russell, the Orangetheory franchisee, says he’s heard Freshjunkie Salads & Wraps could follow him to his newest franchise location in Hattiesburg, Mississippi.
Some centers are making spaces flexible for a variety of wellness options. Perkins Rowe recently leased out a pop-up space to Meredith Waguespack, owner of the local T-shirt company Sweet Baton Rouge, who partnered with fitness boutique BodySculpt Barre Studios to host a couple of community workout events there.
The group workouts allowed Waguespack to promote and sell apparel from her Don’t Stop, Just Geaux athleisure line, culminating in a sales spike as well as a higher Facebook group member count.
“This is what the internet can’t replace,” says Jarreau. “This is the future of retail.”