Boutique Fitness Titan Emma Barry Talks Brand, Partnerships & Global Trends

Armed with over 25 years of experience in the wellness industry, a founding member of group fitness juggernaut Les Mills International, and former Director of Group Fitness Programming for luxury-lifestyle brand Equinox, Emma Barry is a titan of the global fitness market.

With expertise in product development, global training and people and culture, the prolific writer, sought-after speaker and mentor is fluent in the future of fitness.

Set to deliver a keynote speech on the global trends shaping the boutique fitness sector at ukactive’s Sweat, on the 8th March — an innovative event bringing together more than 200 forward-thinking brands, startups, influencers and investors to discuss the most exciting trends shaping the booming boutique fitness market — Barry will explore how boutique operators can navigate the evolving landscape to future-proof their businesses.

Read more: Welltodo Joins ukactive’s Sweat 2018 To Accelerate The Boutique Fitness Market

To give you a taste of what to expect, here we sit down with the industry veteran to discuss the power of brand, why innovation and industry collaboration will continue and the emerging trends that will have the biggest impact on the global fitness market……….

How did your career in the boutique industry begin?

I distinctly remember going to Phillip Mills in 1994 after a few years of working for him as an aerobics manager, instructor, and personal trainer, to announce I was off to see the world as a flight attendant with Air New Zealand. He responded by telling me he was thinking of taking this PUMP (BODYPUMP) thing to Australia and asking if I was in? And the rest, as they say, was history.

After 20 incredible years helping scale the Les Mills programs globally, and three kids later, my husband and I decided to move to California where I was fortunate to join luxury-lifestyle brand Equinox to lead the Group Fitness Programming team for three years. This placed me smack-bang in the middle of boutique-fitness. I have been a heavy consumer and fascinated observer of this sector of fitness ever since.

What were the most important things you learnt during your time at Equinox?

The power of the brand. Equinox takes exquisite care of its brand, maintains beautiful standards and remains provocative with those infamous campaigns!

Executional excellence. Equinox is like Fitness Formula One; a winning mentality and passionate people who sweat every detail to execute flawlessly for the members.

Serving a high-performance life through a high-performance culture. Equinox has amazing people – a healthy mix of tenured star-performers, disruptors and a brilliant health advisory board charged with curating a high-performance life for members.

What it takes to be a true luxury-lifestyle brand. To witness the brand step into an even grander expression, such as the recent reveal of E by Equinox at St James’s and Equinox Hotels debuting in Hudson Yards in 2019.

What was the boutique sector like when you first entered it with Equinox in 2014?  

There was bi-coastal hysteria in 2014 around boutique-fitness. ClassPass had launched in 2013, fitness had become the new ‘going out’ for millennials, mid-market clubs were feeling the pressure of members opting to run around town trying specialty classes, SoulCycle had paved the way for boutique fitness by showing how intoxicating a fitness experience could actually be, investors were getting involved, and influencers were driving social awareness.

It was highly dynamic and lots of trends were colliding.

How did Equinox/SoulCycle grow from mid-size brands to global giants in such a short space of time?

Since being founded in 1991 Equinox has systematically become best-in-class for the different price points in fitness; luxury clubs (Equinox, E), boutique fitness (Soul Cycle) and fast fitness (Blink Fitness). The company has enjoyed double-digit, purposeful growth.  

Harvey Spevak (Executive Chairman and Managing Partner) grows brands, plain and simple. He’s able to foresee the trends, negotiate the deals, apply the team and manifest the future. Equinox has a formidable executive, enjoys supportive ownership and demands each business unit perform year on year. In addition to its internal strengths, Equinox (and the brands it owns) has got really good at opening new clubs and this has set the stage to accelerate growth over recent years.

What are your thoughts on the future trends facing the boutique fitness sector?

Health is the new Wealth. Boutique fitness will continue to capture the hearts and heart-rates of more consumers as the fitness and wellness purse continues to fill. Although there are whispers of abubble’ circulating New York, investors continue to demonstrate confidence by backing global expansion of boutiques. Aggregators like ClassPass and MoveGB continue to attract more people to consume fitness.

Data. Tech. Immersive. Wearables will continue to grow in popularity. With the advent of technology; VR, AR, gamification and sensory enhancement (light, sound, air quality, smell) will become more mainstream.

Partnerships. Businesses requiring fitness services such as hotels, workplaces, residential buildings will continue to align with on-brand boutiques.

2018 Trends. Expect HIIT, bodyweight training, strength, yoga and functional fitness (all top 10 worldwide trends) to continue their presence along with boxing boutiques and recovery/stretch labs. Also, boutiques offering exclusively hard-core offerings will be pressured to provide recovery strategies through scheduled events, special events or by partnering.

Celeb Power. Influencers and celebrities will continue to help usher in trends – cue Meghan Markle.

The innovators will keep innovating boutique fitness: Third Space created Another Space (HIIT, Yoga, Cycling) SoulCycle diversified with SoulAnnex, Equinox is incubating with Project by Equinox, Peloton and FlyWheel are projecting the power of the studio into the home and Black Box is bringing immersive home and to a boutique in San Francisco this year.

In the end, the bad ones will fail and the good ones will scale.

How can a budding studio owner or start-up make the most of the opportunities in the boutique fitness sector?

Stand on the shoulders of those who have gone before. Boutique fitness is over a decade old now and is well documented. Take on best practices and get help for any gaps in your business.  

Know who you serve. Boutique fitness is about delivering a specific experience. You won’t appeal to everyone and that’s ok. Create a sharp point of view and apply this powerfully to all your touch points so you can delight your raving fans.

Content is king. Consistency is queen. Your fitness offering must get the result you promise, deliver fresh content at the right cadence for your membership, and have enough emotional hooks to create the yearning to return. Every class and each location must deliver on this promise.

Future-proof. Stay poised for future shifts in business models, technology and trends. One advantage of being small is that you can pivot quickly to stay relevant for your members. This may mean something small like fine-tuning playlists or something bigger like adding products or services to satisfy unmet member wants and needs.

You’re speaking at boutique fitness event Sweat – what will you be taking the audience through?

As a continuation on the Sweat conversation from last year we’ll explore:

  • 2018 trends (macros and fitness) driving the most exciting times our industry has ever known
  • How to position your business at the intersection of these trends
  • Best-practices from global boutique fitness brands that are scaling successfully
  • Top tips to scaling your fitness-boutique business
  • Unique advantages being in the UK and European markets.

To view the full agenda for Sweat, or to buy tickets, visit

For a special 10 percent discount on tickets, use the promo code: Welltodo10

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