As the woman at the helm of Psycle, Rhian Stephenson has helped to transform London’s high-energy spinning boutique from a fledgling startup to one of the UK’s leading fitness concepts.
At the wheel of two thriving London locations, with a third on its way, the former national swimmer and clinical nutritionist has had a hand in everything from creating the classes to sourcing the studios. The Psycle brand that Londoners have so lovingly embraced is in part, a testament to her grit and determination.
Attracting over 5,500 riders per week, the boutique studio concept is currently in the midst of a large-scale expansion. On course to open five new sites by the end of 2018, the first, due to launch in Shoreditch at the end of May, will introduce new strength-based classes to its roster.
For Canadian-born Stephenson, expanding Psycle’s footprint across the capital will be a challenging task, but it’s one the businesswoman is well equipped for.
Having transitioned from the brand’s wellness advisor to CEO, a role in which by her own admission, has forced her to learn a great deal, the visionary is confident that Psycle will continue to succeed –– no matter how much it grows.
Here, Stephenson tells Welltodo how she conquered the boutique fitness industry and nailed her role behind scenes.
On getting involved with Psycle…
I started at Psycle when it was still at the concept stage. The board wanted someone in the wellness space to consult with in relation to what the brand should be saying and doing in the realms of wellness and nutrition. I joined with the intention of providing my views on the industry, where it was going and the position I thought Psycle should take, but slowly it became apparent that I was a good candidate to run the business.
I gradually became more and more involved, and at the same time, the board realised that they needed someone that was really in the wellness mindset to run the business, which was great.
On shaping the brand…
Because I started when Psycle was still a concept there wasn’t a mission statement or any company values yet. This allowed me to shape the whole brand expression, from the vision, the branding and our mission to how we wanted to be communicated.
I even shaped the physical programme, so I’ve really contributed to all sides of it.
On the rise of boutique fitness…
The boutique fitness market has changed massively since we first launched, in the sense that there are more boutique offerings than ever, but I view that as a positive thing.
When we first opened it was quite uncommon to ‘pay-as-you-go’, which was a bit daunting for consumers, but now that the boutique offering is the norm people are comfortable being able to pick and choose exactly what they want to do and when they want to do it.
In terms of the consumer mindset, that has also evolved. Today, more people are starting to understand that exercise is part of a healthy lifestyle and not just about working out before summer to get a ‘good body’. Now it’s understood that if you want to be happy and healthy you have to exercise always, which is fantastic.
On the challenges of being a CEO…
Becoming a CEO has been a huge learning curve for me. When I first stepped into the role I had a lot of experience in a very specific industry, which is health and wellness, but what I didn’t have was experience in property, operations or finance, so it was incredibly hard.
I had to be really open to asking for help, and the hardest aspect was having to split my time between learning about the things I had no experience in, whilst trying to do all the stuff I was passionate about.
On the importance of investing in your team…
Company culture is a huge part of our business and something we invest a lot of time and energy into.
When I first took over I decided that rather than going out and trying to sell Psycle in order to get more people through the doors, I would focus on the team and culture instead. I did this because as a brand that’s talking about being happy and excited about life we have to live and breathe it first, in order to be authentic.
It wasn’t an easy decision as a startup, especially when looking at the money going out versus the money coming in, but for me, it was about working on the things that would encourage people to keep coming back 4/5 times a week. So, we worked on creating a fantastic environment with passionate people that you want to be around.
On employing the right instructors…
Our instructors are hugely important, so we invest a lot in training them.
We have an in-house academy that’s over three months long – it’s very intense and covers everything from our brand and culture to personal fitness and the physiological structure of our classes.
Because it’s so intensive it weeds out anyone that isn’t extremely passionate and it allows us to uphold very high standards.
The people that come to our academy come because they love it. They don’t get paid during their training period, it’s all out of their own time and they are so passionate about Psycle that our riders can really feel it. People love coming to Psycle because it’s run by a team that knows their stuff but are also so authentically in love with what the brand does.
On changing perceptions around fitness…
One thing that’s always been really important for us is that we don’t focus on weight. Psycle is not about that. Yes you get fit and yes your body will change, but I think one of the issues with the fitness industry in London is that there’s so much focus on what you look like, which makes it intimidating and creates false motivation.
We’ve made a huge effort to never sell ourselves on your body, which is hard because there are so many brands that sell you a package based on your bikini body or how to lose weight. We try to focus on the fact that training makes you happy, it makes you healthier and it changes your life.
It’s been a challenge, but it’s something we really need to be consistent with. We never want to take advantage of people’s insecurities to sell a package.
On partnering with Selfridges…
Selfridges is such an iconic English brand, and we felt very honoured they chose to work with us. It was quite innovative of them, as it was the first time in the UK that a department store has partnered with a fitness brand in that way.
The whole concept helped to challenge stereotypes that exist here and it was exceptional in getting more people who wouldn’t have felt comfortable working out, to work out.
Plus, the exposure was incredible. We had over 1,000 new people come to Psycle through the initiative, which definitely helped to take a lot of the overflow from the Mortimer St site.
On expanding the Psycle footprint…
It can be easy to look at what other brands are doing and panic, but what’s important is to continually focus on what we do, and do it exceptionally well.
We’ve always been very clear about why we’re doing what we’re doing and this won’t change, even as we open our third site in Shoreditch. With two further sites in the works it’s an incredibly exciting time for us as we continue to lay our foundations in London.