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Operations: The 7 Secrets to Boutique (or any) Fitness Success


I am often asked about this hot, new, disruptive segment of the fitness industry known as “The Boutiques.” Small. highly specialized boutique fitness studios have exploded on the scene in the industry, causing quite a bit of energy, change and opportunity.

Just under four years ago I had the opportunity to join the Orangetheory Fitness family as an area developer. At that point, after 22 years working in the fitness industry, I was fascinated to see what this “magic” was all about, immediately diving in with a very open heart and mind. Needless to say, the overall business was quite impressive to this humble gym operator.

My curiosity caused me to want to try and boil down this “secret sauce.” Of course, it all begins with a powerful, explosively growing brand with excellent corporate support and innovation like Orangetheory Fitness.

But, within the Orangetheory Fitness network I knew logically there was the top franchisee and the bottom franchisee. I knew I wanted us to strive to be “the best,” but the challenge was: Could it be quantified and duplicated consistently?

What was interesting is that as I went through this process it became apparent that these seven principles are just as effective in large multi-purpose facilities, or any fitness facility for that matter, but they are rarely if ever pursued to fruition.

  1. Passion is the fuel.

The “fuel” of any business is the passion the employees can bring to the table. The question is, can “passion” and a “servant’s heart” be sought out, hired intentionally, built and sustained in a “systemized” way?

Passion for your model. Seek individuals that are willing to try your business and programs on their own time. Will they sacrifice and work to experience your culture? Passion to “work” or “make money” is no longer enough.

Example: We require any potential candidate that wishes to “audition” for our team to have taken a minimum of 10 Orangetheory Fitness classes on their own time in order to qualify for an interview.

A “servants heart.” It is imperative to find those fitness professionals with a giving nature. Boutiques and really any fitness business need employees who are willing to give their time, knowledge, sympathy, love and empathy. For a fitness business to be successful, employees will need to give time to events, fitness challenges, weight loss challenges and promotional events or maybe just an extra 10 minutes for a member to pour their heart out to a good listener.

Example: Potential candidates are required to have volunteered or donated a minimum of 10 hours of time to a charitable cause within the previous 12 months to qualify for an interview with us. We provide a list of organizations and contacts if a candidate wishes to be considered.

  1. Love each other (teammates), like family.

Now that we have hired passionate people that believe in our product and like-minded individuals with generous hearts, we create an environment where they see themselves as family. An environment where close, personal relationships are built through shared sacrifice and team fun.

Here are some ideas to consider that foster camaraderie:

Monthly leadership (store managers/head coaches) meetings. During this meeting we have fellowship, celebrate milestones, share personal stories, learn/grow together through guest speakers and education.

“Coaches Connections.” The heart and soul of micro-gyms are the personal trainers or coaches. We rotate monthly meetings/gatherings for all coaches in the region. Learning opportunities and social events are rotated.

Employee development system. When we identify future leadership potential in entry-level employees, they are invited to join our “employee development” leadership training program. This creates camaraderie and shared learning with our next wave of future leaders and ensures we have the talent to grow.

We celebrate wins with intensity. Studios that succeed and hit goals are rewarded with parties, trips and opportunities to gather as a team to enjoy their shared success.

Investment: .5%-.7% of revenue.

  1. Love the members, like family.

Now that we have the team which is passionate, loving each other like family, possessing a “servant’s heart,” motivated and happy — we are able to pass that on to the members, through:

  • Member fitness events.
  • Members are invited to the fitness events/races we participate in.
  • Members are invited to our social gatherings.
  • Studio anniversary parties.
  • Member vs. Staff fitness challenges.
  • Studio vs Studio “Orange Games” fitness challenges.
  1. Attend events to build community, spread your culture and become “famous.”

You must become the neighborhood fitness option, loved and admired in the community. The backbone of our marketing/promotional efforts is the attending or “working” of events. When we attend an event, we are the biggest, loudest, hardest working and most visually impressive business there. Our employees, passionate and giving individuals, volunteer to attend. We are kinetic, aggressive and fun. Sitting stationary at a table is not permitted.

  • Races, fundraisers, markets, concerts, sporting events, health fairs, expos
  • Goal is 20% of attendees providing lead information or 1 lead per $ invested to attend the event, whichever is greater.
  • Attract attention with giveaways, fitness challenges, games and music
  • Minimum requirement is 2-4 external local events per studio per month

Investment- approx. 10%-20% of advertising budget

  1. Clean obsessively as a team.
  • Micro-gyms must be known for being the cleanest fitness facilities in the market.
  • All staff cleans. Including trainers.
  • Outside cleaning crews for deep cleaning three times per week.
  • Sales training where all staff are brought together once per week at a rotating host studio. At the beginning of the meeting all employees “white glove” the studio, looking for any imperfections.
  • Upper management and regional managers “white glove” studios upon any visit.
  • Employees are encouraged to take free classes at all studios and give feedback about cleanliness.
  1. Repair urgently, no matter the cost.

This is very simple — our goal is instant repair, regardless of cost.

Philosophy: the part/labor cost is the same whether done today or next month. However, in the next 30 days, if the repair is not completed we will lose members, thereby exponentially increasing the cost of repairs.

The members of a properly run micro-gym will have high standards and expectations. This should be embraced, as it is a result of making them feel special.

  1. Identify, pursue and track KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) with gentle pressure applied relentlessly.

As we have discussed, micro-gyms are made successful by the emotion of people, fueled by passion. Our employees are “artistic” and “creative.” We must be very careful to not put out that flame by incorrectly and over aggressively managing key performance indicators. That said, we are a business and we must be profitable.

Measure success through:

  • Daily Store Manager “State of The Union” team email reports.
  • Nightly Closing Report.
  • Monthly Studio Audit.
  • Monthly Fitness Audit.
  • Weekly Regional Sales Training.
  • Daily Studio Sales Huddle.
  • Monthly Fitness Trainer Meeting.


The key to being successful in business, in fitness, in competing with the “budget clubs” or “the luxury clubs” or the “micro-gyms” — is people. I’m sorry, I could not hand you the simple, inexpensive trick — it doesn’t exist. I’m sorry I could not give you spreadsheets, analysis and files that would ensure your success. But, what I do know is that no matter how much money they have, how cheap their memberships are, how much advertising they do or how many locations they might have; there are two things your competitors don’t have: you and your people.

Be inspiring, be amazing, dream big, believe it’s possible and you can create a cult-like following!


Don Allen is the CEO of Tampa Fitness Partners and area developer for Orangetheory Fitness Gulf Coast Region. 


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