Flywheel has new spin: a non-snobby, tech-savvy and empowering ride to take on SoulCycle

March 28, 2016

Boutique fitness brands aren’t built on workouts alone. What these companies really work up a sweat over is image, because regardless of whether a studio hosts cycling, barre, or kickboxing classes — the look and feel of these facilities draw the faithful to class the first time, and ideally again and again.

With that in mind, Flywheel Sports, the expanding New York-based boutique fitness brand that just turned six, decided it was time for a makeover. Earlier this month, after working with global brand strategy firm Siegel+Gale, it launched a new look including updated logo, a fresh marketing voice, and a relaunched website and mobile app.

“We thought it was time to update our brand identity to underline our equities and stress that we’re authentic, empowering for our riders, and we really offer a personalized unique experience,” said Flywheel chief marketing officer Tamara Odinec. “We have a new vocabulary that is ultimately focused on that notion of empowerment.”

The transition in the studios is ongoing, but already, digital engagement is up 100 percent, and new members are similarly on the rise, she says.

Kevin Grady, global head of design and communication for Siegel+Gale, said he and his team approached the redesign carefully, keeping some signature elements — like the vibrant blue in the logo, but changing it a bit. The old look had the word “fly” inside a solid blue wheel, with Flywheel written underneath. The new look has “fly” in an easier-to-read font with the Y evoking spokes within the outline of a blue circle.

Instead of showing someone riding a bike, the model in athletic wear on the homepage beside the word “fly” appears suspended in air as if she could be anywhere, which is just the point.

“The biggest shift in terms of identity was a desire to have a very strong lifestyle component in terms of the photography,” Grady said. “We have people floating in air, and flying. It’s in keeping with the athleisure trend [that extends activewear into everyday wear], which does not have any indication of going away.”

Nor does boutique fitness. Flywheel now operates 36 studios featuring cycling and barre classes, and plans to have a total of 40 by year’s end, with new studios planned in Manhattan, Brooklyn, a second studio in Washington, D.C. and a third in the San Francisco Bay area. It doesn’t share revenues but Odinec says the company saw 50 percent growth last year.

The big rival in the space is no secret: SoulCycle. Flywheel was started by one of SoulCycle's original cofounders, a spin instructor Ruth Zukerman, who exited the business. Now, with what are reportedly very separate legions of fans, SoulCycle and Flywheel seem to be the Bloods and the Crips of boutique fitness.

Class prices vary by market, but in New York, both companies charge $30-$34 per class, depending on what package you choose. Both feature music and teachers with various tastes, their favorite artists displayed in their bios. Now in its 10th year, SoulCycle is known for its candlelit studios, self-help vibe and celebrity following. With nearly 60 studios nationwide, it has filed for an IPO.

Philosophically, and vibe-wise in studio, there are some differences and with its rebranding Flywheel is playing up its unique selling points.

“We really focus on who we are and the differentiated offering, a unique, performance-based workout with technology,” Odinec said. “Our classes are intense, effective workouts in a super welcoming energetic environment. We’re focused on our riders and enhancing and improving their lives."

Flywheel eschews the touchy-feely side of improvement, though, in favor of focusing on performance. The bikes now include computer screens or “tech packs” that track speed (RPM), resistance, and total energy exerted in real time. At the end of class, riders receive a “power score.” Riders can opt to compete on the rider board to see how their ride stacks up to others. Odinec points out that they were also first studio to challenge riders to complete a certain number of rides per month. (SoulCycle started doing its 20-ride in 30 days challenge about six months ago, and other boutiques have similar programs.)

Another differentiator is its class length. On top of its 45-minute signature ride, Flywheel now offers a 60-minute core class focused on endurance and a shorter 30-minute class called Power 30. A subset of its studios, also offer barre classes. A new tech feature is an Amazon-like class recommender, based on past visits, that can connect riders with teachers or classes they might like.

The company, which now greets riders by name and has their shoes ready for them, wants to emphasize being inclusive to all ages, genders and fitness levels. While its core rider is a female in her mid to late 30s, it has devotees who are younger and older, some even in their 70s, and wants to boost the number of men it its classes. Unlike SoulCycle, it welcomes users of Classpass (who can attend a maximum of three times monthly), and aims to entice these less-frequent riders to climb on more permanently.

This is in keeping with what Grady says he sees happening in the boutique fitness space.

“Twenty years ago, there wasn’t anywhere near this preoccupation with Pilates and yoga, and that’s a cultural change,” he said, adding that it has been primarily driven by women.

At the same time, working out has become more social, and also more about “me time,” a factor that is reflected in the marketing.

“In the past, brands like Nike did marketing that more individually based, like someone going out running,” he said. “It seems like now there’s more of a concentration on being community-based.”

One thing with the rebrand, he says, is it makes it easier to change as you go and stay relevant and competitive.

“We thought with any identity, it would have the ability to flex over time, to keep it interesting and to keep it fresh,” he says. “You need to be able to flex and be agile enough to grow with the audience.”