Customers of the popular and profitable SoulCycle fitness centers pay up to $40 per class to bike to music, and many of them gush that the exercise community has changed their lives. That is exactly what SoulCycle founders Julie Rice and Elizabeth Cutler intended.
Riders, who often pay $148 for a SoulCycle sweatshirt and $66 for a SoulCycle T-shirt, identify strongly with the brand because they report feeling transformed since the first time they “clipped in,” or had their feet locked into the pedals. They say SoulCycle has ignited their self-confidence and overhauled their bodies.
Riders responded to a recent Instagram post asking what SoulCycle means to them, enthusing that the exercise class signified everything from “strength” to “therapy,” “escape” to “community.” Devotees, it seems clear, feel like “warriors” who are part of a “tribe.”
Cutler and Rice struck gold when they opened the first SoulCycle location in New York City in 2005. They wanted to create a workout that they couldn’t find, one that they wouldn’t dread going to. 11 years later, the fitness franchise has 66 locations across the country and annual revenues topping nine figures, and SoulCycle has filed the paperwork to go public.
SoulCycle had revenues of $112 million, up from $36.2 million in 2012. Profit in 2014 was $26.5 million, up from $7.8 million two years ago. (Since the co-founders won’t disclose more current company financials, these figures come from a financial document filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission ahead of the company’s impending IPO.)
Part of what gets SoulCycle customers amped is the chemical biological response of the body to endorphins that come with sweating, but it also feels good to be part of a community of like-minded people trying to improve their bodies and lives. “Their cardio health is improving, or seeing their bodies improve, their physical life is improving,” says Rice, “but what really has transcended this experience is the emotional reaction that people have had to it.”
So while some of the appeal of SoulCycle is unique to the experience of sweating in low lighting to loud dance music, there are lessons that can be learned from what Rice and Cutler built that can be applied to other businesses.
1. Keep your customers happy
The first step to building a community is catering to your customers and really getting to know each one. Customer relations means much more than processing payments.
The SoulCycle founders, from the very beginning, were always “really listening to our customers, what they liked, especially what they didn’t like and figuring out a way to turn any kind of negative experience into a positive. You can always find a yes in anything,” says Cutler. The co-founders would make sure that every time a rider came into their studio, that person left happy.
2. Turn your customers into a community
In addition to careful listening, the SoulCycle founders introduced customers to each other, sparking friendships and building a network within the customer base. SoulCycle started in New York City, and its founders knew that a common lament of Big Apple residents is that a city teeming with people can feel lonely.
3. Be super savvy about social media
SoulCycle trainers are rock stars in their own right. Their classes are sought after and customers elevate them to a near guru status. That’s facilitated in large part by the way that Soul Cycle uses social media. It also gives riders a way to get to know the trainers.
In addition to featuring the trainers, SoulCycle features the stories of both famous riders and riders who have had transformative experiences. For example, in Beth Heller’s SOUL story, she talks about how SoulCycle helped her learn to love herself again after her father’s untimely death.
4. As you expand, keep your focus, and don’t lose sight of the details
A sense of community comes pretty easily amid a small, upstart group trying something new together. It’s harder to hold onto that feeling of community when the group starts growing.
Keeping a lot of those little tribes happy can add up to a popular, profitable, and rapidly growing business with more than $100 million in revenue.