Should you ban competitors from your studio?

nightclub-bouncer

This was first published over at ICI/PRO

This morning I read how Soul Cycle has been banning fitness instructors (from competing studios) who try to attend their class.

SoulCycle bans fitness instructors from its classes

About 10 days after hitting a SoulCycle class on a recent day off, Barry’s Bootcamp owner Joey Gonzalez got a phone call. It was a lawyer for the mega-popular cycling brand issuing a message: don’t come back.

“He essentially said we have a policy at SoulCycle where instructors at other group fitness studios are not allowed to take class,” Gonzalez says. “He seemed half embarrassed.” We reached out to SoulCycle’s public relations team for comment on the policy but did not hear back.

Gonzalez took to Facebook with the news, and his post went viral. (At time of this writing, it had 158 comments and 14 shares.) Other popular fitness instructors, like Natalie Uhling, Darryl Gaines, and Lindsey Clayton weighed in to say the same thing had happened to them. Flywheel instructors jumped in to invite trainers from other studios to come take their classes (“#team”), and tons of people weighed in to rail against the lack of “soul” the policy stood for.

Then I dug in to this story a bit more. The article references this post from rateyourburn.com addressing the same issue. They begin with listing a few reasons why it maybe OK to limit the access of Instructors from competing fitness clubs. I see it as incomplete… in fact, I feel they are missing the real concerns of Soul Cycle completely.

IS IT OKAY FOR FITNESS STUDIOS TO BAN INSTRUCTORS WHO WORK FOR THE COMPETITION?

Why do studios ban instructors employed by competitors?

  • Trade secrets. We suppose the primary reason studios do this is to prevent competitors from coming in and spying on their ways of business, copying them or stealing their methods.

  • Exclusivity. Perhaps some studios want to create a country club bubble, where only approved members are allowed within their establishment.

  • To ward off studio-bombing. On rare occasions, people do show up just to cause trouble. In our opinion, bad behavior is the only justifiable reason to ban a paying client.

Limiting access to your “Tribe”

Paul Harmeling from Full Psycle Studio really opened my eyes about what makes Soul Cycle so successful – how good they are at cultivating a “team” or “tribe” of passionate people who are united by their participation in class. This sense of community isn’t just between the customers and Soul Cycle or the Instructor. There are a lot of relationships, both personal and professional, being made between the riders.

You’ve probably seen this at your club. It’s no secret that common interests and activities build trust between people. That trust can lead to relationships that extend beyond the club. Over the years my family and I have chosen to do business with people we’ve gotten to know at our club;

  • Claudia is Amy and my financial planner – she’s also been a longtime regular in our classes.
  • Amy first met Craig at the club. He later hired her and we’ve been friends of Craig and his wife Julie for 15 years.
  • Morry (another regular) arranged for daughter Abby’s interview, which resulted in her current job.
  • Richard is an Instructor at our club. He’s also a C level employee at a company where younger daughter Carly would like to have a summer internship…

I can easily understand why Soul Cycle (or your club for that mater) would want to limit access to their Tribe of passionate, fitness minded people who have the financial wherewithal to pay for premium classes.

Wouldn’t these same people be prospective customers for any fitness business – especially a competitor located near by? 

Soul Cycle’s “Tribe” is really their brand, the “special sauce” that makes them unique and profitable. Using attorneys to protect a brand from competitors isn’t really any different from how Mad Dogg Athletic will do the same thing to protect the Spinning® brand from improper use.

I don’t know anymore than what’s been written, but I would venture this guess; Soul Cycle was concerned that Mr. Gonzalez was recruiting customers for his boot camp business. Neither of the articles, nor the Facebook post, explains how Soul Cycle’s attorney would know Gonzalez was an Instructor… unless someone (maybe a class participant?) informed management.

Does that make sense?

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