It was 7am on a Tuesday morning – a day after an Easter weekend spent not really looking after my body. But here I was, dressed for the part, ready to experience Boom Cycle spinning.
While an increasingly popular exercise option in 2017, spinning was relatively unknown when Hilary and Robert Rowland set up Boom Cycle in 2011. However, as an American, Hilary had witnessed first hand the growth of spinning on the other side of the Atlantic.
Back then the fitness world was dominated by gyms offering fixed-price membership fees, often leading to year-long contracts impossible to extradite yourself from.
Wanting to produce a new approach to this world, which Robert described to us as “guys with six packs on the front of Men’s Health magazine”, the Rowlands’ idea centred on putting fun back into exercise.
As I found out when stepping into the company’s Holborn branch, Boom Cycle is exactly the kind of high-tempo work out that democratises fitness – putting everyone on a level playing field and encouraging not competition, but group empowerment. Strapped into my stationary bike, and with instructor Duncan displaying more enthusiasm that I could ever have at 7pm, let alone 7am, my Boom Cycle introduction was a heady concoction of big beats and a full-body bike-based workout.
The Boom Cycle story
From a first site in Shoreditch in 2011, a second in Holborn arrived in 2013. It was at this stage Hilary and Robert decided to apply the brakes to test their offering and make sure it was built in the right way.
“Being young and naive we thought, we’re doing great, let’s open a second site. Then, having grown our footprint by 100 per cent it was quite a shock,” he remembered.
“We weren’t working on one site in one place anymore. So we did then consciously sit back and think, if are going to make this a sustainable success we need to understand everything we can. You can’t spend lots of money rolling out until you’ve perfected your business model. We also weren’t massively experienced and were operating a new business in a new market – so there were lots of nuances to understand.”
By the end of 2014 the duo felt they had a clear picture of how the business needed to work operationally. After that, 2015 was a year of putting that into practice, during which they grew turnover by 100 per cent in a single year. This period also gave them the confidence to get out and start locating new sites for fresh locations – well aware of the timeline it takes to secure those and bank fundraising.
That new location and fundraising mission led Hilary and Robert to sites in Hammersmith and Battersea – backed up by a £2.1m investment from Prism Finance and Pembroke VCT. They have lofty ambitions of ten additional studios over the next five years, putting them ahead of rivals such as Psycle London and 1Rebel.
So how has Boom Cycle got to a position where it has secured institutional growth capital and is on the cusp of having four sites? “PR has been a big driver for us, we’ve done very little in the way of marketing outside of PR,” Robert told me. “We’ve played to our strengths as there wasn’t the money for advertising – we didn’t even have a marketing person until two months ago.” The business made a point of utilising Hilary’s story of being an American model who came over to London and oped a boutique fitness studio.
“We were very lucky in that we were a new industry, and it also coincided with a shift towards our offering being what consumers wanted to do.”
Another growth enabler has been linking up with corporates to take advantage of the wellness push going on within big organisations. Pop-ups, team building exercises and promotions have been part of this initiative, and worked well – rather than the traditional AdWords approach.
In my 45 minute Boom Cycle introduction I began to get an understanding of its modus operandi. It does manage to come across as a fun and original way of working out, one which creates a cult-like following and gets participants telling friends and family all about it.
Word of mouth is a key aid to growth in a company’s first few years of operation, and Boom Cycle seems to have capitalised on it alongside the larger trend of personal fitness.
That’s not to say the company’s progressions hasn’t been without pain points – with the fundraising process being a good case in point. “You can never start funding early enough, and be prepared to kiss a lot of frogs,” Robert warned. “We did our first raise in 2013, and had quite an easy ride with it giving us a skewed view. It has been a long road this time round, with a few missed steps along the way and failed promises.
“But that’s just how it is, and others experience the same thing. It’s a tight and long-lasting relationship [with an investor], and you don’t want to get it wrong. It sounds like a dating game, but is even more committed from the start.”
Looking forward, Robert is of the belief that the spinning market will undergo a bit of consolidation – with acquisitions a possibility. Some existing offerings, he thinks, will struggle to expand alongside as and a few others. Then there is a desire to move beyond Boom Cycle’s existing London confines.
Making a success of it in the health and fitness game ultimately comes down to a few key things, he concluded. Entrepreneurs in this space must have realistic aspirations, in line with a natural humanistic desire for balance. “If consumers get confused then they’ll go back to what they know,” he explained. “If you don’t want to be a flash in the pan have a clear vision and make it accessible, easy to understand and consume.
“Don’t put any barriers to your consumers moving over and make it a sustainable habit. Everything we do is about influencing people’s habits, and if it is overly complicated it is hard to sustain as part of a busy lifestyle.”
As Robert eloquently put it: “Eating some far-flung grain from a mountain in the Himalayas, when you can only get it from two places in London, is not sustainable.”
As I emerged from my Boom Cycle baptism into the throng of morning commuters in Holborn I began to understand what Robert was on about. Exercise, as well as being empowering and uplifting, has to be at your fingertips and not feel a chore. As the business begins a roll out, and hits new corners of the capital, it is standing by the desire to do just this.
Maybe soon there will be many more like me, fresh from an early morning Boom Cycle spinning session and ready to tackle a new day head on.