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Interview with Barry’s Bootcamp CEO

Barry’s Bootcamp is a workout, a brand and a buzz word for the wave of fitness fanaticism that’s sweeping across from the US to Europe. Courier meets CEO Joey Gonzalez.

3 Oct 2016

Barry Jay devised an intense workout inside a gym that attracted a small but fast-growing local following. It led to the formation of Barry’s Bootcamp, with outposts opening across the US and more recently Norway and London, taking the total to 24 locations. It uses Jay’s original mix of treadmills, free weights, resistance bands and medicine balls to form what remains a brutal workout.

Joey Gonzalez was an actor in his mid twenties when he first came across Barry’s and became something of a superfan; first becoming an instructor, then rising through the corporate side. He was recently appointed CEO on the back of private equity firm North Castle taking a majority share in Barry’s in July last year, with reports valuing it at a $100m (£75m). North Castle is a specialist investor in the health and fitness sector which, notably, led the growth of the high-end Equinox gym business from nine to 40 sites and 100,000 members across America.

Gonzalez is now looking to grow the company with new locations, food and healthy shakes, clothing and a digital platform.

Barry’s seems as much a cultural phenomenon as a commercial juggernaut. Is that fair?

The interesting thing about Barry’s is that having been around for 18 years and been a sort of playground for the celebrities, the brand is much bigger than the business, so people are often shocked to hear we only have 24 locations and a good amount of those have only opened in the past 18 months.

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How on earth did you end up in Bergen, Norway?

We knew a couple who ran a gym there and were just obsessed with Barry’s. We’ve always had organic growth and never raised a dollar. That year was a milestone because we really proved the concept was not only scaleable but translated into another city. New York and LA are very different but to go into another culture as with Bergen, we knew we had something big.

Why do you think Barry’s got the momentum it has?

Barry’s was always known for its efficacy. It was a workout and still is a workout and the results are what drives it. It’s definitely not the easiest option out there but it works the best.

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There seem to be a surge of new entrants in boutique fitness. What do you think of that?

Barry’s was started by a man who had an idea and innovated. There are so many boutique fitness companies now that are started by people who got their MBA and see this really amazing market and they ‘really love fitness’. That’s great and I’m not judging it by any means but Barry’s is a real story about a real man who taught in a big box gym and broke the rules. Our business story is a real story about a guy who had an amazing idea. What I see now, and this is true in lots of industries, is people copying [other people’s stories].

It was a big year for the business last year with the sale to North Castle. What has that meant?

This industry’s growing really fast and, even though we’ve enjoyed slow growth, it’s time to kick into high-growth mode, particularly because of how many copycats we’re seeing – being first to market is really meaningful.

We’re hoping to grow to about 50 units in the US over the next five years, which sounds like a lot but is actually not. Compare that to SoulCycle, which plans to open 300 locations in the US over the next few years. We’re really focused on dense, urban areas. I just hired a head of international development because the level of inquiries we’ve had outside the US have been as many as domestically. We’re looking mostly at the joint venture model there; we really believe it’s important for your boots on the ground to have skin in the game.

How hard do you anticipate it will be to manage quality and your identity as you scale?

That’s my number one challenge. I’ve really focused on systematising the instructor training. We’ve expanded our training manual to three times its original size; the programme is longer now. To me that’s where our real trade secrets are buried.

Are there any other developments going on that you think are interesting?

In the future people may build physical spaces and bring in [third-party specialist] offerings digitally. They might build their own studio and an entertainment package and broadcast it. They’ll do the same thing with other operators such as Psycle and Pilates Bootcamp. They haven’t launched yet but I know they are in the works because we’ve been approached by some of them.

What’s hardest for you: getting property, trainers or customers?

Real estate is a major challenge for us, in terms of competing for consumers and competing for trainers we’re very blessed. The biggest difficulty is how inflated the commercial real-estate market has become. It’s just so expensive and prohibitive now so you really have to find a landlord who believes in your business. Internationally, the usage requirements can be tough; I’ve noticed that the older a city, the more ridiculous and antiquated its laws are.

Typically, how long does it take for an investment in a new studio to break even?

I think margins in boutique fitness are pretty healthy so breaking even happens fairly quickly. We look at a successful studio as one that pays back its investment within three years. In a very successful studio, it’s possible in less than a year. 

This story is taken from Courier Oct/Nov 2016.