Joey Gonzalez

Rebranding, RIDE and a transformation inspired by COVID. The CEO of global boutique megabrand Barry’s speaks to Kate Cracknell about 2020’s rollercoaster ride

You recently rebranded to Barry’s, dropping Bootcamp…

Yes. Given the launch of Barry’s RIDE – our new cycling concept – and classes like Release and Lift before that, we realised ‘Bootcamp’ didn’t accurately reflect the different modalities Barry’s now offered.

Barry’s RIDE is the same Barry’s you know and love, just replacing the treadmill with a bike

The new brand – Barry’s – represents, simply and succinctly, everything our clients know and love about the brand.

Barry’s RIDE opened in February with studios in LA and NYC

Tell us more about Barry’s RIDE.

We knew we were missing a segment of the fitness population who preferred not to run. We wanted to cater to them, too, and developed the Barry’s RIDE concept as a lower impact cardio option.

Barry’s RIDE is a 50- to 60-minute class that pairs HIIT-style indoor cycling with traditional Barry’s floor work. It’s the same Barry’s you know and love, just with the treadmill of our Bootcamp classes replaced with a bike. Indoor cycling is great for burning calories and shedding body fat, boosting muscular endurance and increasing lean muscle definition – all benefits of the original Barry’s workout, but through a lower-impact modality.

Barry’s RIDE opened in February with studios in New York City – in the lower level of Barry’s existing Chelsea studio (135 W 20th St) – and in Los Angeles, at 1440 Lincoln Blvd, next to the existing Barry’s Venice studio.

Each new RIDE studio has 25 bikes and corresponding floor set-ups. Instructors lead class-goers through bike work and floor work together, rather than in alternating shifts like the original Barry’s workout.

RIDE classes were bookable with any Barry’s class package in NY or LA, with packages also available.

Can you compare RIDE to anything else on the market?

It isn’t like any other cycling class. For one, there’s the Barry’s difference: we are the original cardio and strength training interval workout and our clients know and love us for this. This style of training has been at the core of our business since we first started and it’s mirrored in Barry’s RIDE: no other cycling studio puts as large an emphasis on balancing cardio with strength training as RIDE does.

We know how important it is to find that balance to increase lean body mass, raise metabolic rate (up to 15 per cent) and ultimately, be as fit and healthy as possible.

Our Instagram Lives were so well-attended, it made us confident we could fill paid at-home classes

Any plans to roll out Barry’s RIDE to more sites?

The two initial RIDE sites were extremely successful. They currently remain closed post-COVID, but we’re excited to re-open them and to explore new opportunities in which we can launch.

Barry’s RIDE pairs HIIT cycling with traditional Barry’s floor work – but high fives are not currently allowed

Let’s talk about COVID. How did your business respond to the challenge?

After we proactively shut our Red Rooms, we knew we had to keep people moving. Within days, we started complimentary twice – sometimes three-times daily – Instagram Lives featuring trainers from around the world who led our community in 20-minute workouts. IG Live is a platform that allows viewers to interact with us in real time, and as a brand that places our community at our core, that was important to us.

Our Instagram Lives were so well-attended, it made us confident we could fill paid at-home classes. Barry’s At-Home was born, which allows clients to book and take part in 45-minute classes online or through the Barry’s app.

These classes are held over Zoom and, while not quite the same as being in the Red Room, we’ve done our best to produce a product that truly mimics the connection and high-touch experience that people get from a traditional Barry’s studio. A Barry’s moderator checks clients in, just like the front desk, and instructors correct form and connect with clients in real time, similar to the in-studio experience.

The response from clients has been overwhelming, with sign-ups way exceeding our expectations. We’ve also seen a number of first timers – many living in cities where we don’t have a Red Room – meaning Barry’s At-Home is their first introduction to the brand.

At-Home classes cost US$20 each. As a comparison, an in-studio RIDE class costs US$30

Are you going to continue offering At-Home classes?

Barry’s At-Home will be a permanent addition to our programming. We had actually been working on a digital product for quite some time: the onset of COVID just expedited it. Now, with the world irrevocably changed, we’re entering a new era of fitness. We plan to build out a permanent, robust digital product that’s fully integrated into our app and website.

Already, our At-Home classes are so popular that we offer roughly 100 every single day, taught by instructors from across the US – people who can motivate clients no matter where they are in the world, even through a computer screen.

There are seven types of Barry’s At-Home programme, all of which include blasts of cardio. There’s our bodyweight-only class, because not everyone has gym kit at home; a Band Together class, which uses our resistance, mini and booty band Fit Kit; a weights-only class with dumbbells; Barry’s RIDE, for anyone who has access to their own bike; RUN, our guided runs for the treadmill or outdoors; a weights + band class; and even a traditional Barry’s class with treadmill and weights.

At-Home classes cost US$20 each, or alternatively a membership of US$225 gives you access to up to 30 classes in 30 days. We also have a great range of branded equipment – from bands to benches, free weights to mats – available for purchase at shop.barrys.com.

As a comparison, an in-studio RIDE class costs US$30.

COVID-19 has given us the opportunity to re-imagine our business model

How is your in-studio business performing now?

People are still yearning for connection and are eager for a sense of normality: we’re seeing a demand for classes in the locations that have re-opened.

However, not every studio has re-opened: the majority of US studios are still closed as per CDC and local government guidelines [information correct at the time of writing, 14 August 2020].

We also realise that some clients may still be most comfortable at home. We want to make sure we’re serving them no matter how they feel.

How are you keeping your community safe?

Our main objective and responsibility is to ensure the health and safety of our employees and our community, and to set Barry’s up for a successful re-opening once everything normalises.

Over the past few weeks, we’ve been working diligently on a relaunch strategy and have committed to a three-pronged approach.

  1. We will be in compliance with all national and local mandates.
  2. We’ve put together an advisory council of healthcare experts who are helping to guide us on when and how to re-open, based on specifics of the Barry’s workout.
  3. We’ve conducted focus groups with clients and staff from each city in which we operate, to better understand how our local community on the ground feels and to ensure clients feel comfortable on return.

In addition to reduced class capacity, socially distanced studio layouts and intensive cleaning with hospital grade disinfectant between each class, there will be no sharing of equipment, and of course no high fives or fist bumps. We’ve even installed foot-operated door openers.

In our Bootcamp classes, the class format has also been changed so there’s just one round on the treadmill and one round on the floor, to limit crossover or transitions.

We’ve upgraded our HVAC systems – including hospital-grade MERV-13 filters and bipolar ionization/UV units – and temporarily closed down our showers, lockers, Fuel Bars and water refill stations.

We’re using a geo check-in feature on the app, meaning clients can check-in once they’re within 100 metres of the studio. They are then temperature-checked and asked to confirm they are symptom-free. Sadly, we are also currently asking clients to leave the studio as soon as class is over.

Post-COVID, Barry’s has minimised transitions in its classes

How do you see Barry’s faring in a post-COVID world?

I believe the ultimate effects on the industry will depend on the type of fitness offered. Workouts like Barry’s are very challenging to replicate at home: they require a lot of space for various – and, in some cases, large and expensive – forms of equipment. However, simpler cardio-based workouts may be at risk post-COVID, if customers have adapted to an online experience that they find comparable in quality and value.

Sadly, there may be a meaningful number of studios that don’t survive, and the overall impact on boutique fitness will be challenging.

Once the pandemic is behind us, people will flock back to in-person, yearning for companionship

However, I do believe that once the pandemic is behind us, people will flock back to the in-person experience. Throughout this crisis, people have been cooped up in their homes, in some cases in complete isolation, for a painfully long period of time. I think most will be yearning for companionship and, once the world feels safe again, will replace their tech/virtual routines with ones that re-introduce relationships and human interaction.

Gonzalez leads by example and still instructs classes

If you look forward five years, where do you see Barry’s?

COVID-19 has been one of the most disruptive experiences we’ve ever experienced, but also one of the most transformative. It has inspired the continued pursuit of creativity and innovation, which has led to us pushing the boundaries of what we can deliver, both in-studio and online. It has given us the opportunity to re-imagine our business model.

In five years, I see Barry’s continuing its global and domestic expansion and continuing to serve our family wherever they are, whether that’s at home or in-person.