It’s All About the Spin

By Jesse Epstein and Kathy Butler

The lights go down in a SoulCycle studio and an attractive instructor most of us hope to one day resemble launches into a motivational call to push ourselves, imploring us to dig deeper and appealing to the core of who we are as humans.

Pictured: an instructor from a Peloton class being shown in the Peloton interface.

Meanwhile, across town, fellow peddlers clip into their bikes at Flywheel. We’re sitting in a nearly identical studio, but we’re focusing on an individual conquest. We watch the Torqboard (Flywheel’s version of a scoreboard) light up as our chosen pseudonyms virtually pass each other with every increase in resistance, cycling past our “competitors” mere bikes away. At the end of this class, a numeric score highlights how we did compared to everyone else in the class – and then we exchange high-fives on the way out, the competition over. Interspersed between the two studios sit high-tech bikes perched in living rooms as Peloton riders place kids in front of the TV and virtually join a class happening in a studio in Manhattan. In the seclusion of our own homes, we’re in the middle of the peloton climbing a mountain in the Tour de France – dinner will be ready when we reach the top. This is today’s spin class, transforming a mundane 45 minutes on a stationary bike into an addictive athletic experience.

Like so many people looking to find ways to get exercise and fend off the consequences of diet and too much time on the road, many of us at HawkPartners have become devotees of spin classes. At a basic level, spin classes offer a vigorous workout that allows riders to maximize burn in a minimal amount of time.  While spin classes have existed for decades, a trio of studios are changing the spinning landscape by adding elements of fun, connection, competition and excitement to a functional workout.

On the surface, SoulCycle, Flywheel and Peloton all deliver essentially the same experience – frantic pedaling and lots of sweating. Yet despite offering the same core concept, they each produce very different emotional pay-offs for customers. Looking more deeply, they are an excellent example of successful and distinctive brand positionings. As they all seek to continue strong growth, they also offer signals of the potential perils of market saturation.

SoulCycle taps into a desire to be part of a community, with an emphasis on the team, achieving your goals and changing your life. Flywheel taps into its riders’ competitive spirits, with individuals together in class pushing to put the best numbers up on the board for all to see. Peloton, aimed at a more self-motivated individual who wants to be a part of the team without the burden (time, location, etc.) of going to a class, focuses on evaluating metrics, progress and accomplishment, all while maintaining the convenience of being at home. One only has to watch loyalists of each brand argue about why their experience is superior to see the strength and impact of these emotional pay-offs.

While all three companies remain in growth mode, there are indications that they may blur their distinctive positionings (and business models) in pursuit of continued expansion. While Peloton initiated the model of upfront purchase of a bike and a monthly subscription, Flywheel has recently started selling bikes with pricing and a subscription model that is nearly identical to Peloton. All three companies are also exploring other ways to drive revenues, including sales of clothing and accessories and expanding into other types of exercise.

Maintaining distinctive brand positionings and tight emotional connections with customers will be put to the test as major markets become saturated and competition increases. Will each be able to stay in their chosen emotional “swim lane” or will the drive for growth come at the expense of the nuanced positioning that makes each unique?

If you have examples of brands that have similar core concepts but very different emotional pay-offs, we’d love to hear about them! Reach out to Jesse Epstein and Kathy Butler