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Brief Published: 2 Oct 2017

SoulCycle: Lessons in Cult Branding


Speaking at this year’s edition of the International Retail Design Conference (see our full coverage here), cult US fitness brand SoulCycle discussed strategies for success transferrable to retailers. Acknowledging the shift towards an experientially led economy and the value of ultra-supportive staffing systems, here are its four key guidelines.

  • Ignore Brand Guidelines: Its high-intensity classes are all different, with class leaders encouraged to shun brand guidelines; instructors curate their own music, lighting, dialogue and choreography. The same autonomy, it suggested, could be transferred to store managers.
  • Talent Agency: Understanding the Insta-era power of making staff your strongest brand advocates, it supports its instructors in becoming public figures, including helping them to get book deals. See also Superhero Staff.
  • Lead by Reclaiming ‘Dead Corners’: Its best-performing space (1,000 riders a day at $20 a ticket) is located on a dead corner on New York’s Upper East Side – a risk that massively paid off. The success has since initiated a wellness boom in the surrounding area, spurring juice bars and athleisure stores, which continue to fuel SoulCycle’s profits. See also Urban Revitalisation in IRDC 2017.
  • Fast-Revolving Retail: All of its spaces now include minimalistic retail areas for branded merchandise which, according to Alan Cooke, the brand’s vice-president of design, “is performing tremendously well”. Key to the success, says Cooke, is newness – three “waves” of product are introduced every month.

SoulCycle’s studios are designed by Californian agency Retail Design Collaborative.

For more on experientially biased retailing, see Rise of the Exploratorium, Samsung 837, Sonos Experiential Flagship and Nike’s Immersive Fitness Experience