“It’s like going to a Friday night rave,” Malena Barreda, a 35-year-old fashion designer and boutique owner from Peru, told Rest of World. “You know how you could go out and sweat everything away and run into everyone you know and meet new people? It’s exactly like that, but no alcohol.” Barreda is a Síclo convert, an exclusive indoor cycling studio with over 25 locations in upscale and exclusive areas across Mexico, Spain, and Peru.
If half the fun was sweating it out with friends, that was ruined by the Covid-19 pandemic. Simultaneously, though, the pandemic kickstarted a radical fitness revolution. Locked in and struck with cabin fever, people of all ages and income levels turned to online exercise apps and platforms. Fitness influencers saw their views and subscribers skyrocket. Fitness app downloads increased by 46% in the first half of 2020.
In Peru, a poll by Offerwise revealed that 9 million Peruvians began exercising during the pandemic, an increase of over 31% compared to pre-pandemic numbers. According to Linio, one of the leading online marketplaces in Latin America, there was a 91.5% increase in searches for sports items on its platform in 2021 in Peru.
It is 2022, so Peruvians are free to go outside, but now that fitness companies have had a taste of the cash that remote workouts can generate, they are hoping to keep customers both at home and in the gym simultaneously. This hybrid model is particularly enticing to elite workout studios like Síclo that pride themselves on selling curated and personalized experiences. Speaking to customers and executives of two exclusive Latin American fitness studios with operations in Lima, Rest of World found that by keeping their in-studio sessions small and personal while streaming out to hundreds more customers exercising in the comfort of their own homes, companies may just be able to have their rice cake and eat it too.
While there have never been so many workout videos available for free on YouTube, the ethos of exclusive studios is what keeps consumers willing to pay for a more tailored experience. “This is not about fitness,” said Ale Llosa, founder of the Lima-based KO Urban Detox Center. “It’s about embracing a way of life, one that saved me, and that I knew I had to share with the rest of the world.”
With studios in Lima, Santiago, Bogotá, and Madrid, KO defines itself as a tool for personal growth that combines boot camp training, martial arts, boxing, yoga, and Eastern philosophy. Llosa said that the on-demand online studio they launched during the first months of the pandemic has now become a core part of the business, as it allows them to reach subscribers for longer than the one-hour training session they would usually have in person.
When the pandemic hit, Llosa and her team scrambled to launch an online platform in under a month, with instructors recording at home using their smartphones. “We reached 47,000 subscribers in over 45 countries just during that initial launch,” she told Rest of World, adding that the online studio has allowed her to share more of the KO philosophy than she would have during in-person classes. Since then, KO has professionalized its streaming offer, building a studio to record new classes and offering plans in U.S. dollars that range from $99 every three months to food coaching and meditation classes for $9 a month. At a monthly rate of 500 Peruvian soles (around $130) for in-person classes, it’s still a steal — for the small elite that can afford any of these services in the first place.
It’s not just on-demand fitness videos that exploded during the pandemic: companies like Peloton that merged hardware and software to combine workout gadgets and screen time, in a model known as connected fitness, also cashed in on the pandemic boom.
31% The increase in Peruvians that started exercising in 2020.Source: Offerwise
Mexico City-based Síclo is hoping to dominate the connected fitness niche across Latin America. Alejandro Ramos, Síclo’s co-founder and CEO, called it a “highly-curated indoor cycling boutique experience.” He told Rest of World the startup had been growing steadily through word of mouth since its founding in 2015. But to grow at the rates expected of a VC-funded startup, “we knew we needed to go digital,” Ramos said. “Studios can only cater to thousands or hundreds of thousands at most, and we are looking to reach millions.”
Síclo opened its first Peruvian studio in the upscale Lima neighborhood of Miraflores in January 2020, just two months before the country went into total lockdown at 24-hour’s notice. Unable to reopen for 9 months, it eventually leased the 62 bikes that it had recently outfitted the studio with to subscribers, so they could use them at home. With a frame made in Taiwan, a screen built in Shenzhen, and a connecting “arm” made in Mexico, the stationary bikes (known as biSís) are arguably Síclo’s glitziest selling point.
The at-home models claim to provide users with the in-studio experience, connecting them with well-known (and sometimes celebrity) trainers and other users. Similar to the in-studio bikes, the biSí features a large touchscreen that allows users to stream classes and interact with trainers through emojis and reactions.
KO’s Llosa is skeptical about the livestream model that Síclo relies on. “We are planning to launch a new service in which we help subscribers outfit their KO home corner, but we don’t think there’s much room for growth in livestreaming. … On-demand is where it’s at.”
“We believe that the future of fitness is hybrid,” said Ramos. “It’s like with movies. People don’t go to the cinema every day, but they also don’t want to be sitting on their couch all day watching Netflix.”
The hybrid model certainly opens up the tiny market of elite (and expensive) workout studios to a relatively broader audience. While the top 1% of Peruvian families make an average combined income of 12,500 Peruvian soles per month (around $3,200), Síclo’s $2,000 dollar price point (plus a $20 dollar subscription fee) might be too high for the average consumer. Yet, Síclo representatives stated that their biSís are currently sold out in Peru, adding that they’ve sold 200 home bikes in the country so far.
Barreda, the fashion designer and fan of the original in-person Síclo “raves,” is not as bullish about the added value of all these expensive gadgets, though she was sold on the remote sessions. When asked whether she might consider getting a biSí, she said, “to be honest, you could just stream the classes on your TV and just use a regular stationary bike.”