Survival of the fittest: Barry’s goes digital to go the distance

October 4, 2021 | By Sophie Hares

Fitness brand Barry’s is known for its fun, high-energy immersive workouts in its signature Red Rooms, mimicking the experience of a nightclub. So, when COVID-19 struck in 2020, the pandemic looked like a potential knock-out blow.

Almost overnight, the fast-growing business founded in Los Angeles had to shut its 80-plus studios, which stretch from West Hollywood to London and Singapore in March of 2020, initially disappointing clients hooked on its challenging workouts, community spirit and personalized service.

“COVID has been challenging for Barry’s given the dimensions of our Red Rooms and the intensity of the workout,” says Steve Padis, vice president of strategy and business development. The fitness industry has been battered by lockdowns and capacity limits, membership cancellations, the embrace of in-home fitness equipment, and the cost of more safety protocols to provide peace of mind to customers and staff.

As of June, more than one in five gyms in the U.S. have closed permanently due to COVID-19, according to the International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association. Despite that hardship, the pandemic became a catalyst for innovation at many small businesses, forcing gyms, restaurants and retailers to adapt and digitize to serve their customers and find new ones. Some of these rapid-response digital tools, like online delivery and remote services, are becoming long-term parts of small- and medium-sized businesses.

Barry’s way of managing through the pandemic highlights this trend. The company quickly realized that its survival depended on its workout culture and its ability to adopt new technology to keep its community moving and coming back for more.

When COVID first hit, Barry’s shifted its Abs & Ass and Total Body workouts to Instagram and Zoom to keep clients’ pulses pumping at home. They drew more than 20,000 people to the first class, and the virtual Barry’s experience was born.

Those improvised sessions have since transformed into the new Barry’s X platform and app, which combines what it calls “The Best Workout in the World” with sophisticated camera technology, thumping tunes and a fully integrated social network.

“Adversity fuels greatness.”
Joey Gonzalez, Barry's global chief executive

To re-create a strong community feel, Barry’s X offers the “Fit Fam” social networking feature, which lets users find friends online and virtually fist-bump each other before taking part in the same workout class.

Clients can change their privacy settings to choose who can see them working out and have the option to turn on light filters to create Barry’s Red Room workout space while opting for live-streamed or video-on-demand classes.

Besides giving clients on the move a chance to work out when they’re away from home — and reach those stuck at home — the new platform allows the boutique fitness firm to find new clients who don’t live near a physical Barry’s gym, explains Joey Gonzalez, the company's global chief executive.

“We really want to deliver an experience where people can just work out with Barry’s, no matter what they’re in the mood for, on whatever platform they use,” he says.

Floored by the commitment of its clients throughout the pandemic, Barry’s is also launching a new tiered loyalty program that offers its top clients rewards such as guest passes and exclusive workout gear, accessories and equipment. The rewards are tailored to hardcore Barry’s members' preferences, such as early booking perks, late cancellations and extended class hold spots, racking up “stars” through workouts, Fuel Bar purchases and social media activity.

Designed in conjunction with Mastercard’s SessionM, which helps clients develop customer engagement and loyalty platforms, the company hopes the new loyalty program will also attract new members to sign up for in-studio classes and the Barry’s X app.

Despite the overwhelming challenges posed by the pandemic, Barry’s is optimistic it will soon be back on track as customers return to its in-person classes and engagement with its digital app expands.

“I can say now that we’re sort of on the other side of it, I’m grateful for the life experience,” Gonzalez says. “Adversity fuels greatness.”

Sophie Hares, Contributor