March 19, 2013

Should Fitness Studios Ban Their Competition?

A friend is hoping to launch a new fitness studio in NYC later this fall. I’m not going to say too much about the concept, since that’s really his news, but it’s completely different than anything I’ve seen in NYC so far. I’m really excited for it to open, and will definitely keep you posted on details! Since my schedule is crazy busy with travel and he’s pretty busy as well, for our next catch up, we decided to do a morning workout and then grab breakfast afterward. Gotta love having friends who love working out as much as I do and consider that a valid get together!

But this week, I heard back something really upsetting. My friend isn’t able to make our morning workout class anymore. Not because his schedule changed, and not because the class was full, but because the studio owner heard about his upcoming venture and therefore is banning him from classes.


I was floored by this, and more than a little pissed off. The studio in question is one of my favorite studios, and the idea that they would ban one of my friends from classes simply because he’s also launching a studio seems ridiculous. For starters, his new studio is a completely different sports discipline than the one we were going to try, and it’s going to be targeting exactly the opposite clientele.

While complaining about this to my friend Emily, she told me that this very topic had come up in a RateYourBurn blog post, and that I should check it out. I was honestly very curious – was there some good reason for this practice? What other studios ban competitor instructors?

The RYB post supported my viewpoints exactly (go read it), and didn’t shed any light on (legitimate) reasons for a ban like this. I thought it showed poor sportsmanship that my friend wasn’t allowed to take a class, and it made me really question my favorite studio that they would do such a thing.

What other industries do this?? In the restaurant industry, “competitor” chefs are welcome at other restaurants, and in fact, are usually given special meals by the chef. In the airline industry, employees of other airlines are often given special treatment (upgrades, snacks, drinks, etc) when they fly on a competitor. Both of those industries are pretty darn cutthroat, and yet, they manage to maintain a congenial spirit even as they try to knock each other out of business. I think the fitness industry ought to be even friendlier and supportive than either of those industries… and yet here we are.

The reason my favorite studio is my favorite studio is not because of the specific routine or how it’s put together. (If it were, I’d buy a fitness DVD and do it at home for a considerably cheaper price.) Rather, I love this workout because of the atmosphere in the studio. How every single instructor learns your name in your very first class, and each one makes you feel welcome every single time. How every single instructor provides personal attention and incredibly valuable corrections, knowing when to push you and when you’re already doing your best. How, despite the prevalence of trendy Lululemon outfits that don’t at all look like what I typically wear to a gym class, I still feel like part of the group because everyone is just so gosh darn nice. But you know what’s not nice? Banning others from your studio.

Your thoughts?

P.S. While I am sure some of you can guess which studio I am referring to, I would appreciate if you don’t mention it by name in any comments. My point is not to single out any one studio or cause bad press, but to discuss the broader problem of studios banning other instructors.


16 thoughts on “Should Fitness Studios Ban Their Competition?”

    1. I’m not positive on the legality, but my guess (based on labor and employment law classes in college, which is kind of different) is that as long as they’re not discriminating against a protected class (race, gender, religion, etc), they can do what they want.

    2. I could care less in regard to the lawfulness of this practice, but I am really curious what economic incentive does a business owner have in turning away willing customers?

      In most cases fiscal discrimination on any grounds will only make it more difficult to operate a viable business. Often times, though, a business operator will choose to make certain operational decisions that do not make pecuniary sense. I wholeheartedly believe (and long term historical evidence can back this up) that practices that are discriminatory in nature will not be sustainable over the long term. And if the practice is sustainable at one point in time, changes will always occur that will make the practice un-sustainable at some later point.

      The trick is to have the patience to let the natural forces work themselves out.

  1. That sounds really ridiculous. In a perfect world, everyone in a particular industry should allow and encourage collaboration to make progress and to build off one another. Sadly, this is not a perfect world.

    1. Completely agree. I get that it’s a business and that they need to look out for their bottom line rather than be do-gooders who focus on public health… but somehow this still really upset me.

    2. Not sure what is really ridiculous; banning a paying customer or thinking it is OK for a business to discriminate.

      But here is my take. In my perfect world every individual has the liberty to choose the path of their life and every other individual has the right to not have their liberties taken away. Perhaps if there really is an unfulfilled need of fitness studios for fitness studio owners someone might initiate their own business to start a studio where other business persons could work out together and share ideas.

      For every person who is turned away from a business there exists a business model for a new type of business, it is just up to some enterprising individual to capitalize on that need. The beauty of life is the diversity of human interactions, not necessarily everyone doing the right thing all the time (if that was the case I may turn into a criminal just break up the monotony of it all).

    3. That’s a really interesting concept, Danny! I don’t think there’s necessarily a market for it, since it’s such a small niche, but I love the idea of combining a workout with collaboration.

  2. Perhaps the studio didn’t know he was going to launch a different kind of studio with different clientele. Either way, the studio is a small business not a billion dollar business like an airline. I also could argue that it is different than a restaurant. Good food depends on the creativity of the chef, which you cannot steal. Running a studio does not.

    Either way, they are within their right to prevent him from coming to the classes. Whatever the reason, that is their business decision. It really doesn’t seem like a big deal anyway.

    1. I would argue that there isn’t a difference between a studio and a restaurant. At a restaurant, if you’re saying that it’s based on creativity, that would mean that a visiting chef could note the creative ingredient combo/plating, and then bring that to their own restaurant. Similarly, I suppose a studio could copy the format of another studio, but it’s the instructors’ skill/attitude that I think make it special – just like in a restaurant.

      Completely agree that they’re well within their rights. I responded to a friend on Twitter who said the same thing: it’s not about whether they CAN do it (it’s a free country), it’s whether they SHOULD do it.

  3. I don’t think it is right that they do that. I am a member of multiple gyms and fitness studios and some of my instructors go with me to other places, sometimes they get bad looks but no one has banned it. I don’t think it should be allowed. The fitness community is about building healthy supportive lifestyles for like minded people; unfortunately the studio in question for you seems to have forgotten that. Yes business and money is important, that is a fact of life but they are going to lose more business than gain by ‘banning’ people.

    1. Laura, that’s my thinking exactly. I don’t want to badmouth the studio, but I do think that if word got out, most of the current clientele wouldn’t be pleased. It just goes completely against all the positive thinking/”we’re in all in together” principles that they preach!

    1. To be fair, my friend had not yet taken a class at this studio – he was going based on my recommendation of how awesome I think it is 🙂

  4. When I went to a certain barre class I had to sign something that said I wasn’t a fitness instructor or something to that effect…as though I might steal their ideas for myself if I was! I totally agree Laura – I can’t think of a valid reason for this practice. My only thought is that it’s happened before and that other instructor was more successful with their concept. I wonder if it’s something to do with patenting or something? No idea. But it definitely does NOT seem fair to ban a potential competitor from a class, whether they target the same clientele of that studio or not!

  5. Question: if the friend hadn’t attended yet, how did the studio know who he was? Seems like it shouldn’t be too hard to show up for a class, and take it (under the radar). Unless he’s like, Lance Armstrong or something 😉

    1. I’m not totally sure of how it happened – I’m assuming that someone from the studio already knew of him and noticed his name when looking at new signups, since it was a few weeks in advance of the class. That’s part of my frustration – if he had REALLY wanted to copy, he could have used a fake name or just gone to the studio and signed up 10 minutes before (when it’s unlikely that a receptionist would have noticed).

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