As the ball dropped in Times Square on New Year’s Eve, the crowd that gathered was looking much, much leaner than in years past. And purple. With the area closed to the general public, viewers tuning in for the annual New Year’s Eve broadcast had a clear view of the fleet of event sponsor Planet Fitness’ grinning purple-and-yellow blow-up tubes gyrating in the wind — a reminder of how different the start of 2021 looks. A reminder, too, that the typical post-New Year’s fitness boon might be a little more deflated than in years past.
Hydra Studios, a newly opened boutique fitness and wellness studio, knows that the previous in-person fitness landscape has changed. So while they’re opening their downtown flagship as originally envisioned — as a wellness hub for the modern professional to come exercise and recharge — founders Marie Kloor and Dan Nielsen are positioning Hydra Studios for a post-COVID-19 world. They’re betting on New Yorkers still wanting to work out outside of their apartments, but in a safe environment that offers private and semi-private spaces. A soft launch in December that pulled members from the founders’ immediate network underscored that hunch. “It was helpful to hear that people are looking for a private place to escape to outside their apartment, a place that feels safe,” says Kloor, the company’s chief executive officer.
The inspiration for Hydra Studios traces back to Kloor’s time at Goldman Sachs, where she and Nielsen were both working as analysts when they met 10 years ago. Kloor used the bank’s onsite gym and upscale amenities as a “second home,” and thought that there was an opportunity to bring that perk to New York’s wider landscape of office workers. “You shouldn’t have to work at Goldman or Google to access these things,” she says. “And so the goal is to open up kind of a network of these wellness hubs around Manhattan.”
They envisioned Hydra Studios as a space where members could exercise, take a quick nap or meditate, sit in the steam room or sauna, or shower and change after an event. They opened their first Hydra Studios location in summer 2019 within Convene, a coworking and event space on Fifth Avenue. “We saw when you position yourself within the workplace, people are coming to you multiple times a day for their fitness needs, whether that’s showering after a commute or booking a nap or a meditation room, or then coming in later to get some fitness in,” she says. Later that year, they signed an agreement with development company Silverstein Properties to open a stand-alone flagship at its building downtown at 120 Wall Street.
“When we were about to break ground on Wall Street, we were going to open up something that was very similar, that has a lot of communal spaces and with more of a membership model; drop in anytime you want,” Kloor says. While optimistic that business model will rebound, they adjusted their approach to meet customer needs within the realities of a pandemic. Pre-pandemic, they tested bookable suites at their Fifth Avenue location and were surprised by demand. It turned out to be a fortuitous discovery. “The two big things that changed were our pivot to having these private workout and wellness spaces, and then also making everything appointment based. So when you walk in, we’re expecting you,” she says.
Members can book private workout suites to access workout equipment like Peloton bikes (the highest booked activity at Hydra Studios), Mirror and weightlifting equipment. Suites are cleaned between bookings. Unlike many other gyms, which aim to sign up large amounts of members with the hope that only a portion will actually show up, membership is capped at 500 “to make sure that we’re preserving that member experience and that it still feels like a customized and bespoke experience,” Kloor says. Down the line, they hope to start offering semiprivate classes again and find ways to partner with their founder friends within the spa and wellness space.
“Clearly, things have changed in terms of who’s frequenting Wall Street,” says Kloor, adding that even without the daily influx of workers the Financial District is an opportunistic location for their concept. While they hope to be integral when workers return to offices en masse, in the interim they’re positioning themselves as a fitness and wellness solution for the people who live in the Financial District and South Street Seaport, which has been redeveloped in recent years. “There aren’t many fitness or wellness concepts [in the area]; it’s kind of a desert when it comes to that,” she says.
They also identified an opportunity to partner with developers and landlords in the corporate real estate space, to create value for office buildings by offering workers an additional amenity. That positioning could prove particularly fruitful as workers return to the office after months of working from home.
“We really do see the trend going from these highly communal experiences to something a little more private,” she adds. “So we’re hoping to sit squarely in the middle of that.”
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