Throughout the last two decades, exercise trends have come and gone, but there’s one workout that has remained a favorite of fitness junkies everywhere: Barry’s. Since being founded in Los Angeles 23 years ago, the original strength and cardio interval class has continued to build a large and loyal following and has grown to more than 70 studios in the U.S. and 13 other countries. But when the Covid-19 pandemic began in March 2020, Barry’s was forced to close all of its studios overnight, leaving clients and employees without the ability to take class or be together.
With its community stuck at home and missing their workouts, Barry’s recognized the need for a digital product, and within just a few weeks, it launched the Zoom-based Barry’s At-Home. In the months that followed, the virtual classes garnered massive popularity, even as studios across the globe reopened their doors—but Barry’s knew that its digital existence would ultimately need to be proprietary and unique in a way that Zoom simply was not. So, after more than a year of conceptualizing and planning, Barry’s launched its official digital fitness space, Barry’s X, in August.
Now, a month and a half into the platform’s rollout, Barry’s Head of Digital, Jenna Hauca, and Global CEO, Joey Gonzales, are shining a light on how Barry’s X came to be. Read on to learn all about the world of Barry’s digital fitness, what role it will play in the brand going forward, and how the community inspired a new loyalty program.
Gabby Shacknai: When did Barry’s first start thinking about launching a digital workout platform?
Jenna Hauca: A digital platform had been on the horizon for Barry’s for some time. Because of the success of the in-studio product, however, it was not prioritized for near-term release. Of course, the pandemic immediately accelerated these plans.
Shacknai: How much did the pandemic and the need for at-home fitness factor into the inspiration behind Barry’s X?
Hauca: The pandemic created the immediate need for Barry’s to launch a digital product. We had to move quickly and nimbly to launch a product that would facilitate our best-in-class trainers to deliver the workout our clients know and love and create an environment for our community to engage with each other in a meaningful way.
Barry’s At-Home, a Zoom based workout product, was engineered and launched just weeks after our studios shut their doors. While Barry’s At-Home was tremendously successful and allowed us to garner many important learnings, we knew that the future of Barry’s digital would ultimately need to include a proprietary and innovative product that could be fully customized and live up to our premium brand standards. The day after Barry’s At-Home launched, we were back to the drawing board to conceptualize the long-term product vision.
Shacknai: What was the initial vision for Barry’s X? How did you imagine it would stand out from other digital fitness platforms?
Hauca: In an already cluttered digital fitness space, we knew we would need to lean into everything that makes Barry’s, as a brand and as an experience, so special and differentiated in order to stand apart. With that in mind, the guiding vision for Barry’s X was to translate the magic of the Red Room into a digital environment. Central to that vision is the sense of community that Barry’s is known for.
We took a deep look at all of the key touchpoints that make a Barry’s in-studio experience so special—being welcomed by our front desk staff, the pre-class socialization, the welcome into the Red Room, the Red Lights, the instructor curated playlists, post-class selfies—and we found ways to build this into our digital experience. We even have a Red Light filter clients can turn on in our live classes.
The most important insight was our clients’ desire to see and be seen. Barry’s X is the first of its kind in that clients are able to share their video with the instructor, who offers form corrections and shout-outs, as well as with other clients. For the privacy-conscious, we offer the ability to share video only with the instructor or only with your friend connections in our Fit Fam social network (also the first of its kind).
Barry’s X has completely disrupted the space with our approach to “social fitnessing,” engagement, and digital community. The product that we launched with in August is only the beginning of the innovation we have planned to roll out.
Shacknai: Community has always been a huge part of the Barry’s brand. How does that come into play on Barry’s X?
Hauca: Community was the guiding principle during all stages of discovery and development for Barry’s X. In addition to the “See and be Seen” live class experience, where clients can share their video with the trainer and other clients, the new app also contained the initial launch of Barry’s social network, the Fit Fam. Clients are able to send each other friend requests and can view each other’s upcoming class schedules and stats. In the live classes, friends’ video feeds are automatically pinned within view so you always feel like you’re working out with your workout buddies—even if they’re across the country. The Fit Fam will be expanded to include all Red Room clients and classes soon as well to provide one holistic view of your Barry’s community.
Another critical decision that was made for Barry’s X is that all instructors teaching on the platform will also maintain their in-studio teaching schedule. They are active, engaged, and accessible members of the community. For this reason, we wanted to ensure that a client in Nebraska who travels to LA can also take an instructor’s class and meet them in person. From a production standpoint, this necessitated the need for live studios in major markets across the country. We currently have live filming studios in Los Angeles, New York City, and San Francisco with plans to expand to additional markets in the US and globally.
Shacknai: Who did you foresee as the target demo for Barry’s X?
Hauca: After receiving proof of concept with Barry’s At-Home, we knew that our core client base of clients taking classes in-studio would be interested and engaged with the new digital offering, particularly clients who were unable to return to our studios due to external regulations or other factors. It’s been interesting to see that even clients who have been able to return to the studio have continued to use Barry’s X as a supplement to their schedule. We have been very excited to see the emergence of this new type of “hybrid” client.
Additionally, we saw a major opportunity to acquire new clients who may never have tried Barry’s before, both within regions where we currently have studios and in the cities in which we don’t. We have seen immense interest from states and countries, like China, where Barry’s does not yet have a physical presence. Our digital product has become an analytical tool for us to gauge interest in potential regions for future development.
Shacknai: How was Barry’s X designed to appeal to a wide variety of clientele?
Hauca: The modalities offered on Barry’s X and the inclusion of a robust Video On Demand (VOD) library of content were decided on with the types of clients we expected to see use the platform in mind. We offer Strength, Cardio (including running workouts cued for indoor and outdoor runners), Strength and Cardio combined classes, and Release (stretch) classes. We currently offer Video On Demand and will soon launch Audio On Demand content, and there are a number of plans to expand into new modalities.
We used insights about our clients to make decisions about specific class offerings, as well. For example, we know that a lot of our clients are travelers and may have limited time and equipment on the road. For this reason, we offer a large number of On Demand Express (20 minute) workouts that clients can take from their hotel room, or even the airport that are bodyweight only, or utilize just our Barry’s bands that we sell on our website (plus, are easy to travel with).
Shacknai: What has the initial response to the launch of Barry’s X been like?
Hauca: The initial response has been overwhelmingly positive. We’ve been pleased to receive recognition for the risks taken to create a product that truly flips the model for all other digital fitness platforms on its head. With great risk comes great reward.
Shacknai: What have been the biggest challenges since launching the platform? What about the biggest surprises?
Hauca: As a new business unit, there is no question that there has been a feeling of start-up culture on the Barry’s X team. Most members of the team, including many of the trainers, are wearing multiple hats. The launch of Barry’s X also marks a major transition for Barry’s. We are now a full-fledged technology company. We are also a full-fledged content and production company. We’ve gone from a team of one to over 50 in what feels like overnight. That said, if there is any company that can adapt and thrive in this type of environment, it’s Barry’s.
Shacknai: What do you think is the future of digital fitness, and how does Barry’s X fit into it?
Hauca: I believe that providing a strong piece of fitness content or a means to get a workout is really just table stakes at this point. In order to stand out and create a product that will stick, it’s all about engagement and providing a differentiated experience. For us, it comes back to the community piece. You don’t just go to Barry’s for a workout. You go for the pre-class small talk in the lobby, the high five from your instructor, and to take that post-class selfie with your friends.
At the end of the day, we are social creatures and having this human connection is the cherry on top of the strength of our workout and offering, which we believe is the best out there. The fact that Barry’s can provide this experience in an omnichannel way is what will continue to set us apart from our peers.
Barry’s X will provide this sense of engagement and community as either a main touchpoint with the brand for those unable to visit a studio, or as a supplement to in-person classes for those near a Red Room. It has become something of a choose-your-own-adventure based on your schedule, or mood that day.
Shacknai: What inspired Barry’s to launch a loyalty program after so many years of success?
Joey Gonzales: Simply put, our community. We developed the loyalty program to recognize and reward our long-time clients’ commitment to the brand and to drive loyalty with our newer clients as we increase our global footprint. The community is one of Barry’s primary strengths so maintaining a customer centric culture has remained a top priority for me and the team.
Shacknai: How does the Academy compare to similar loyalty programs from competitors?
Gonzales: A significant number of loyalty programs in our space are primarily focused on maximizing the economic benefits for the business, whereas The Academy is focused on providing experiential benefits to our members – making it unique to others in the marketplace. Our program was also developed by incorporating extensive feedback from our clients and takes into account personal milestones, birthdays, etc. Members can achieve four separate loyalty levels; Red, Silver, Black and Platinum by earning stars, with stars based on a blended system that takes into account the following four main categories: 1) Fitness (Barry’s in-studio and Barry’s X classes), 2) Fashion (apparel), 3) Fuel (Fuel Bar purchases), and 4) Friends (social media). The Academy spans different elements of Barry’s offerings and includes early booking perks, late cancellations, extended class spot holds, complimentary retail and Fuel Bar items, monthly guest passes, and more – all of which our community has expressed interest in throughout the years. The Academy is available to Barry’s Fit Fam members in the US, UK, and Canada.
Shacknai: What can Barry’s clients expect from this new program?
Gonzales: Clients can expect to earn experiential rewards that afford them the opportunity to have fun both in and out of the Red Room with lifestyle partners that will be announced next year. Clients can also expect to feel a stronger connection to the FitFam through the intimate nature of the program which allows them to interact with the brand and like minded individuals in an entirely new environment.
Shacknai: What do you anticipate the response from Barry’s clients will be?
Gonzales: We piloted the program in Seattle in August and the response from our community exceeded all initial expectations, so we decided to move forward with a national launch of the program this month. My hope is that our community feels that their loyalty and commitment to Barry’s (especially over the past 18 months) is being recognized and rewarded.