Innovation at Flywheel

We recently talked with author and business leader Sarah Robb O’Hagan, who has a strong record of reinventing brands in the fitness sector.

Sarah was once an athlete herself, but realized she could better utilize her competitive nature and passion for fitness in the business world. She is the author of recent book Extreme YOU: Step Up. Stand Out. Kick Ass. Repeat, which provides people of all ages with the tools to discover their strengths, take big risks, and deal with failure.

From 2008-2012, Sarah served as global president of Gatorade, where she led the company from shrinking market share through a major repositioning and business turnaround. In our interview, Sarah described how she learned to “stop chasing the competition” and refocus on the brand’s core consumer: athletes. This consumer-centered innovation inspired a new wave of Gatorade product development to address the many beverages and supplements athletes need for energy, hydration, recovery, and protein.

Sarah is now the CEO of indoor cycling company Flywheel Sports, which boasts forty studios across the United States.

Flywheel is part of a larger shift in the fitness industry, away from “big gyms” to boutique studios that offer specialty classes such as cycling, barre, boxing, and pilates. Over the last five years, big gyms have been flat or in decline and boutique fitness has grown 400% percent. Sarah argues boutique fitness is often more customer-centered, “instead of trying to cater to the masses like a big gym, there are different offerings that appeal to different kinds of motivation.”

Sarah also believes boutique studios like Flywheel have a unique ability to build a devoted customer base. Sarah notes the Flywheel customer is not the casual spinner, rather, “Flywheel is for athletes. It’s fitness for extremists. Flywheel is not trying to be all things to all people.” She defines the Flywheel following as “the community of the most intense, competitive cyclists on the planet.”

Flywheel’s classes are structured to harness this competitive zeal. Each bike allows riders to track their performance against pervious rides and compare with other members of the class.

Sarah argues that technological innovation was key in creating Flywheel’s niche in the cycling market: “Flywheel was the first company to take something that existed (indoor spinning) and bring technology to it. Every bike is wired with technology, so the inductor is saying push to this output. And at the end, you get a screen with all of your results.”

Technology will also be critical for Flywheel’s future innovations, which will provide more “fitness occasions” in the form of streaming content. However, Sarah maintains the community and competition of traditional Flywheel classes will not be lost: “a lot of the innovation that we’re bringing, streaming content, our at home offering, will be aligned around this idea of you being able to compete with others in our community, compare your performance with others in our community.”

To learn more about boutique fitness and Sarah Robb O’Hagan, download the Innovation Navigation podcast.