Swerve Fitness Livestreams Boutique Cycling Classes to Big-Box Gyms
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When Covid-19 forced the country into lockdown, restaurants shifted to carryout and delivery, office employees worked remotely and routine doctor’s appointments became telehealth visits.
Most fitness studios, though, failed to pivot. Swerve Fitness was one of the few exceptions. Eric Posner, John Henry McNierney and Chelsea Kocis left their jobs in investment banking to open the first Swerve Fitness studio in 2013 and it quickly grew to four locations across NYC and the Hamptons.
Swerve was always different from other cycling studios in that cyclists could form teams and their cumulative exercise data would be displayed on a screen so teams could compete against each other during each workout. Posner said the team element of Swerve built a sense of camaraderie that he and McNierney had been missing since their college lacrosse days.
“When you work out in a team, we find that you work harder because you feel accountable to people around you,” Posner, CEO of Swerve, said. “It harnesses community and camaraderie in a more powerful way, and it’s just more fun.”
Those social rides came to an abrupt halt during the Covid-19 lockdown, forcing Posner and McNierney to improvise or go bankrupt. They rented out their 150 exercise bikes to clients and shifted their workout classes to Zoom.
The Zoom workouts provided a short-term fix, but Posner and McNierney could see that people missed the connection of in-person workouts. They also wanted to expand their audience beyond their boutique NYC studios to include gym-goers of all income levels across the country.
Together, Posner and McNierney launched a new business-to-business model that began to look more like a tech company.
They hired Marion Roaman, a co-founder and chief content officer from Peloton, to lead their content efforts. They sold three of their fitness studios and retained their original studio in the Flatiron District to stream fitness classes to gyms that wanted to offer group cycling classes but didn’t have instructors to guide the workouts.
Swerve has since partnered with five gym brands, including big names like Crunch Fitness, to offer livestream workout classes to eight fitness studios in New York, San Francisco, LA, Chicago and Florida.
By partnering with Swerve, these gyms can put up a large screen in a room full of exercise bikes and instantly offer up to 10 classes per day. The classes are streamed live from Swerve’s NYC studio. Posner said the immersive, colorful video display can make cyclists feel like they are in a movie theater, all while providing the social aspect of a group fitness studio.
Swerve’s technology is able to pull data from the bikes and display a leaderboard showing the team’s cumulative pace and comparing it against real-time data from other gym locations. Because the instructor in NYC is livestreaming to all locations and can see each location’s data, they can call out and encourage other teams. For example, the instructor can encourage the Crunch Fitness team in LA to catch up to their counterparts in NYC.
“When the trainer shouts out your location, it just gives you that added layer of motivation, that ability to feel seen,” Posner said.
From the gym owner’s perspective, a partnership with Swerve offers new programming for its members, which drives new memberships and encourages retention among existing members. Swerve’s monthly licensing fee costs about 12 times less than what gyms would typically pay to put on their own classes, Posner said.
“With Swerve, when you put up that big screen TV and infuse our technology, you’re guaranteed to be getting the best instruction,” he said. “That experience is very scalable. We turn that screen on, we turn it off and we troubleshoot things remotely for them. They don’t have to manage it.”
The model is also disruptive to boutique cycling studios. Before the pandemic, Posner said Swerve charged people $36 per class. Now, more affordable big-box gyms can offer those same classes along with their other programming and amenities.
Posner said gyms that have partnered with Swerve have seen a six-fold increase in users signing up for group fitness classes.
Looking forward, Swerve hopes to build on its existing partnerships with Crunch Fitness and expand into new territories. Swerve also hopes to partner with universities, which would give cyclists the chance to compete against other universities. The company’s goal is to operate 100 studios by the end of the year and 5,000 studios within five years.
“We’re basically on the precipice of exploding from a growth perspective because we now have this data that’s showing … that this can save on costs and drive revenues,” Posner said.
Swerve employs 28 people, eight of which are cycling instructors. Posner anticipates hiring more technologists as the company branches into other group fitness offerings beyond cycling.