OXFORDSHIRE, United Kingdom — When SoulCycle’s chief executive Melanie Whelan participated in one of the cult-like indoor cycling classes for the first time in 2008, she was struck by how immersive the class was — and by the energy and excitement levels of the sweat-drenched riders as they made their way out of the studio. The next day, Whelan was surprised to received a baby onesie by messenger — she was six months pregnant at the time — with a handwritten note thanking her for attending.
“Community and hospitality and connection have been a part of this since 2006 when the company started,” explained Whelan on stage at VOICES, BoF’s annual gathering for big thinkers in partnership with QIC Global Real Estate. She discussed how SoulCycle’s unique and addictive fitness experience, founded by Elizabeth Cutler and Julie Rice 11 years ago, has fuelled the company’s growth from that first studio on the Upper East Side in New York to a network of 84 studios in 15 markets with plans to expand overseas next year. “It's all about our people,” said Whelan. “Our product is experience and our experience is created by people.”
SoulCycle’s people, which include 310 instructors across the country, are also the key guardians of the company’s special culture. “The fitness industry has typically been very fragmented in how they approach talent,” said Whelan. “[Instructors] were more worried about their schedules and where their next pay cheque was coming from versus building a community. So what we’ve done is created a space for instructors to really focus on building community.” That means full-time schedules, health benefits, vacations and 401K plans — “things that didn’t really exist in the fitness industry 11 years ago,” she said. SoulCycle also offers its employees career trajectories, empowering instructors to become, for example, training officers and scouts, about 20 of which travel the country auditioning new instructors.
“That ethos and that drive has kept us going for the last 11 years — making sure that our hospitality is on point, that our experience is on point,” said Whelan. “We are only as good as our last ride.”