ClassPass service hits 1-year mark with mixed reviews from studios

ClassPass, which lets user try several workout classes, gets mixed reviews from fitness studios

ClassPass, the startup that allows members to drop in on various workout studios for a flat monthly fee, hits its first anniversary in Los Angeles this month, and in that time it has managed to stamp a big footprint on the city's fitness scene.

About 400 studios have signed up with the service, resulting in about 350,000 class reservations. For some studios, it's been a boon; for others, not so much.

"They came to us when they were launching in the area, and what they proposed made sense to us at the time," said Sherri Rosen, vice president of YAS Fitness Centers, a chain of yoga-and-Spinning studios where single classes cost $22. While ClassPass has brought new students in, she said, some YAS regulars have also swapped out full-price purchases for cheaper ClassPass memberships.

"We have people coming and people going," she said.

It's easy to see the appeal of ClassPass for fitness enthusiasts craving variety. Members pay $99 a month for access to participating studios, which can add up to huge savings compared with paying a la carte. For example, the small studio FitMix, near the corner of Melrose and La Brea avenues, typically charges $35 for a single class combining Pilates and treadmill work.

FitMix co-owner Brian Tuthill wouldn't disclose exactly how much less he nets from ClassPass students versus full-paying ones. But "it doesn't make or break us" to be signed up with the service, he said.

They key to making it work, said Tuthill, is ClassPass' flexibility in how studios administer the program. Owners like Tuthill choose which classes to open to ClassPass holders. Usually they are the odd-hours, less popular sessions, and at FitMix, the 60 weekly classes are capped at 10 students, so ClassPass numbers are small.

"It fills our cracks. It's gravy," said Tuthill. "Sometimes ClassPass people say, 'We can't get into your classes!' But that's a good thing."

In addition to letting studio owners pick which classes to open to ClassPass holders, ClassPass itself also limits visits to any one studio to three times a month.

Because of these and other innovations, ClassPass founder Payal Kadakia says, the service helps studios to grow. "Eighty percent of our users were never boutique fitness users before," said Kadakia. "We send them really big checks."

Last year, ClassPass paid out $30 million to its studios worldwide, she said, and this year she expects to pay more than $100 million.

As for how much individual studios take in from participating, Kadakia said it's "a pre-negotiated rate that varies from studio to studio" but wouldn't specify further.

Audra Skaates, owner of the Main Barre in downtown L.A., a studio offering ballet-inspired workouts, says she earns about half the regular rate of $20 per session from ClassPass clients. "What I've noticed is it's a Catch-22," she said. It's brought new students in while "a little bit of business has gone away."

Yet Skaates agrees with Tuthill that the ability to limit ClassPass use generally balances out any negative effect on the bottom line.

Some studio owners are wholeheartedly positive.

Nigel Sampson co-owns the Pilates studio Whole Body Method, which has locations in Echo Park and mid-city and charges $33 for a single class. ClassPass, he said, has introduced the studio to a new crowd. "We've definitely seen a lot of people discover our studio. The word of mouth outweighs one person buying a class pack."

Sampson doesn't worry about ClassPass luring away longtime students because "it's sort of a different clientele, a younger crowd." Plus, he added, there's no escaping the fact that technology is transforming the fitness industry, from low-cost apps and websites that bring workouts to your living room to new methods of marketing. "You've got to join it," he said, "but on your terms."

health@latimes.com

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