Working Out Is Wall Street’s New Steak Dinner
Most health trends come and go almost as fast as you’ve unpacked your cold-press juicer.
But the business world’s affinity for combining client meetings and workouts is only getting stronger at intensive fitness spots such as Barry’s Bootcamp, SoulCycle, and Rumble, as well as gyms like those of Equinox Holdings Inc. The trend has been building for a while with professionals in media relations and the entertainment industry in such cities as New York and Los Angeles. With bankers slowly embracing the model in recent years, Wall Street is now fully engaged in this approach.
“Instead of going out, I see so many entertain by going to workout classes before and after work,” says Sean Liebowitz, a director and energy/industrials trader at Sanford Bernstein& Co., who specifically mentions Rumble, SoulCycle, and Ripped as popular venues.
Barry’s Bootcamp, where many maximum cardio workouts take place on treadmills that are kicked up to 10 miles per hour, has seen an increase in early bookings to ensure side-by-side workout spots. Vicky Land, vice president of communications and brand strategy at Barry’s, notes that this kind of service comes at a premium.
“We often act as a concierge service to guarantee side-by-side treadmills. We do that that quite frequently for people in finance,” she says. “We have a lot of ‘two spots,’ which are people ‘sweat-entertaining.’”
The cost is $50 per person, almost 30 percent more than an average class. The experience validates the cost, says Land.
“Everything is relationship-based these days. If you have a fun workout with a client, it’s much more impactful than wheeling and dealing over the dinner table,” she says.
Unsurprisingly, Land says that the Tribeca and NoHo locations are the ones at which they see the highest percentage of client workouts. They have no immediate plans to open in the Financial District. “We get a lot of requests to open in Midtown, where there are a lot of hedge funds. Last year we actually got a call from a hedge fund asking if we could hold Barry's classes in their large private gym,” she reports.
The high-intensity biking destination SoulCycle now has a four-person corporate sales team to accommodate demand for events and special business requests. “There are only so many steaks business people want to eat in a week,” says Gabby Etrog Cohen, senior vice president of public relations and brand strategy. “Across the board, people are time-strapped, they don’t have four hours to hit the golf course, or two hours for a boozy meal. Plus, they want to do something good for themselves, plus they get networking out of it.”
Some of SoulCycle Inc.’s biggest finance clients are Bank of America Corp., J.P. Morgan & Co., Goldman Sachs Group Inc., Barclays Plc, Citigroup Inc., Deutsche Bank AG, and ING Group, according to Cohen. The company has 84 studios across the U.S. and Canada; the Financial District location in New York is one of the busiest in early mornings. Cohen notes that San Francisco’s South of Market studio also does heavy corporate business.
At Equinox, group fitness classes like Playground Experience (PGX)—a training circuit that can be broken out into different teams—is a popular venue for members to bring clients. According to Bloomberg, PGX has attracted such finance people as Strauss Zelnick, founder of Zelnick Media Capital.
“Our mission at Equinox is to empower our members to maximize their potential,” says Vimla Black Gupta, Equinox’s chief marketing officer. “Our mission rings especially true for those members working in the finance industry, where finding balance isn’t a luxury they can always enjoy.”
Earlier this year, Equinox, which owns SoulCycle, invested in the boxing-oriented fitness company, Rumble, which has an outpost in Manhattan’s NoHo and a big following in the business community.
Sanford Bernstein’s Liebowitz cites a noticeable trend toward more health-related, less-boozy events, adding that fewer traders “want to be out late or simply feel gross the next day because of a huge meal or drinking.”
These fitness temples aren’t just workout destinations for the business world. They’ve become places of employment for former finance people as well. Among its employees, Barry’s counts Austin Caghley, who went from being a business analyst at Goldman Sachs to become a popular instructor. Justin Meli, a business consultant with an MBA, now teaches at Barry’s in Washington.
“[Meli’s] background helps him bond with and understand the mentality of business leaders,” says Devin Murphy, who spent over four years at the hedge fund Coatue Management LLC and four further years at SYPartners LLC, consulting for Fortune 100 companies. She was a five-times-a-week Barry’s client; now she’s its vice president of operations.
In the past year, Murphy has noted an increase in demand for classes at Barry’s as something that makes a business competitive for employees. “We keep hearing from human resources in finance: ‘All our employees are banging down the door to make this part of our wellness package.’”
Some companies take an even more direct approach, according to Murphy. She says it’s common for hedge funds to buy out entire classes for just 15 people. “It’s partly networking and partly team-building. We see people from finance do buyouts at least once a week.”
The cost to book an entire class at a peak time: $5,000.
“They take the 5 a.m. class. That way, they still get to work early. And it’s also the accountability,” Murphy says. “You would hear it if you get to the trading desk and you were the one who didn’t show up for class.”