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Exclusive Interview | Co-Founder Trey Laird: AARMY ‘is about fully enhancing your total life’

Exclusive Interview | Co-Founder Trey Laird: AARMY ‘is about fully enhancing your total life’

AARMY’s Co-Founder, Trey Laird
Athletech News sat down with brand strategist and AARMY co-founder Trey Laird to understand the growth of his company, navigating through the pandemic and what lies ahead for AARMY. Below is our conversation with Trey.

AARMY is a revolutionary ‘next-level coaching experience’ that focuses on training both your mind and your body. Workouts combine high-intensity cardio, spinning, circuit weight lifting, and stretching. AARMY offers in-person classes in LA & NYC as well as virtual programming. The faces of the brand are Akin Akman and Angela Davis. Akin is Lululemon’s newest Global Ambassador, a former tennis player, and once well-known SoulCycle instructor. Angela is an inspirational speaker and also a former beloved SoulCycle instructor. AARMY was founded by Akin and Angela, along with Trey Laird, the founder of the creative agency Laird+Partners.

About Trey Laird

As the founder and visionary behind Laird+Partners, Trey created the country’s leading creative, marketing and branding agency focused on the worlds of fashion, beauty and luxury lifestyle brands. Known for his equally powerful strength in both business strategy as well as visual execution at the highest levels, Trey has collaborated with the world’s most influential designers and brands including Tom Ford, Calvin Klein, Tiffany & Co., Tommy Hilfiger, Karl Lagerfeld, Donna Karan, Bottega Veneta, Hermes and Gap, among countless others. He has also created numerous branding campaigns, videos and collaborations with worldwide personalities such as Beyoncé, Lewis Hamilton, David Beckham, Sarah Jessica Parker, Gigi Hadid, Pharrell Williams, Anna Wintour and Madonna. Now the Chief Executive Officer of AARMY, Trey Laird oversees all aspects of the brands business and strategic development alongside Akman and Davis.

Athletech News: 2020 has been quite the year for the fitness industry. Talk about the pivot to digital programming and what that meant for your team and your business?

Trey Laird: Yes, 2020 was quite a year to be year one in a startup business!  We had just opened our NYC location in September of 2019, our LA location in late January of 2020, and then had to close everything on March 13th! Fortunately, we had already started building our Digital App, and we accelerated that project to launch phase one last September. As we were building it, we pivoted to offer free programming via Instagram Live, and ended up doing that for 150 days. It was incredible to see people from all over the world find us and start training with AARMY. Our Instagram following surged to over 90K in a matter of months, and so in some unexpected ways, the challenges of the last year have also proven to be opportunities as well.

Athletech News: What does AARMY’s loyal following mean to its success? An earlier article mentioned a conversion rate of more than 70% post free trial, and an 88% retention rate overall…why do you think you are seeing this?

Trey Laird: We are so grateful to have such a loyal following. I think one of the strongest aspects about AARMY is our authenticity. This is not about a gimmick. It’s not really something you dabble in or bounce in and out of. People quickly start to experience a different sense of progress and transformation that affects their whole lives. It’s not just about the workout and physical results, it’s so much more about tapping in emotionally and mentally to your strongest self. And that’s something that is priceless. So I think that’s why we have been lucky to see our strong retention numbers.

Athletech News: Does AARMY attract a specific customer? Who is drawn to the brand and practice?

Trey Laird: The beauty of AARMY is that it’s truly for everyone: every fitness level, every stage in the journey.  All our sessions have options and modifications for newer athletes, but new followers train right alongside more experienced athletes. We always say we want you to be inspired by what is possible rather than be discouraged by what you can’t do yet. You just start by doing whatever you can, and then bit by bit you become stronger and stronger! There is such a rewarding feeling in building something. In making a commitment to yourself and progressing further each day, that is the true shared mindset of the AARMY team. It’s not about age, not about fitness experience, it’s all about the mindset!

Athletech News: AARMY’s content quality is superior to many other on-demand and recorded fitness classes, that may be a personal opinion, how did you create such incredible programming and virtual experience (sound, lighting etc.)?

Trey Laird: Thank you!  We always wanted to create content that was completely different. My background as a Creative Director in fashion and film has definitely influenced our approach to creating our content. We wanted it to feel more elevated, emotional, and experiential. We sought to capture the mood, energy and heart of live experiences and translate that to the home athlete. So for me it was looking at fitness more like fashion, music films, inspiring cinematography or art, and less like a typical workout class. Sometimes it’s more about what you don’t see, what’s not lit, what you feel intuitively just like an incredible movie can move you emotionally. Most fitness content is formulaic and looks like an infomercial. It’s usually poorly lit with camera work often static and flat. We use moving cameras to take our athletes on a journey with us in every practice. It’s just simply part of who we are, and we are so inspired that people have reacted so powerfully to our content.

Athletech News: How did you train/prepare your coaches to teach in front of a camera vs. in person? 

Trey Laird: Our immediate pivot to IG Live prior to our official digital launch was actually a great opportunity for the coaches to get used to filming sessions virtually. For our digital launch, we planned rehearsal time to get everyone used to the marks and camera moves. As with anything, practice is the best way to get better at something! Our Coaching and Content teams are well oiled machines.  

Athletech News: What technical resources has AARMY relied on during the last 12 months? 

Trey Laird: Our Digital App build has been a huge investment over the past year, and we are now preparing to launch phase two later this summer with lots of new features that take the experience to the next level. We have invested in premium content production to provide cutting-edge music synced to each session. The full music offering was quite an undertaking for an independent brand, and there are brands much larger than us at this point that have yet to figure out that part. We knew it was essential to offer the best content, so it was never really a question for us.  We knew we had to figure it out, and we did.

Athletech News: AARMY has an apparel line that has also been sold on Net-A-Porter. What does this mean for the business and what role does it play in the long-term vision of the brand?

See Also

AARMY Apparel

Trey Laird: Just like everything else AARMY does, our apparel is incredibly elevated and directional. We wanted to merge forward streetwear influences with performance pieces and technical fabrications. It has been an immediate success on Net-A-Porter since we launched last September. We always envisioned AARMY as a complete lifestyle brand, not just a workout app or studio. So the apparel component is a very important part of that strategy. Every team needs a uniform, so it is inspiring to see AARMY athletes from all over the world representing the brand in the gear with pride!

Athletech News: Where do you see the future of fitness and wellness heading in the next few years? Do you think everyone will return to the gym and/or return to AARMY’s studio (in person)? 

Trey Laird: We strongly feel that the intersection of the physical and the mental is what people are looking for more and more. It’s no longer enough to just be physically strong. The events of this past year have proven how crucial mental wellness is for our very survival. AARMY is firmly positioned to blend these two needs.  We use movement as a tool to unlock your mind so you can truly live your best life!  We don’t focus on surface goals like weight loss or 6 packs or things like that.  Oftentimes those results do occur – but it’s not the point. We are not about quick temporary fixes. This is about fully enhancing your total life. What is more inspiring than that?

We just reopened our NYC location on May 1, and will reopen LA on June 1. The reaction and demand has been immediate and incredible. Every session is selling out as athletes have a pent-up desire to return to in person training together. But what’s great to see now is the complimentary use of both in person and digital training. People love that they now have access to AARMY digitally whenever they want- and now mix that in with their in person schedules. It’s the best of both worlds!

Athletech News: What is the future for AARMY? What is your growth strategy and where do you want to be in the next 5-10 years?

Trey Laird: We are so excited to take the brand to the next level this year and beyond. We have just closed the majority of our Series A round last week. It is a $10M raise and we finalized $8M. So we are now entering a period of growth focusing on new customer acquisition. With both our East Coast and West Coast locations back in business and our Digital phase two hitting this summer, it is a big year for us.  We want to continue to reach more people around the world with our unique content and unrivaled coaching. We are already in the US, UK, and Canada and are excited to add additional countries to the mix soon.

We do have a very unique approach to hardware coming up soon. But for us, at the end of the day it’s the quality of the content that matters most! You can have the finest machine but if the content on that machine is sub par and not compelling people will not be inspired to engage. So we are going to keep doing what we do best, and I am excited to watch the global AARMY continue to grow!

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