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How Barry’s CEO Joey Gonzalez Primed the HIIT Pioneer for Rapid Expansion

How Barry’s CEO Joey Gonzalez Primed the HIIT Pioneer for Rapid Expansion

Following a massive rebranding effort, Gonzalez believes Barry’s could quadruple its current 48-studio footprint in the U.S. before 2030

Barry’s is a household name among fitness enthusiasts in major markets like LA, New York and Miami, its HIIT workouts enjoying a cult-like following among devotees drawn to the brand’s unique blend of high-intensity cardio, strength training, music and signature red lights. 

In large parts of the country though, especially non-urban hotbeds, the boutique fitness brand isn’t yet as well known. That’s all starting to change, thanks to a yearslong plan carried out by Barry’s CEO Joey Gonzalez, which has included a marketing overhaul – Barry’s dropped “bootcamp” from its name in 2019 – and the deliberate positioning of Barry’s as a luxury brand in the now-crowded boutique fitness space. 

With those plans in full force and the pandemic now in the rearview mirror, Gonzalez believes Barry’s could quadruple its current 48-studio footprint in the U.S. before 2030. 

“Based on the whitespace proof we have in the market now, I could see us reaching 200 U.S. locations in the next five years or so,” Gonzalez told Athletech News in a wide-ranging conversation about the boutique fitness brand’s history, current strategy and future plans. 

While the 200-studio number isn’t set in stone, the fact that it’s in Barry’s plans at all speaks to the brand’s success over the last eight years under Gonzalez’s stewardship, as well as the timelessness of the HIIT concept that the brand’s namesake, Barry Jay, created when he founded the company in 1998. 

“I can’t say that when I started out, I imagined us growing as largely as we have,” Gonzalez admits.

Now the brand’s global CEO, Gonzalez has been a part of the Barry’s team in some form or another since 2005, when he became an instructor for the then-upstart boutique fitness concept after being spotted in class by Jay himself in a studio in Los Angeles.

credit: Barry’s

“I’d grown up being a performing artist from age 13, working in film, TV, theater, being on stage and on screen, and I studied that throughout school,” Gonzalez says. “There’s this entertainer aspect that you have to bring to the Barry’s experience, we call it the ‘enter-trainer,’ that I was well-seasoned in.”

Gonzalez’s love for Barry’s signature HIIT-style workouts, which feature a blend of high-intensity cardio on the treadmill and strength training moves on the floor, all set to dimmed red lights and curated music, only grew from there. He soon convinced Jay and the company’s investors to let him get in on the action in a bigger way.

In 2009, Gonzalez opened his first Barry’s studio, in San Diego, followed by others, including one in New York City’s Chelsea neighborhood, which served as the inspiration for what would become the modern-day look and feel of the Barry’s brand. During that time, Gonzalez also took on management roles within the company, including serving as its chief operating officer. 

“I invested every last penny I’d ever earned into building the business and scaling it,” he said. “My story is just about heart, courage, risk and following something that you really love and believe in. Luckily, there was a happy ending.”

credit: Barry’s

Foresight may have had more to do with the happy ending than luck, though. Gonzalez knew from the beginning that Jay was onto something with his HIIT-style workouts and club-like group fitness environment. 

“When Barry’s opened, there was no such thing as the boutique fitness category,” Gonzalez notes. “Barry (Jay) was really the first one. I call him a mad scientist because he took a challenging workout, one that was anchored in HIIT, which didn’t really exist at the time, and opened this studio in the middle of West Hollywood and saw immense success.”

Back in the early 2000s, Barry’s was “boutique” in every sense of the word – its locations featured a single, small studio area, even smaller lobbies and oftentimes one just bathroom. 

“There was always this sort of nervousness about the brand’s ability to survive outside its own backyard,” Gonzalez notes. “It took me to come in sort of wide-eyed and optimistic about how this business could scale. But I just knew, because I had friends and family coming in from different cities within and outside of the U.S., saying, ‘Oh my gosh, this would do so well where I live.’” 

Building Barry’s: From ‘Bootcamp’ to Inclusivity 

The workouts themselves haven’t changed too much since those early days. The typical Barry’s class is still seeped in high-intensity interval training, featuring some combination of challenging bouts of cardio and strength training, all set to pumping music led by enthusiastic and personable instructors inside the brand’s signature Red Room. Over the years, Barry’s has also introduced new class types like Lift, a strength-training-only workout, and Ride, a HIIT workout performed on spin bikes.

However, as Gonzalez has scaled the brand, Barry’s has moved away from some of the more hardcore, brash elements of its younger days. In 2019, the boutique fitness company dropped the word “bootcamp” from its name as part of a complete rebrand that included changing its logo from an army-centric concept to a more sleek and modern design

For Gonzalez, the decision to move away from the bootcamp moniker and military theme reflected a shift in the way Barry’s instructors teach the class now compared to those early days. 

“Back in the late ‘90s and early 2000s, Barry (Jay) and his trainers were very hardcore, it was a very intimidating class. It wasn’t nearly as positive and friendly as it has become today,” Gonzalez shares. “The word bootcamp made sense because of the attitude that took place in the Red Room, but that’s been sunset and that’s not how we are anymore.”

For example, Barry’s classes are now designed to cater to people of different fitness levels. In each class, instructors give class members beginner, intermediate and advanced ranges for both cardio and strength training movements. During a timed three-minute run on a treadmill, an instructor will provide participants with three different speed levels. For strength training, different weight ranges are provided for people at beginner, intermediate and advanced levels.  

credit: Barry’s

Luxury Brands ‘Don’t Want To Franchise’

In many ways, the 2019 rebrand encapsulated what had been going on behind the scenes at Barry’s HQ for several years already at that point under Gonzalez’s watch. 

When he took over as global CEO in 2015, Gonzalez made it part of his 100-day plan to buy back the locations Barry’s had franchised in the U.S. The company no longer franchises domestically and every Barry’s location in America is now corporately owned, except for one in Miami.  

“While rules are made to be broken, there is a rule that if you’re a premium luxury brand, you don’t want to franchise, especially within your own country,” Gonzalez explains. ”Knowing that was where we were headed, I felt it was best for us to really own and control the brand within the U.S.”

For Barry’s, positioning itself as a luxury brand serves as a way to stand out. The boutique fitness space has become much more crowded and competitive since 1998, with new players, including many purporting to offer a similar HIIT-style workout, cropping up across the globe.

“If you do pricing metrics in every market, you’ll see that we’re definitely near the top,” Gonzalez notes. “But we also deliver what we hope is a better experience, and a more luxurious experience, with our amenities, our partners, our build-outs, and the level of our trainers.”

The process of becoming a luxury brand had been in the works since before Gonzalez became CEO. In 2011, when he opened a Barry’s location in Chelsea, Gonzalez set out to make the studio a premium space fit for one of New York’s most upscale neighborhoods. 

“It was the first time we had locker rooms, showers and premium amenity partners,” Gonzalez notes. “I added a Fuel Bar and my husband (Jonathan Rollo, founder of Greenleaf Kitchen & Cocktails) developed all of the recipes.”

The Chelsea location became the catalyst and inspiration for what would become the modern Barry’s studio experience.

“That model is what we scaled 84 times around the world,” Gonzalez says, referring to the current number of Barry’s studios, including international locations.  

credit: Barry’s

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Barry’s Plots Post-Pandemic Expansion

While the pandemic dealt a shock to the boutique fitness market – somewhere between 15% and 30% of studios have permanently closed, depending on which statistics you look at – Gonzalez believes Barry’s has weathered the COVID storm and has emerged in better shape than ever. 

“We’re 99% recovered across our entire U.S. system and even more than that internationally,” he says. “We even have markets like LA and New York that are actually busier than they were pre-COVID.”

Today, Barry’s is once again profitable, with annual revenue on track to surpass $100 million, according to the company. The brand has experienced a 40 percent year-over-year increase in revenue in 2023, which bodes well for future expansion.

While some markets, like Chicago, are still dragging, Gonzalez puts that down to outward migration those areas experienced as a result of the pandemic. One of Barry’s key near-term goals, Gonzalez shares, is finding ways to improve attendance numbers at studios in those troubled locations. 

Barry’s other big near-term goal is ramping back up its expansion plans, both domestically and internationally. It took some time, but the company is finally back in the position of feeling good enough about its cash-flow post-pandemic to resume those efforts. 

“Just in the last few weeks, I’ve had half a dozen meetings on where we go next and why,” Gonzalez shared. 

The company has six locations across the U.S. that are confirmed to be coming to market in the next several months. That includes one in Scottsdale, Arizona, a town of around 241,000 near Phoenix, which may be indicative of Barry’s plans to branch out and open more studios in areas that aren’t considered urban hotbeds.

Gonzalez didn’t say so explicitly, but if Barry’s wants to hit its ambitious target of 200 domestic studios in the next five years, expanding to more markets like Scottsdale seems inevitable. 

“We really want to grow and we really want to enter neighborhoods in trade areas where there’s pent-up demand and people are excited about Barry’s,” Gonzalez said of the brand’s expansion plans. 

Barry’s also has plans to expand internationally – it currently has 36 studios outside the U.S., with new ones set to open soon in Bahrain and Tel Aviv. 

Wherever the boutique fitness concept goes next, Gonzalez believes Barry’s is well-positioned to shake off competition from the many other group fitness concepts the HIIT pioneer will encounter as it expands. 

Besides offering a luxury experience, Barry’s biggest differentiator, according to its CEO, is the fact that the boutique fitness brand still has the best HIIT workout in the business.

“I believe Barry’s is best in class at delivering a high-intensity interval training workout that has both the strength training component and the cardiovascular component in an immersive, fun experience,” Gonzalez explains. “Most HIIT workouts that you take nowadays will potentially deliver a comprehensive and efficient workout, but you won’t necessarily be immersed in the mood, the lighting and the music. That’s almost reserved more for the cardio (only) workout methods.”

The true magic of Barry’s, Gonzalez says, is its ability to bring the cardio and strength training worlds together in an energetic and engaging way. 

“You’re doing both and you’re having this wow experience, where you know when that chorus hits, you’re sprinting, or you’re doing burpees on the floor, and it feels amazing,” he says. “I haven’t experienced another HIIT class like it.”

This story has been updated to reflect new information on Barry’s financial numbers

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