At long last, Equinox has come to Houston. The New York-based fitness chain with a cheeky attitude opened at River Oaks District Thursday, promising a health club — don't call it a gym — like the Bayou City has never seen before.
"I think this is where the party is going to be happening in Houston," said Sarah Robb O'Hagan, the president of Equinox Holdings, the company that owns the Equinox fitness clubs, Pure Yoga studios and cycling chain Soul Cycle. "I think it's going to be a high energy vibe."
That sounds like a tall order, but the pre-sale phase at the new Houston club has been the most successful in company history, said O'Hagan.
New members will find such amenities as marble dressing rooms laden with Kiehl's products, five different fitness studios, including a yoga studio for both hot and regular yoga, a stadium-seating cycling studio and a Barre studio (only the second such designated one among the chain's 77 locations), a spa with four large massage rooms, a clothing store, a monitored kid's room and Flow juice bar. Most workout areas have floor-to-ceiling windows with lots of natural light.
Social media mania
One wall of a large lounge area is dominated by a computer screen showing class times and other exercise information. In the last three years, O'Hagan has beefed up the club's social media presence with an app that allows gymgoers to book classes and monitor their workouts and a 24-hour-a-day social media monitoring center that addresses complaints in real time. (She urges employees to individually use social media and says the number of Twitter followers can factor into hiring because it shows that person is a "thought leader.")
"I don't know of any other gyms out there that have the kind of technologies we have; we're really looking at every aspect of your life — your nutrition, your sleep, your exercise — everything you're doing to help you manage it in a holistic way," O'Hagan said. "I think of it as more of an experience than a gym."
The hip health club chain has been scouting out Houston for several years but waited to find the right location, O'Hagan said. "If it means we have to wait a few extra years to get it absolutely bang on, we will do that," said the New Zealand native. "It's a jackpot location without a doubt. It was worth waiting for."
Unlike some gyms that hope to attract clients who won't use the facilities that much, Equinox aims for high-performance exercisers with a cheeky ad campaign, "Equinox Made Me Do It."
"We like to be provocative. And we like to get people thinking," O'Hagan said. "They come away from Equinox with these amazing physical, mental, emotional, strong bodies and they're like, 'I'm just going to get into a little bit of mischief. I'm a little bit more provoked because I have that confidence.' We like to play on that. It's an attitude."
O'Hagan believes the strategy works, as the average Equinox member comes in four times a week. "That's not typical for a gym. They're really into it. Our high performance consumer should feel like, 'Everyone around me is kind of pushing me a little bit.' That's the energy we try to create, for sure."
The Houston location is touting a host of classes (as many as 13 a day) including The Pursuit by Equinox, where bikers compete in a "big video game" on the board in front of them, Precision Running classes featuring interval training on a treadmill, Metcon3 for high-metabolic conditioning, and an enticing class that sounds like a Cosmo magazine story: Best Butt Ever.
An Equinox membership costs $149 a month with no membership fee (through December 22); to use every club in the Equinox network, the rate is $230 a month. While it's significantly higher than many Houston gyms, O'Hagan finds that clients of all income levels feel it's worth it.
"For those young up-and-coming people, it's the one place you can network with those executives. We see that a lot in research," she said. "I love it because in the end what unifies everyone is a real passion for fitness — and that's what's cool.
"A lot of it comes down to that. You walk in and, if you're really into fitness, you go, 'This is my tribe and this is where I belong.' And that's a really nice feeling."