Experiencing IHRSA IRL: What I Learned and Where We Are Going

A few months into 2023 offers a fresh opportunity for boutique studios to rub shoulders with high-powered leaders and innovators in the fitness industry at IHRSA here in Walla’s hometown of San Diego. But this year, this global conference was a bit different. Boutique studio owners had a day, a chance to attend sessions specific to our personalized, specialized industry, thanks to Boutique Fitness Solutions (BFS)—an incredible mastermind network

BFS pioneered the inaugural BFS@IHRSA partnership to bring boutique to the traditionally big-box gyms and mega-fitness franchises event where it’s all about the flashiest, coolest equipment and tech on the tradeshow floor. I mean, I wasn’t mad about testing out the newest massage experiences. But what was I most excited about? Boutique fitness having a voice and a chance to mix and mingle on the West Coast as we collectively learn together IRL from some of the industry’s brightest and boldest minds.

So what were my top takeaways from IHRSA and being part of BFS’ first-ever day dedicated to our highly-specialized fitness and wellness vertical? 


IHRSA: “Additional revenue streams” on repeat and the future of FitTech in the form of a vibrating bike? 

If you’ve never been to IHRSA, it’s quite a show. And if you don’t know what IHRSA stands for, don’t worry. They are working on a new name and rebrand to reflect the member base better because health and racquet club don’t encompass what this organization and event are all about. 

This year at IHRSA was the perfect opportunity to see the latest innovations in overall wellness entering the industry. The phrase I heard over and over again all week was “additional revenue streams.” From compression boots and ice plunges to heavenly massage chairs and energy-lifting bio-chargers, there were countless options to invest in and add on to the services you already offer—many of which take up very little to no space—reiterating the idea of overall consumer well-being in a pandemic-adapted landscape. 

Outside of super-cool wellness gadgets, I got a serious kick out of new ways to work out. I saw vibrating bikes. No joke, with vibrating… pedals. I tested every version of a reformer possible, including one with independent arm and leg platforms. And, the wildest fitness invention of all? A recumbent bike attached to a video game screen. You have to push weighted handles to make your moves in the game and pedal to keep your game going. Talk about multitasking. At first, I couldn’t help but judge the level of desperation for digital distraction, but then I realized it might be just what gamers need to start a movement habit.

Needless to say, I came away with a new appreciation for all the ways people work out—and what motivates movement across multiple demographics. The biggest surprise for me, though? It came in the form of female game-changer Liz Clark. The new IHRSA CEO is a powerhouse; we are fortunate to have her in our orbit. She came in to help our industry build representation in Washington. She rallied hard for advocacy in our state and local governments as well. Her call to action is to reach out to your local legislators. Send a once a month note to your mayor or city council person. Invite them to a class. Make sure they know your name and how much good your services do for the health and wellness of their city, like the voters that keep them in office. Liz is empowering positive, industry-wide change from the ground up. 

BFS@IHRSA: Creating memories and improving what we can control

Finally! A day dedicated to boutique fitness. With Walla as the main partner for this epic Thursday of learnings and connections, the event started with a motivational reel of successful studio owners who are also part of the BFS mastermind groups. We heard quick snippets on where they started and where they are now. Talk about major inspo to get us going! Then we moved on to a video of Will Guidara’s TED Talk on unreasonable hospitality. “We are creating memories, not just selling services,” echoed through our minds as we moved into the state of the industry report. 

BFS founders Nt Etuk and Julian Barnes dove in and didn’t sugarcoat the environment we are all living through right now. “The war in Ukraine, banks collapsing, recessions, and labor shortages are all outside our control,” Julian said. “Today, let’s focus on improving what we can control.” And from there, we went into our sessions. Fireside chats, roundtables, CEO Summit. The remainder of the day held everything from sales training focused on client connection to a panel on human resources and labor challenges. Plus, sharing super-important financial metrics to track if you’re interested in selling your studio someday. Most of all, BFS@IHRSA offered us a chance to make new friends, start new relationships, listen to people who don’t necessarily share the same opinion on business, and all get better together.

Whether it was testing out wellness technology, listening to the CEO of SolidCore, sharing conversations over drinks with female founders at WIFA, or speaking to boutique fitness owners that are connected to BFS, IHRSA was an experience that touched every element of the fitness industry business, scaling, and what the future holds. And if you ask me? It’s our responsibility to innovate and inspire worldwide well-being, wherever your fitness business is, whatever vertical you are part of because the future is bright. We are truly better, and stronger together.