Studios Test Pay-What-You-Can Pricing in Response to Consumer Demand

If you’ve opened a marketing textbook, you’re familiar with the four Ps: product, place, promotion and price. The pandemic shifted all of those for fitness. No time was that clearer than in our State of Fitness reports throughout the pandemic. In that survey, we ask people to share what they’re doing to move their bodies, where they’re doing it, and how much they’re spending. We’ve watched as consumers changed their behavior since 2019 – not only sweating at home as they sheltered in place, but also dramatically reducing their spending. 

The average monthly spend on fitness you reported in 2019 was $112.47. In May 2020 that number was $45.70, and in the fall of 2021 you told us you spent an average of $51.86.

But an awakening to a lack of access and equity in the wellness space was happening concurrently in the summer of 2020 following the murder of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. Studio owners were called on to make a change to a sliding-scale or pay-what-you-can model by outlets like Well+Good

And we were hopeful about the adoption of that model too. But as I worked on this story, it was challenging to find studios that had adopted the model to speak to. And I can understand why. In the middle of a pandemic, brick and mortar studios were going through an abundance of change – going digital to survive, losing instructors in droves, and facing studio closures (around 22% have closed since the pandemic’s outset) as behavior change swept fitness.   

In the heart of Chicago’s West Loop neighborhood, Bare Feet Power Yoga made a business decision last year that founder Robin Samples said was rooted in intuition. The studio shifted its pricing to a pay-what-you-can model, adopting tiered pricing that allows yogis to roll out a mat for $15, $20, $25 per class. 

While the average drop-in yoga class in Chicago can land north of $30, Samples’ new pricing model was a potential haircut of her own potential revenue. 

For her, adopting this new model allowed her to truly root into all of the tenets of yoga – and it was something she said she was called to do during increasing awareness of racial injustices and inequalities. 

“I love yoga, but I felt like parts of it were missing. I love the asana, I love the physical, but yoga is so much more than the physical practice itself,” she said. “When pay-what-you-can became an option for me, I was like, ‘this is yoga.’ making it accessible no matter your financial background. I wanted yoga to become the BIG yoga, not just moving your body but the full concept.”

Can a studio get by with a pay-what-you-can pricing model?

I came into this article curious about three things: Were studios moving over to the model? Was it financially feasible for those studios? Were consumers taking advantage of lower-price and scholarship access options?

When pressed about data from updating her pricing, Samples shared that holistically, the uncertainty of the time when she adopted pay-what-you-can pricing at Bare Feet Power Yoga made it impossible to compare their revenue now to their potential revenue. 

“I do know that I’ve had more people come to my studio because of this. My intuition says that this is balancing out – there are people paying more and there are people paying less,” she said, reiterating that if the pricing tiers don’t work financially for someone who wants to come to class, all they have to do is reach out and tell the studio what price would work. 

And as a bonus, she was able to cut off in-person ClassPass drop-ins, something many studios across the nation have expressed wanting to do, shifting their participation on the ClassPass platform to digital-only. 

In 2020, aSweatLife adopted a sliding scale price for events too, encouraged by the community of aSweatLife ambassadors who pressed us to take actions to make wellness more equitable. And because of that, we can share some comparison data. 

We rolled it out officially for our 2020 #SweatworkingWeek event that was fully outdoors at Chicago’s Maggie Daley Park, allowing participants to come for free, or choose a donation level that they could afford. Our overhead for that week was limited – the park donated the space to us so that there could be outdoor, safe and socially distanced ways for Chicagoans to exercise. Because of all of that, we were able to test the model with limited risk, thanks to the support of our sponsors and the park district.

Getting granular now. In 2019, our pre-COVID average revenue per ticket to #Sweatworking was $16.18, which factors in elements like discounts and complimentary tickets. In 2020, our average revenue per ticket was $5.54. By comparison, at our #SweatworkingSummit – an event with workouts, workshops and keynote speakers – we created ticket tiers to ensure our costs were covered (akin to what Samples created in her tiered pricing model). We priced tickets at $5 for financial hardship, $25, $50, $75 and $100, we averaged $21.52 per ticket. 

If that data has transitive properties, I’d estimate that the bulk of Samples’ community is paying around $20 to roll out their mats

Popular New York City yoga studio Sky Ting announced a sliding scale pricing model for its digital classes. That sliding scale allowed users to select a membership priced between $20-$30 a month. Sky Ting also created a scholarship program for those who aren’t able to afford that pricing. 

Sky Ting co-founder Krissy Jones shared more on that, noting that when a consumer pays for a membership at the $25 or higher mark, Sky Ting gives a membership away to someone in need of wellness. That scholarship number amounts to 100 memberships a month, she shared. Those scholarships go to a combination of applicants and non-profits like Every Mother Counts, Welcome to Chinatown, For the Gworls.

Can your studio transition to a pay-what-you-can pricing model?

Samples shares advice for a studio owner interested in going pay-what-you-can: Do it from your heart and trust your intuition, she said. “When I made the decision, it felt right.” (Might I add that is the most yoga business advice I’ve ever heard?) Samples also sought guidance, speaking to a woman who owned a pay-what-you-can studio for advice on how to do it. She asked the big and small questions on what went right and wrong. 

Samples said, “I felt really fortunate that we’ve been in business eight years, so I’d built a strong community that made me feel secure that we could move forward and this would work.”

For fitness businesses with high overhead, there’s also the option to create a piece of the business that’s more equitable. Sky Ting’s New York City in-studio classes are priced at $30 for a drop-in, but their online business leverages a sliding scale. 

We’re still hopeful about pay-what-you-can, but like anything in business, it’s hard to be first. If you’re a studio owner who created pay-what-you-can pricing, share in the comments. If you’re interested in talking to a studio owner who has already done it, email me: [email protected]

Move Studio Fitness

About Jeana Anderson Cohen

Jeana Anderson Cohen is the founder and CEO of a premiere wellness media destination that creates content and community to help womxn live better lives and achieve their goals. Before founding health-focused companies Jeana earned a degree in Journalism from the University of Wisconsin-Madison - and fresh out of college she worked on the '08 Obama campaign in Michigan. From there, she created and executed social media strategies for brands. aSweatLife fuses her experience in building community and her passion for wellness. You can find Jeana leading the team at aSweatLife, trying to join a book club, and walking her dog Maverick.