Tonal CEO Aly Orady Says It’s Opening A New York Studio

    While hardware is a big part of connected fitness, so are the lessons. The well-produced sessions led by engaging instructors can make — or break — a product, especially if there isn’t enough library to justify a device subscription. On that note, Tonal announced today that it will open a studio in New York to expand its live class offerings and add five new coaches to the lineup.

    Tonal is one of the key players in the connected fitness industry with a valuation of about $1.6 billion† The $3,000 strength-training system is supported by several professional athletes, including Maria Sharapova, Mike Tyson and Drew Brees. But when The edge initially reviewing the device in 2020, the lessons were disappointing. There was no live content and the class library was a bit thin, as strength training benefits from repeating the same workouts over and over. That’s why it was intriguing to see the company Introduce Tonal Live in Sept. Tonal Live was the company’s response to the growing demand for live classes — a feature that was also one of Peloton’s claims to fame. That’s why expanding further is a bold statement at a time when Peloton’s unfolding setbacks have raised questions about running a successful connected fitness brand.

    The New York studio will be located in Hell’s Kitchen in Manhattan. Until now, Tonal’s studios have been exclusively on the West Coast. Tonal CEO Aly Orady said the move is aimed at bringing more content to users across the country.

    “With the announcement to go live, we always knew it would lead us to a studio in New York,” Orady told The edge, noting that about a third of Tonal’s membership base is located on the East Coast.

    Tonal adds five new coaches, while another moves from Hollywood to New York.
    Image: Tonal

    In total Tonal now offers 32 live lessons and 24 encore lessons every week. Live classes are held between 7:00 AM ET and 8:30 PM ET and are available on demand within 48 hours. All new coaches will also be based in New York City and will offer a range of specialties outside of weight lifting, including HIIT, boxing and yoga. The coaches will also go beyond Tonal’s existing programs to include nutrition, balance and mental health content. Unlike Peloton’s studios, which will reopen to the public later this summer, Orady says Tonal users won’t be able to take in-person classes alongside instructors.

    However, running these studios is no small task. While you only see the instructor on screen, there is a small army of people working behind the scenes. On a recent tour of Peloton’s new studio in Manhattan, I saw firsthand how filming a live class required several stage hands, rehearsal blocks, a director, and multiple cameras capturing every possible angle. Connected fitness is also generally an expensive category, especially if you also make high-tech proprietary equipment. For users, that often means expensive monthly subscriptions in addition to expensive devices. In Tonal’s case, in addition to the $3,000 machine, members must pay a $49 monthly subscription. Much of that money goes back to producing more content, according to Orady.

    “Believe it or not, the substantive part of our business is the most profitable part,” Orady says, adding that he believes this is likely true for most affiliate fitness brands. A large library of good, varied content is also key to growing a following.

    Although Orady declined to give concrete figures, he says Tonal’s membership has tripled in the past year. But for fitness technology involving hardware, that rapid growth brings its own problems. Tonal currently has an order backlog of about three weeks and at one point Orady said customers were waiting about 14-16 weeks.

    It’s a story strikingly similar to Peloton’s during the height of the pandemic. At the time, Peloton struggled to fulfill orders, leaving customers frustrated. It then ramped up its manufacturing efforts, but failed to anticipate dwindling demand once people moved out of their homes after the vaccine became more widely available. That miscalculation caused Peloton to have too much inventory — and it’s one reason behind Peloton’s current financial woes.

    “We have not been in that situation. What we’ve seen is an ongoing demand,” Orady said when asked if supply chain issues have impacted Tonal’s business. “I think the sector has definitely been challenged and I think a lot of eyes are on really big public players. But for us, as a smaller private company, we have different rules.”

    Tonal’s class selection at launch was much more limited.
    Photo by Amelia Holowaty Krales / The Verge

    That may be true for now. However, it remains to be seen how Tonal will reconcile expensive hardware and content with more competition in the space. While the company got into strength training early on, other affiliate fitness rivals have begun to expand into the modality. Earlier this year, Peloton launched the Guide, a camera-based strength training system that costs “just” $495 and fits easily into small spaces. Tempo also launched the Move, another $495 smart gym with smart dumbbells and iPhone-based tracking to provide form feedback. There is also Mirror and a small army of Mirror copycats.

    Tonal’s decision to invest in a new studio — along with Peloton’s recent decisions to experiment with subscription pricing and reopen his studios to the public — indicates that two of the biggest players in connected fitness seem to think hardware isn’t the future of this space lies. Content is king.

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