By Hans Muench, Special AFS Contributor

Being a Canadian who finished high school in San Diego, California, did undergrad studies in Miami, Florida and Portland, Oregon, then worked in Austria, Germany and Hong Kong for five years before returning to the USA to receive my Masters in International Business, I learned early on about technology and trend transfer internationally.

I enhanced my fitness experience by running sports and fitness clubs along with tennis camps (single and chain) in four European countries, and brought Europeans to North America for 15 years to see trends that were happening in the USA first, helping early adopters capitalize on new ideas and concepts. 

Since the advent of the Internet, social media and smartphones, the traditional 3-5 year delay for a trend to move across borders has been reduced, and there is no better example than the boutique phenomenon igniting the global landscape.

A beachhead for trend transfer is London, which has seen a doubling of boutiques in the past year from 330 to over 600, as reported at the second SWEAT Boutique conference in London March 8th.

"London is New York on steroids," stated MC and opening SWEAT keynote Emmy Barry. By the time Soul Cycle has opened their first location in the UK capital, there will be 15 other indoor cycle boutiques who have opened their doors first, reducing the "cache" of the iconic US brand.

In Amsterdam specifically, but in the Netherlands generally, there has been a flurry of boutique activity in the past 24 months, with a plethora of concepts including some not yet seen in the USA. Fit20, Fitness Society, Slim Street and Trend Fitness are examples of product/manufacturer-driven boutique concepts. Saints & Stars, recently opened in Amsterdam by the son of BasicFit (publicly traded chain of 537 clubs in six countries) CEO Rene Moos, is the latest example of innovation adding to the mix of millennium-client focused boutiques.

Eleiko of Sweden and Gym 80 of Germany are also developing models using their equipment, just as rowing, stretching and even Versa Climber-focused offers are among the dozens of variations on the boutique theme.

Where I now live in Switzerland I'm coming across new boutiques every week, such as Beat in Lausanne (who will be opening a second location in Geneva later this year). According to an April report on Personal Training in Europe which came out in April, this wealthy country of four national languages has the highest PT rates per hour in all of Europe, so money is not an object.

A phenomenon in Germany is the widespread use of EMS (Electromuscle Stimulation), practiced mostly in one of over 2,000 boutique studios in this country – 20% of all German fitness centers are boutiques already. The market leader here is the franchise group Body Street with 235 locations (and expanding internationally).

Where is all this headed? Based on extrapolation of data from AFS research, observation of market developments in over a dozen European countries, I estimate that there will be 25,000 – 30,000 new boutiques in Europe in the coming five years. Not all will survive – some will change hands, change concepts, close – but the movement is unstoppable.

Given a crystal ball, future-thinking and opportunistic entrepreneurs are planning to exploit the next wave, using technology, an understanding of millennials and the experience economy to bet on this trend and capitalize on being early initiators.


Hans has a Masters in International Development from University of South Carolina. He studied the European market in 1984-1985 for IHRSA, and joined the world trade association for health clubs in 1994 as their first Director of International Development.

He has been a speaker at events in 18 countries, and rejoined IHRSA as Director of Europe in January 2008. Since then Muench has been to 26 European countries collaborating with members and suppliers, supporting partners and attending approx. 100 events as the "eyes, ears and face" of IHRSA in Europe.

Starting in March 2016 Hans has begun pursuing new opportunities, including a part-time teaching position at the German University of Fitness, Health and Prevention in their MBA program, public speaking at various industry events (May Germany and Spain) and selectively working with suppliers and club operators focused on growth. Full bio found here. 

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