It’s 5.04 am and here I am sitting at my iMac in my apartment in Manhattan (jet lag does make for early starts one week out of two). It’s the start of a beautiful spring day outside and the air is filled with the smell of fresh grapefruit.
Yes, well you see I went to SoulCycle last night, my current best-loved fitness obsession. Just imagine a spinning class - squared. Better music, better instructors, better bikes and a $25 per class price tag to make it exclusive enough for committed spinners only, so you feel like you’re in an elite group.
The Equinox-owned SoulCycle has a super-strong brand. Bold values on the wall demand warrior-like commitment. Highly engaged and motivated staff help extract cash from you as you pass through the system. And iconic yellow, grapefruit-scented candles, custom designed for them by someone called Jonathan Adler, (of whom the packaging suggests I should be aware of, and I feel slightly guilty that I am not.)
I’m a huge admirer of any business done well, any business taken to perfection, and that is one of the many things I respect at SoulCycle.
They have eliminated the friction in extracting your cash beautifully.
When you create an account on their website, you give them your credit card details. Then you buy a block of sessions and you can log on each week and book a class. On each class you even book the exact bike that you want to sit in, so you can choose how close you are to the hot instructor! Yesterday I was in bike 48 at SoHo, at the back (no offence meant to instructor Michael Vara!).
When you arrive at the meticulously clean and perfectly branded SoulCycle branch you’ll find a sign-in sheet with your name next to the bike number that you've chosen. For sign-in and everything that follows, the commerce is poetry in motion. “Would you like a water Glenn?”, “Yes please, a large one” (that’s $2 auto-charged to the credit card on file). “What size shoes do you need Glenn - Is it a 10 like last time?” (that’s $3 charged to your credit card on file).
And when you walk out, after an exhausting but uplifting class and you spot a $75 branded hoodie, warrior branded SoulCycle shorts, or a grapefruit scented candle in the lobby store - just pick it up and show it to the helpful employee. “Sure that's yours Glenn, we’ll email you the receipt”. That’s another $42 charged to your card - no signature, no ID, no PIN number, NO FRICTION, no printed receipt to give you a guilty reminder of your excesses.
It’s a beautiful model of friction-free commerce and they absolutely understand and play to their audience. You might sneer at the prices, but that just means you’re not their target market. But anyone in business would surely marvel at the slickness of their execution.
And I wonder what this means for us in HR? How often do we despair about the take-up of our employee benefits? How often are we disappointed by the numbers of our employees who use benefits that we think are no-brainers? Are the communications always to blame, or actually is there too much friction in our sign-up processes?
I see employee benefits every day, often put together by very clever financial services experts, where you need a degree in IT to navigate the multitude of websites involved, and then have to handle paper and signatures and disclaimers and forms - all to make a saving or take up an insurance benefit. Maybe it’s not always the comms to blame, maybe we should be taking a closer look at the friction in that sign-up process.
I for one think there’s a lot to learn from the bright yellow grapefruit people.