Joey Gonzalez knows that you've probably heard of Barry's Bootcamp—in fact, he's banking on it. Word-of-mouth advertising has been the famous fitness concept's bread and butter since its humble origins in a 1,400-square-foot West Hollywood studio back in 1998. That was the year L.A.-based trainer Barry Jay brought his one-stop cardio and strength training workout—the original high-intensity interval training—to the masses, effectively launching the boutique fitness concept that would explode in the decades to come.
Now, Barry's has a devoted following that includes celebrities (though you won't hear about them from Barry's) and a global presence with studios from Miami to Dubai and, soon enough, Houston. The enduring franchise will open its newest studio this summer at 1953 W. Gray in River Oaks Shopping Center. We caught up with Gonzalez—Barry's CEO and, with nearly 41,000 Instagram followers, something of a celeb in his own right, especially in the fitness world—at the swanky Post Oak Hotel (more on why that matters later) while he was in town last week to interview Houston's founding instructor team. "This is the last stage in the game," he said excitedly.
What (finally) brought Barry's to Houston?
It's the fourth most populous city in the country, so you would've thought we'd be here sooner. The pillars of what Barry's is are very in line with what Houston is—super Type A, people who are disciplined, they work hard; but then on the flip side of it, we've invested a lot over the last three years in making sure that we're the most premium option out there. We don't even look to fitness anymore, we look to hospitality. We look to hotels that we admire and respect and we try to emulate that customer experience. The details of how we build a studio out—we have Oribe hair care product in our showers, for example—we invest at every angle, and I think that's very Houston. People will appreciate that here.
Was there much demand for a Houston studio?
I've always been someone who listens to the audience, and that's how we've grown very naturally—we're in nine countries now around the world, so it's an easy way for us to test pent-up demand. Where are our customers? Houston has become very noisy: "When are you coming? We're waiting for you!" Then I always say where we're going and they're like, "Perfect, that's where I live." So it just seems like River Oaks is exactly where we should land.
Let's talk about the workout itself.
It's funny, there are so many different pieces to what makes Barry's work, but I always say that, at the core, it is the actual workout. It's the efficacy of those 50 to 60 minutes that actually makes the customer come back. That's the reason why, when it was 1,400 square feet, you had celebrities coming. They would actually say to me as a trainer, "I stopped going to my personal trainer because I have an underwear shoot in two weeks, and I know if I do Barry's five times a week, I'll be ready." I was like, I get it. Same.
The workout is 25 to 30 minutes of intense, high-interval training on the treadmill. I think the perception of what that means to most people is like, oh no, I'm going to be running for a long time, and that is not actually what it is—high-intensity interval training is just heart rate going up and down, so you're optimally burning fat and not burning muscle. Then the strength training component is really weight-lifting. It's mostly dumbbells and bands, it's not this CrossFit world. You're working different body parts, which people love, every day of the week. Monday is arms and abs, Tuesday is a lower body focus, Wednesday is chest and back, Thursday has become the most popular—it's abs and ass, so everybody is there on Thursdays—and Friday through Sunday is full body. People like that menu of options you can choose from.
When it comes to building your customer base, does Barry's name recognition still hold power today?
Definitely, but I think we've shifted a little bit. We used to be very celebrity-centric, where we would do a lot of that kind of PR, and we've since shifted to being a very community-driven business. If we're opening in a place like Houston, you're not going because you know Kim Kardashian goes, you're going because your friend Sarah and your friend Ben in Dallas are all like, "you have to go to Barry's." Word-of-mouth for us is the primary driver. In fact, we give our customers who tend to be high-profile a lot of protection. If it does get written up, it's because people get pictures of them coming out.
Ah, "Ben in Dallas"...
Dallas and Houston were both priorities for us, and what ends up becoming a reality is just real estate opportunity. We found something exactly where we wanted to be in Dallas sooner. We would have loved to be here two years ago, but we found what we think is the perfect location, and it was worth waiting for.
How is Barry's different from other popular fitness concepts?
Barry's is not this national brand where you drop in [a new city] and think, "everyone will come!" We're very humble, and we know the ground work, and it's so important for us to be local. We pay attention to local nuance to such a degree that when we opened in Milan we very quickly learned we needed to add an espresso bar. We're nimble, and we pivot very easily. Another difference: A lot of national brands will actually move their instructors from New York and L.A., and I was always adamant about hiring local talent. The roots and the relationships are the most important things, so why wouldn't you want to tap into what's already there?
What do you want the Houston Barry's to accomplish?
I hope we're able to successfully penetrate the community in an organic way, because I understand the value of relationships and I know there are a lot of local players here that have had an impact on peoples' lives. I think there's always room for more, and I'm hopeful that people give Barry's the opportunity to play that role in their life, because it is very unique, and it is the original, and it's that for a reason. Barry's was founded and continues today to be run by fitness professionals. We deliver a product and an experience that is different than anything else you're ever going to get. I'm just hopeful people give it a chance.