Fitness Concept elleTO Growing Business with Female-Focus [Interview]

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Michelle Epstein, founder of Elle Fitness & Social, has been a leading fitness expert in Toronto since 2005. 

The brand evolved over time and today is known as elleTO after moving to a new location at the beginning of April.

Michelle Epstein

The first location was on Wellington Street until about 2011 then it moved to King Street and is now located at 435 King St W in Toronto.

“We’re right downtown Toronto at King and Spadina. We are right in the heart of it. We’re close to the Scotiabank (Arena) and the Rogers Centre,” said Epstein.

“We’re kind of in the Club District. That’s what they call it. King St W is like this really cool, edgy part of town where all the clubs and restaurants are on this one strip and then all of a sudden all these condos started to go up and all the cool kids moved in.

elleTO (Image: elleTO)

“So when we moved to King St we were like centre ice for all the cool, young, hot women in the city – and they lived in Liberty Village which is a little further west and they all worked downtown. So they would pass by the gym every day and stop for their workout, and pass by the gym on their way home. And we’re packed. It’s busy.

“There’s not very many women-only facilities. It’s a safe space for women. I like to think that elle has grown up over the years . . . We were always able to pivot with the trends but always a safe, fun place for women . . . And our classes cater specifically to women. We’re not girlie classes. It makes me crazy when people come into elle and think it’s going to be easy. The classes are hard.”

The new location is just under 5,000 square feet and it opened in early April.

“Our former space was much larger and we had three studio rooms. We were busy, busy, busy. But (because of the pandemic) the nature of the industry has changed. So we had three really busy studio rooms and we were offering these unique events but the space we were in wasn’t suited to beautiful unique corporate events. So we decided we wanted to make our business more intimate, be a more community-based business for our members and also we saw this space come available.

“This space wasn’t on the market and it was a former gym but it’s also this gorgeous space that can be an event thing. You walk in and it’s King St storefront right at the corner of one of the busiest intersections in the city. We had this opportunity to move. We knew we wanted to downsize the classes. We didn’t want to scale back on the amount of classes we had but we could scale back on the volume that we could do. So we wanted to take this beautiful space and kind of up the ante on what we offer our clients and the community and service this kind of crazy uptick in requests for special events. People don’t necessarily want to do events in bars and public spaces anymore. They want to do their own private events so we have all these requests for weddings and bar mitzvahs and corporate events. Tons of corporate events. Team building. Some are fitness based classes but a lot were more cocktail parties.”

elleTO (Image: Dustin Fuhs)
elleTO (Image: Dustin Fuhs)

Prior to the pandemic, the business had signed a lease on a new space but that was put on hold. The plan was always to have a flagship downtown and then do offshoots. Epstein said she believes the suburbs are a great market for the concept. 

Epstein said the fitness industry is back in a very different way following the pandemic. 

“People are doing a hybrid of on-demand and in-person. And that’s the one good thing that came out of that. We started an on-demand platform and it’s still going strong,” she said. “We do live streams. So people join live and the way we do it is pretty unique. We live stream our classes. So I’ll be there teaching a class with 20 women behind me and I’m live streaming it out to another 15 who are following along online, talking to all of them.

“And after the class is over we upload it to our on-demand platform and after that it gets hundreds of views. The one thing about elle that’s unique is we built a really strong community before and we harnessed it during and maintained beyond and that piece is really special to me.”

Mario Toneguzzi
Mario Toneguzzi
Mario Toneguzzi, based in Calgary, has more than 40 years experience as a daily newspaper writer, columnist, and editor. He worked for 35 years at the Calgary Herald covering sports, crime, politics, health, faith, city and breaking news, and business. He is the Senior News Editor with Retail Insider in addition to working as a freelance writer and consultant in communications and media relations/training. Mario was named as a RETHINK Retail Top Retail Expert in 2024.

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