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Wall Street woos clients with high-end workouts

Wall Street’s salesmen have long plied clients with trips to ballgames and expensive meals in the hopes that friendship—or at least familiarity—will lead to more trades. Now some are treating clients to a different kind of entertainment: high-end workouts.

Predawn and afternoon classes at Manhattan fitness studios SoulCycle, Barry’s Bootcamp, and Flywheel Sports are popular with bankers who want to bond without loading up on liquor and fatty foods. John Abularrage, head of brokerage Tullett Prebon’s Americas unit, takes clients to 5 a.m. sessions at Barry’s Bootcamp in Tribeca, where they run on treadmills and lift weights to dance music. “Some of them are more eager than you would imagine to trade a heavy dinner or drinks for a workout,” he says. “When there’s a lot of entertaining to do for your job, you can get out of shape pretty quickly.”

Clients increasingly view steak dinners as “three-hour ordeals,” says Chelsea Kocis, a former equity saleswoman. She says she used to invite traders to meet after the markets closed for a workout, telling them, “You can be home before your kids go to bed.” She quit her job at Bank of America (BAC) in June to start a cycling studio in Manhattan’s Flatiron district called Swerve Fitness, which caters to bankers by letting them form teams and compete on stationary bikes. Eric Posner, one of her partners and a former HSBC Holdings(HBC) salesman, says some of the more than $1 million they raised to start the business came from traders they used to take to spin classes. While the music is too loud to discuss deals, “there’s a bond you can form with someone through fitness that you can’t at a bar,” Posner says.

The boom in high-end fitness studios dates to at least 2006, when SoulCycle opened and found New Yorkers willing to pay top prices for a spinning class in a dance club atmosphere. The sessions go for $34 apiece; customers can pay about twice that to reserve popular times.

Some bond salesmen, who requested anonymity because of company policies, say the old way of entertaining remains more effective. One says he suspects a co-worker uses client workouts as an excuse to leave the office early for triathlon training. A saleswoman, when told of the trend, cursed and put down the phone to express her disbelief to colleagues. She says she prefers to take traders to Yankees games and then Sin City, a strip club near the ballpark.

Steve Starker, co-founder of brokerage BTIG, says he spins four or five times a week at SoulCycle studios in Greenwich, Conn., the Upper East Side, and in the Hamptons, sometimes with clients. His brokerage sponsored a charity spinning class for clients earlier this year at Flywheel. “All it is is bonding,” says Starker, who’s also an investor in Cyc Fitness, a chain of less-expensive spinning studios geared toward college students and young professionals. “You’re saying, ‘Let’s go spin this morning, get a sweat, and grab a juice after,’ ” says Starker, whose company has studios in Austin, Tex., and Madison, Wis. “There’s still the ones that love to be entertained with a good bottle of wine, steak, and quiet conversation, but so many people are more health-conscious these days.”

The bottom line: Spinning classes and other exercise sessions have become a popular way for Wall Streeters to entertain clients.

By Zeke Faux

August 01, 2013 Business Week


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