Growing a Small Retail Business with Quick-Deploy IT

This specialized exercise studio is expanding globally. Helping to propel the company’s growth: an innovative, easy-to-deploy network infrastructure.

Cisco Meraki

SoulCycle is a company on the move. Growing from a single sublet studio on New York’s Upper West Side in 2006, the company now has 90 locations and counting across North America. Devotees range from NBA basketball players to Hollywood celebrities, and everyone in between.

Keys to the fitness company’s success: candlelit studios, exercise bikes that quickly adjust to all body shapes and sizes, high-energy instructors, infectious dance music…and flexible, scalable, remotely managed network appliances from Cisco Meraki.

Scaling retail

The problem of how small retailers can scale is widespread in the age of digital disruption, as big online retailers sweep away competition with lower pricing and faster delivery.

But savvy retail businesses have found a way to get ahead of the curve and compete based not on commodity pricing, where e-commerce reigns, but on customer experience. As a recent report from Coresight Research put it, “We expect 2019 will not be the year of retail apocalypse or even decline. Instead, it will be a year of reinvention — for the retail sector as a whole and for physical stores in particular.”

Brick-and-mortar retail, including exercise venues like SoulCycle, is hitting back with experiences to be had only in person. That goes doubly for exercise studios, where it’s all about getting building off the energy of fellow exercisers.

“We’ve treated it from the beginning from a curtains-up, curtains-down live production,” SoulCycle CEO Melanie Whelan said in a recent interview for CNN. And that makes all the difference for getting riders coming back for more. “It's an experience. It's a community. You see your friends, it's musical, it's emotional, and it's connected to other people. I mean, there's nothing like being in a room with 60 people moving to the rhythm of the music.”

Helping to propel the company’s growth is innovative, easy-to-deploy network infrastructure.

IT for growth

After IT director Derek McWilliams arrived at SoulCycle, he knew there had to be a better way to deploy hardware than the time-consuming process he inherited.

Receiving hardware in New York, configuring it, shipping it out to a new SoulCycle location for installation, then going out to make final configurations just wasn’t going to cut it for a fast-growing business.

Experience from a previous role led McWilliams to network hardware from Cisco Meraki that he said, “took longer to put up on the wall than it did to configure.” Accordingly, he and the IT team upgraded all SoulCycle locations to Cisco Meraki’s line of MX Security Appliances.

They couldn’t be happier with the result. The first installations took a month less than McWilliams and his team planned, freeing them up for higher-level maintenance and planning tasks.

They also had time to explore the new hardware’s other features, such as the ability to set up rules for blocking gaming and other high-intensity traffic that might steal bandwidth from more critical functions.


Getting ahead with remote configurations

These days, McWilliams doesn’t have to go anywhere to deploy infrastructure at a new location. That’s because he can configure a device from a settings template through the cloud on the Meraki dashboard with a few clicks. “That really opened my eyes to how we could quickly deploy an MX as we open more studios,” said McWilliams.

Even a previously arduous networking task such as configuring virtual private networks from a corporate office to SoulCycle studios takes just a few minutes. “To put this in context,” said McWilliams, “with our previous solution, the same task would have taken me 7-8 hours to do.”

And SoulCycle continues to move. "We get over 5,000 emails a year of people asking us, 'Please bring Soul Cycle to our city, our town,'" said Whelan. Next stop, London, with the company’s first overseas location opening in 2019.

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