A midsummer 2020 survey from TD Ameritrade found that 59 percent of Americans indicated they did not plan on renewing their gym memberships when the pandemic was over. The survey asked the respondents to explain their decision, and 56 percent noted they found “more affordable” ways to get healthier and exercise. This new mindset is a massive shift in behaviors that comes with substantial implications for gym facilities and studios across the country. This year alone, several fitness brands have filed for bankruptcy driven by stay-at-home orders, including 24 Hour Fitness, Cyc Fitness and YogaWorks. These startling realities are making it increasingly clear that, in order to survive and thrive in the post COVID-19 world, facilities must innovate to find a place in this new reality.
Moving workouts to the home
Working out from home is now officially mainstream. In a matter of months, the trend accelerated at lightning speed. No longer are home workouts considered the lesser of gym workouts. Offering both the convenience and safety of working out from your own home, this shift provides many advantages for consumers. We’ve seen this to be true firsthand, as COVID-19 has created massive demand in digital fitness services and home equipment. Items like dumbbells, treadmills and exercise bikes have been tough to come by for reasonable prices, confirming the fact that people across the country are using the pandemic as an opportunity to set up dedicated and flexible workout spaces in their homes. Consumers have proven that at-home fitness is here to stay.
Even though a portion of the population will still want the gym experience, most will maintain at least part of their workout routines at home. People will always crave their hot yoga classes and the comradery of workout buddies at the local gym, but many will adopt a hybrid approach where they enjoy some in-person experiences combined with workouts at home by themselves or virtually. This wide audience is imperative to the success of gym facilities and cannot be ignored. The key for gyms and studios is adjusting their products and services to thrive within this hybrid model — or even explore going digital-only.
Adding digital live classes
Many gym owners are considering adding, or have already added, digital classes to their membership offerings. This is an obvious opportunity given the COVID-19 environment, and is already a known and successful model that brands like Peloton are implementing with great success. However, moving to a virtual experience is a fundamental change in your long-term business strategy.
When you're providing your service digitally, you are no longer just competing with the facilities within your zip code. Your classes can be taken nationally, and likewise you are competing nationally. This is a tremendous opportunity, but also adds a layer of complexity. A handful of facilities with something unique to offer and that get started early will command a large portion of the national virtual classes market.
All facilities will need to decide whether they are offering virtual classes long-term as a complement to the in-person experience, or as a service in its own right to attract new digital-only members. This will require thinking deeply about what you stand for, what your brand is, and what your differentiators are in a crowded field.
Expanding the concept of a gym
The fundamental shift in thinking that owners will need to internalize is that their experience no longer just exists within the four walls of their facility. To play a significant enough role in a member’s fitness lifestyle to warrant a reasonable cost of membership, your experience will need to expand outside the gym. How do you play a role in home-based workouts? How do you compete with digital classes from national facilities? Do you incorporate health metrics that clients collect from their wearables? For some, this will mean creating your own digital-only experiences, partnering with digital companies, growing a strong brand with a tight community, or building a true hybrid physical/digital service that’s unlike what we’ve seen yet.
Fitness is moving at hyperspeed into the future. The trends that were supposed to play out over the next 5-10 years are already here. The fitness of the future is hyper-personalized to the individual. It’s free and flexible in location and schedule. It’s connected with their health data. And it provides variety in style and format that keeps people excited. When you start to look down this road, you realize that each service being offered today needs to be redefined. What does personal training look like in this world? It’s definitely much more interesting than a live Zoom call.
Into 2021 and beyond, several business models will be experimented with. It’s crucial to start thinking about what makes most sense for your facility. Consider your strengths, differentiators, and what members find special about you. The most dangerous move will be to not make any change at all, waiting for the pandemic to pass so you can unfreeze the current reality. The deck is reshuffled, and there’s certainly a “new normal.” Thriving in this space means rethinking your services, business model and marketing from the ground up, while you have the time to do so.
Akshay Ahooja is the co-founder and CEO of Trainiac, an online personal training platform that enables users to build a habit of fitness by working one-on-one with certified trainers through their app.