Over the past couple of months, we’ve tracked and shared many of the inspiring and inventive ways businesses within the fitness industry have pivoted or reimagined their offerings to better align with and support the new behaviours of consumers navigating lockdowns, isolation and social distancing.
Having shifted quickly to survive – in an attempt to create instant solutions and better position themselves for the mass migration to digital – now, an uprising of fitness operators are starting to plot their course for the gradual reopening of society.
As the world braces itself for COVID’s ‘aftershocks’, these fitness brands are playing the long game — not only thinking about the pandemic’s impact on their business in two months, six months and twelve months but also what the long-term ramifications or regulations could mean.
Looking to regions like Asia, where markets have already started to reopen, observations that have been made by Mindbody — provider of cloud-based business management software for the wellness industry, are that the market has not yet rebounded as hoped for, with activity in May still at only about 20% of what is normal.
A survey carried out by Allegra Strategies also offers early insight into the legacy of COVID-19 in the UK as we transcend into the ‘new normal’, revealing how 57% of people care more about cleanliness than they did pre-pandemic, 47% have tried new fitness and wellness practices since lockdown, 77% are re-evaluating what’s important to them in life, and 22% are currently uncomfortable with the idea of sharing public spaces.
However, with 61% valuing wellness practices more than ever before, and 57% saying they can’t wait to go back to using gyms and studios once restrictions are lifted, the general outlook for the fitness industry appears to suggest that out of this crisis, two polarising consumer tribes will emerge, with pockets of people sitting across them.
With that in mind, to cater to a wider demographic, the conclusion it seems is that brands will need to offer a blended omnichannel approach that fuses both physical and digital services — an ecosystem that connects the home and physical spaces, so that consumers can pick and choose.
Whilst it might be difficult to predict exactly what that will look like, what’s clear is that fitness brands must think beyond the here and now.
By identifying the white spaces, and assessing what role their products or services can play in supporting not just transient shifts but sustained changes in public attitudes and behaviour, some fitness brands are already future-proofing themselves for longer-term.
Below we highlight just some of the approaches that are already reimagining the way fitness brands cater to consumers……..
London-based boutique fitness operator BLOK is investing heavily in creating new value for a post-COVID generation.
BLOKtv, a new global digital platform offering both live stream and on-demand workouts isn’t just a band-aid but part of a long term business strategy to give consumers the flexibility to choose how and when they train, based on their individual behaviours and lifestyles.
According to co-founder Ed Stanbury, the current service, which already includes over 200 hundred classes per week and more than than 25 multi-discipline class types, is currently in its first iteration. The plan is to evolve the platform’s features to become hyper-personalised and expand the breadth of content to cater to a wider and more global audience regardless of where the post-COVID landscape takes them.
“We’ve never seen BLOK as a local studio but something that has a wider potential,” Stanbury told Welltodo. “Our company mission statement is to inspire a global culture of movement, so we always saw a digital offering as being a really key part of that,” he added.
Despite the fact he believes there will always be an important place for BLOK’s physical studios, Stanbury argues that having a digital element that is just as polished as its physical offering will be incredibly important moving forward.
“The landscape is changing so fast, so we’re working out what consumers want, which could be different tomorrow than it is today,” he explained.
“Once gyms start to reopen that could be different again but all the research seems to show that people are going to want to continue to train at home alongside their studio sessions even once gyms reopen.”
With that in mind, the brand plans to record 300 bits of content for BLOKtv by September, as well as gradually shifting all of its digital workouts from its instructors’ homes to its studios. This will better reflect the sleek design and aesthetics that are such an integral part of its physical experience.
TruBe, a London-based on-demand fitness app connecting individuals to personal trainers to provide one-on-one sessions from people’s homes, offices or outdoor spaces, is another fitness brand making real-time adaptations to its model without compromising its existing streamlined service.
The startup has launched a new streaming service, allowing users to book into digital sessions via a comprehensive booking system with real-time availability and a vast range of session types.
“Every minute of every session is dedicated to the client and their individual goals,” explained founder Daria Kantor.
“The trainer will arrive fully prepped with a bespoke training and wellness programme built from a range of factors such as client goals, personal requirements, space and equipment available, intensity and fitness level. It can even be made relevant for the time of day in which the session has been booked for.”
To be ready to adapt to the market as it changes, the brand is also currently in the testing phase of a new and highly anticipated service to be launched over the coming months.
“We cannot wait to share this with our community as we believe it will be the tipping point toward a new approach to fitness,” Kantor told Welltodo.
“Traditional training methods have dominated the market for many years now and it is time for something new. We want to put clients back in control by catering to their personal needs, even on a mass scale.”
Cult boutique fitness brand Barry’s is also bringing its signature studio workout into the home with the launch of Barry’s ‘At Home’ — a full daily schedule of instructor-led, 50-minute classes focused on three different class formats: bodyweight, bands and weight, and training. Clients can pay-per-class via the brand’s website, or sign up to weekly or monthly memberships.
To mirror the real-life experience as closely as possible, those participating in a class get signed in by one of Barry’s receptionists, Barry’s instructors are on hand to correct form and offer encouragement, and group classes create the camaraderie and sense of community the brand is known for.
“From the very outset, we’ve tried to react to the situation in a way that would best support our team and community, explained Sandy Macaskill, co-owner of Barry’s UK.
“With the government now easing lockdown and changing their Stay at Home messaging, it’s time for us to also alter our approach on how we best support our community and staff who are the backbone of our business. It’s still uncertain when we will be able to reopen our real doors, but it’s clear that when we do there will be strict social distancing measures in place that will alter our operations.
“Barry’s ‘At Home’ is a natural step to introduce alongside our continuing complimentary sessions, that will allow our dedicated community to be together, not just for now, but to support us in looking after our team as we navigate through this ‘new normal’ for the foreseeable future.”
According to Macaskill, the company is already planning how it will operate the At Home service alongside reopening studios, especially when it comes to manpower etc. But he admits that if the At Home classes continue to do well, that will be a great problem to have.
“In the short to medium term, it’s going to be crucial for clients who are still uncomfortable returning to the studio itself, and also for the business in making up somehow for the restrictions that social distancing will impose. I imagine some evolution will come with refinements in the production value and how the classes are filmed — perhaps when it’s possible to do so we will switch to filming in a red room for example, rather than the instructors’ homes,” he told Welltodo.
How to implement an effective digital fitness experience
FunXtion, a company that specialises in helping fitness clubs deliver digital fitness experiences, and has worked closely with Anytime Fitness and PureGym, believes that with consumers now expecting to be able to tap into digital services wherever they are, whenever they want, creating a digital strategy — whatever that maybe — will be key for fitness brands moving forward.
“Physical distancing strategies are being designed in clubs, but digital wrap-around care is becoming much more important and mainstream — and much more expected by members. It is quite clear that a new 360-degree approach is an absolute necessity,” CEO, Ernst De Neef told Welltodo.
“We still see that clubs remain the central hub for “fitness”, albeit through providing great at-home content via branded apps whilst facilities have been closed but this highlights how important providing the right digital fitness solution is. Now more than ever but clubs need to future-ready when it comes to their digital strategy.”
Here, De Neef shares the key steps fitness brands should be taking to future-proof themselves for this emerging landscape
- Think about how to provide a wrap-around member journey service, stretching outside of a facility into everyday lives. Consumers expect an on-demand, digital service that fits around their lifestyle, whether that is an in-club, face-to-face experience or an at-home, on-the-go offering. This could take the form of branded apps or content integrations such as virtual workout classes.
- Bridge the gap. By merging the fitness journey within the club and the ongoing health, fitness and lifestyle of the member in their everyday lives you’ll remove barriers to exercise and your customers will be less likely to miss a workout or cancel their membership. Digital services like ours give the client increased contact points with the member — through automated motivation, contact moments, chat options, notifications and online coaching options, engagement between club and member is increased and made more personalised.
- Don’t underestimate the work involved. When developing a new digital solution for your club, it’s important to map out each stage of the digital member journey, as well as identifying the right strategic partners to work with, This is key to creating the right planning, setting the right foundations and achieving the best results based on your specific needs.
- Cater to real-time expectations. At this stage, the expectation is that there will be a combined approach to memberships, whereby customers can exercise in the club or virtually, live or on-demand, in order to suit their commitments and availability.
- But don’t forget about longer-term shifts. In later phases, we expect to see an influx of data as wearables and digital touchpoints became the norm. The most important factor at this stage will be understanding how to interpret that data and use it to continue bettering your offering.