The Future Of Fitness Revolves Around Building Ecosystems, Says This Industry Expert

  • The Founder and CEO of CRM platform Keepme, believes fitness operators must ditch the hybrid model and embrace an “ecosystem” approach drawing on fitness tech to bounce back from the pandemic. 
  • Following this “ecosystem” approach, Willows Health Club in Australia has added a year to the average length of membership and seen visit rates jump from 55% to 80% per month. 
  • In February, luxury US fitness brand Equinox jumped on the ecosystem trend by linking with Apple HealthKit and WHOOP devices to help members make more of the company’s digital fitness offering. 

LONDON, United Kingdom — After a year in which fitness chains and boutiques have seen annual profits plummet due to COVID-19, the only way operators will survive is if they embrace an “ecosystem” model, says the Founder and CEO of CRM platform Keepme. 

In a whitepaper titled The Fitness Future: Rules of Engagement, Ian Mullane argues that as a result of digitisation, 5G, at-home offerings and evolved working patterns the industry has found itself blinded, uncertain of how to move on from the trauma of the past year. However, those prepared to adapt can thrive in “the new world order”, he says. 

Among the six rules Mullane maps out, one, in particular, contradicts the commonly held assumption that fitness businesses must follow a hybrid model to succeed. Mullane believes that “the future isn’t hybrid, it’s ecosystems”. 

He writes: “The future of fitness is categorically not binary. Not hybrid. Value will only be unlocked for the consumer when all content, all experiences, indeed the entirety of a club’s offering are part of the customer’s personal wellness ecosystem.” 

Where do you fit in the wellness ecosystem?
Consumers now have a more holistic view of what defines wellness, picking and choosing their products and services accordingly, Mullane continues. “In doing so, they build their own ecosystem, of which their gym is but one part.” 

As education around sleep, hydration, mindfulness, nutrition and activity levels become more mainstream, and use of wearable devices becomes more common, “consumers are becoming increasingly aware that three visits to a gym each week is not going to guarantee their best selves”. 

Rather than trying to control a member’s whole wellness experience, Mullane suggests gym operators look to play a part in their overall ecosystem. He also urges fitness facilities shift their focus from being a product resource – one of equipment and classes – to focus on “customer outcome”. 

While fitness operators still retain a level of authority in a customer’s mind, Mullane says they can strengthen the relationship with their members by drawing on data already available in peoples’ smartphones and on their wrists to provide them with a personalised action plan. 

The Future Of Fitness Revolves Around Building Ecosystems
Image Credit: Luke Chesser

In doing so, the gym can become a critical part of their member’s life, “no longer judged as a purely bricks-and-mortar product but an integral part of their every day — not to mention one that can command a higher price point, with higher loyalty and lifetime value,” Mullane adds. 

This, he says, is why operators must look beyond the horizon-limiting hybrid model to an ecosystem approach. Adding: “This is a fundamental change, but in making this leap, operators will increase trust, value, and inevitably the length of the relationship.” 

Willows Health Club and Equinox+
Mullane points to Willows Health Club in Queensland, Australia, as an example of an operator using AI and automation to embrace the ecosystem model advocated by Keepme. 

By more accurately tracking the activities members were doing, the facility was able to better direct investment to maximise engagement and ROI, and reallocate space in the club to deliver more of what its members wanted. 

As a consequence, Willows added a year to the average length of membership, visit rates jumped from 55% to 80% per month and by understanding its members better, saw an 8% improvement in sales conversion rates after just three weeks. 

Earlier this year, luxury US fitness brand Equinox jumped on the ecosystem trend too. Drawing on the biometric data recorded by Apple HealthKit and WHOOP devices, Equinox+ provides members with daily “recovery scores” and tailored class recommendations to help them make more of the company’s digital fitness offering. 

So, do you need big budgets and expensive brand partnerships with fit-tech companies to benefit from the ecosystem model? Mullane is confident everyone, from large gym chains to independent boutiques stands to gain from this approach. 

“The whitepaper was written to encourage operators to think about how they can align their businesses with the new reality,” he tells Welltodo. “Many will have the resources and understanding to see this become part of their business.

“For the smaller operators and independents, an understanding of where they fit in the ecosystem will help them be ready to leverage the tools that will inevitably become available to support their vision.” 

The Future Of Fitness Revolves Around Building Ecosystems
Image Credit: Kelly Sikkema

The ecosystem approach in practice
Here Keepme’s Ian Mullane outlines how gym owners can put the ecosystem concept into action as the UK eases out of lockdown. 

  • Broaden your position to wellbeing, not just fitness. “Consumers take a more holistic approach to their health and fitness,” explains Mullane. “While fitness operators are often their current temple, the consumer wants to believe they understand the other elements of their fitness and wellness ecosystem.”
  • Harness the power of wearable fitness trackers. “Engage members around the use of fitness wearables with ‘how-to’ guides and provide actionable advice based on the data they track to encourage progress,” says Mullane. “Wearables present an opportunity to better align your business with your consumer.”
  • Ask your members: What changed during lockdown? What worked? What didn’t? How can we adapt to meet your needs? “I expect it will not be a digital replication of the on-site experience and is more likely to be around personalisation and complementary services such as recovery,” adds Mullane. Ask these questions, learn from them, then action them.

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