When word of COVID-19 first spread, gyms across the country thought it would be enough to clean and sanitize their space a little more often and limit the number of members allowed in at one time. But when the world was suddenly put on lockdown, facility owners were left wondering how to cover rent, employee wages, and the everyday expenses that come with operating a gym or studio.
Fitness industry statistics show the industry has been booming, worth $94 billion in 2018, according to the IHRSA. The COVID pandemic has brought a slew of challenges to the industry, though, and despite health clubs trying their hardest to transition away from location-based business and into the online world, the health club sector could lose around $10 billion annually post-COVID, according to a survey by Harrison Co.
To minimize losses in 2020, a number of trainers and facilities have turned to online content creation.
“The COVID-19 pandemic saw a rise in the virtual fitness space,” Catalina Zbar, Founder of Telomere Consulting, says. “As studios worldwide were being ordered to close their doors, they quickly pivoted to providing their communities with online workouts. This dedication is what has led to clients remaining loyal to their home studios.”
2020: The Year of Virtual Fitness
In 2019, fitness tech was already the leading fitness industry trend. Industry leaders had already realized the potential of virtual training and classes, from livestreaming to uploading pre-recorded workouts, as it was widely recognized that online offerings could make services more accessible to members.
During the COVID pandemic, virtual fitness offerings have only gotten more common. From large gym chains to boutique studios, facility owners noticed increased interest in online classes that members can do from the safety of their own home.
“The overall impact of the pandemic has led to an increase in the adoption of virtual fitness,” Catalina shares. “A recent MINDBODY survey showed that in 2019, 7% of MINDBODY users used live streamed workouts compared with 80% during COVID-19.”
Nicole D’Andrea, MINDBODY certified business consultant, adds that the businesses who make it in the industry in 2021 will be those willing to adapt to the new digital landscape. With increased competition in the digital world, gyms may consider adding unique, creative new workouts to draw more members.
“Digital is here to stay and your ‘run of the mill’ yoga and fitness classes just aren’t enough to cut it online. I think we’re going to see a lot more specialization, and a lot more business owners finally embracing the concept of having a niche. It’s the only way to cut through the noise and stand out,” Nicole predicts.
It’s no surprise either that gyms are using the digital landscape to cater to their member demographics. The largest generation of gym users today are millennials, known for their tech-savvy, connected lifestyle.
As gyms and studios across the U.S. begin to reopen, it’s unlikely that virtual classes and training sessions will go anywhere.
“Consumers are, for the most part, remaining loyal to their local studios, as they appreciated the quick pivot to virtual offerings,” says Catalina. “In terms of what we can expect from the fitness industry moving forward, fitness consumers will continue to work out from home. In addition, however, they plan on returning to their pre-COVID routines. The same MINDBODY survey referenced above shows that 43 percent of MINDBODY users expect to go back to their previous routines in addition to virtual workouts.”
Because of the success virtual fitness has brought to fitness clubs around the country, expect to see brick and mortar locations expand their in-person offerings through online content.
“The good news is that the opportunity for success within the fitness industry, despite being competitive, remains. The ability to provide services to anyone in the world suddenly means studios are able to reach consumers they otherwise would not have had the chance to serve,” Catalina observes.
Mitch McGinley, consultant at First Choice Business Brokers, adds, “the combination of in person and online offerings will be key. New technologies like streaming platforms and others will become imperative for recovery.”
Are Home Gyms the New Normal?
In a recent study, consulting company McKinsey revealed that Americans have changed the way they’re spending time at home, and at-home fitness is no exception to this trend, with a 12 percent increase in exercising at home. With gyms closed during the beginning of the pandemic, it’s no surprise that many fitness enthusiasts have invested more time and money into creating workout spaces at home.
McKinsey also found that Americans are concerned about going back to many of their regular activities outside of the home. Specifically, only about a quarter of U.S. consumers are currently engaging in out-of-home activities like working out at a gym.
These trends strongly support the need for gyms and studios to continue investing in online content to keep their businesses running until consumers can safely and comfortably return to in-person workouts. But seeing that so many consumers have outfitted their homes for at-home exercising now, it’s likely that even after COVID-19 precautions lift, the industry will want to continue offering virtual workouts and classes for those who prefer working out at home.
In fact, a recent report released by Reports and Data predicts that the app-based fitness market will reach almost $15 billion by 2027. Worldwide COVID lockdowns have greatly increased the number of consumers using fitness apps, something the fitness industry will want to continue capitalizing on even when the pandemic comes to an end.
On this topic, Chris Beer, Founder of B.Well Consulting, points out, “today’s fitness clients have a lot of options, from boutique fitness studios and luxury gyms to streaming classes and high-tech home gym equipment.”
But facility owners shouldn’t fear that members will never return to in-person workouts and classes.
As the pandemic comes to an end, Chris advises that to find success post-COVID, gyms and studios should strive to “cultivate atmosphere, camaraderie, and a high level of customer service–in addition to great workouts,” and to “employ strategies that provide community and connection regardless of whether the classes are held in-studio or virtually.”
For most facilities, this will likely mean providing high-quality service and offerings both in-person and online for members.
How to Thrive in a Post-COVID World
Keep in mind that gyms and studios offer a number of benefits that consumers can’t get at home, like specific exercise equipment, a sense of community, and the enthusiasm of in-person group classes. As COVID restrictions lift and facilities reopen, it’ll be important to assure members that it’s safe to return. Increased sanitation, social distancing measures, and detailed plans for keeping the space safe during reopening. Targeted marketing efforts and strong communication with members will be equally as important to reassure returning members and new customers of safety efforts.
Touchless Entry Systems
One way to keep members engaged in-person is to promote touchless check-in. Systems like Kisi enable your members to access your facility or unlock specific areas without needing to touch doorknobs, keeping both security and health concerns minimal.
Innovative New Offerings
To keep business booming, promote newer fitness trends to encourage members to return. For example, short workout classes, like HIIT training, are increasingly popular as people’s lives get busier. You could also consider licensing classes and programs from top YouTube trainers to draw in new customers, or upload training videos from your own club’s personal trainers. You may also want to offer activities outdoors so that people can feel safe exercising in an open-air environment while still receiving the benefits of being part of your gym community.
Smart gym equipment has also become increasingly popular. Investing in smart equipment can allow members to use their personal devices to connect with your machines by connecting their health apps to monitor performance. Innovative use of trendy smart gym equipment is on the rise, as well. You may want to allow customers to rent time on an in-house Peloton or Fitness Mirror to capitalize on these trends.
Connect With Customers
Lastly, remember: “Communication is key.” Crystal Zakaluzny, owner of Crystal Zak Consulting, reminds facility owners, “communication with customers should be frequent and positive. With many changes implemented quickly in the past few months it is important to communicate new policies clearly. Your ideal customer will stick with you!”