The fitness industry has never been so exciting, and there is so much renewed interest in wellness and our collective desire to seek optimal health. The concept of a “traditional gym” has slogged it out for about 50 years, starting in community halls and evolving into big-box gyms, budget clubs and boutique studios. Adjacent industries—such as entertainment, health, athleisure, franchising, food and hospitality, social media and gaming—are investing money in our arena. The digital age is putting the health club in our collective pockets as fitness goes borderless. Indeed, technology is disrupting every industry, and we find ourselves sparring for the mindshare and money of a shared consumer.
When fitness bifurcated into high-cost fitness facilities (boutique studios and premium clubs) and low-cost (budget) clubs, a new landscape was created. Boutique studios provided specialized, high-touch experiences and showed us how to elevate customer service to new heights. Budget clubs have proven that it’s possible to offer affordable fitness to the masses at breakneck speed, with excellent facilities and automated self-serve options. In addition to these “new rules,” digital, at-home options may be the biggest disruptors, with Peloton bringing the boutique fitness experience to the privacy of the home through a successful hardware/software subscription model. Franchising is also on fire.
Where do you fit in? Fitness is the broad shoulders on which lifestyle sits, but we still have much work to do to keep our members and clients positively engaged. This article shines a light on current, exciting changes in fitness, and it offers tips on how to prepare for an even more exciting future.
Embracing Technology and Being Human
We can now map our runs, rate our workouts, close our rings and measure our sleep hygiene.
Information used to be valuable, but now the power trend is the ability to mine data and predictively serve preferences through frictionless commerce. True progress, however, embraces human and machine.
The fitness industry was slow to adopt technology, until budget clubs introduced automation and self-service to keep their head count and costs down. Boutiques use slick booking, payment and promotional platforms and in-studio, high-tech touches like heart rate tracking. Many brands have demonstrated that engaging a remote community based on livestreaming, leaderboards and data tracking is a thriving proposition. Meditation apps are popular, Apple tells you when to move, and Whoop™ grades your sleep.
There is no magic pill suspending us in a state of optimal health, but we are moving toward a hyperpersonalized world where biometrics tells us what we should do, when we should do it and at what intensity and duration. Make no mistake, though: With the acceleration of machine learning, artificial intelligence and automation comes the opportunity to become more human. It’s time to focus on the things we are uniquely great at: being creative, solving problems, injecting emotion into experiences and being empathetic. There’s a lot of opportunity to make face-to-face interactions more potent.
If you haven’t thought about how you’re going to use technology to take your fitness business to the next level—or keep it viable—now is the time. Partner with a new perspective; innovation comes from the edge. Many popular studio franchises flipped talent on its head and hired charisma first. The home-based subscription model that many predicted would be too expensive to gain critical mass? It’s now a success. Boutiques placed a per-experience-price on classes, proving that people would pay for group fitness if the experience was good enough. Vocal guidance apps, podcasts (and the power of storytelling), diagnostic tools and personalized beauty products all meet our needs for hyperpersonalization. What do your clients want and need?
See also: Do You Need a Better Technology Policy?
Fitness Industry Lifecycle
Fitness is simply another service waiting to be packaged and presented to a primed group of consumers. We are a great industry, but we are not yet mighty. Adjacent businesses eclipse us in bankable value, and they have sat quietly, waiting for fitness equity to rise. Beyond the immaculately coiffured studios, very few brands have the foresight (or frankly the capital) to extend their experiences to travel and lodging, virtual coaching and wellness. It’s unlikely that we’ve done enough to outpace inevitable newcomers to our industry, but it’s not too late.
When an economic downturn hits, cost-effective fitness delivery is ready. Are you? As any great CEO will attest, it’s about the quality of the question. So, what’s yours? What can you do to strengthen your fitness business, embrace disruptions, become more tech-savvy and create better experiences? Whether you are a big-box manager, a studio owner or a budding entrepreneur, consider the following tips.
BE READY TO PIVOT
With the acceleration of technology and the proliferation of business models and pricing structures, you need to be nimble and prepared to evolve your business to meet the changing needs of your customers. Plan for it.
EXIST ON PURPOSE
Clearly articulate who you are and who you are not—by creating a mission statement and purpose. This will help you find and serve your tribe. Build rituals into your company culture, so that staff and members feel your brand in action and align through common behaviors.
LOOK OUTSIDE THE INDUSTRY TO LEARN BEST PRACTICES
The beauty industry is hyperpersonalizing. The travel industry has been facilitated by aggregators like Expedia for years. The applications space delivers specific and seamless solutions. Borrow these practices and apply them to your own business model.
Automating repeatable tasks that are not valued by customers allows you to focus on making the high-touch areas of your business more special. Some examples of areas where automation shines are lead generation, scheduling, sign-up and booking.
Segment your customer base so you can track behaviors and start to meet your members’ preferences more delightfully. Always A/B test variations of a marketing campaign to pinpoint what works best; do the same for programming and customer service. The future is predictive.
EMBRACE BEING HUMAN
Organizations are becoming more globally connected, intrapreneurial, purpose-driven and diverse. Incentivize staff to share their ideas with you and create an inclusive, collaborative environment. Find ways to engage staff more creatively in passion projects, and watch engagement and results soar.
DELIVER TO MILLENNIALS AND GEN Z
According to the 2019 Global Consumer Fitness Survey by Les Mills, 80% of all those attending a gym are Gen Z or millennial, so make sure you are tuned in to their wants and needs.
PARTNER WITH ON-BRAND VERTICALS
Brainstorm out-of-the-box services that your members seek—for example, in food and fashion. Stay up to date with trends like recovery strategies, and introduce these in a way that makes sense in your business.
MAP OR REMAP STAFF AND CUSTOMER JOURNEYS
Review each touchpoint to see how you can dial up human connection in your community. Focus on what matters, and be guided by what your customers positively and negatively react to.
PILOT NEW THINGS ON A REGULAR BASIS
Try new classes and exercise programs and take feedback from everyone connected to your brand, including staff, members, clients and potential customers. Consider partnering with a fitness aggregator (like ClassPass) to fill empty class spots, but guard the discounted price and slots you negotiate.
DELIVER THE CURRENCY OF CONVENIENCE
Develop a digital representation of your brand that your members can have at home or can take with them to work or when they go on vacation. Ideas include audio workouts, a dedicated YouTube exercise channel and a club app.
BUILD A BADASS BOUTIQUE VIBE
If it’s time to renovate your facility, design an inspiring, multisensory space with ideal lighting, sound, backdrop and storage solutions.
Now is the time to reassess your spot in this evolving industry and stake your claim as the next phase rolls in. Embrace technology, evaluate your commitment to the customer and take cues from other service-oriented industries—to create high-quality experiences that will take your fitness business to the next level.
See also: Apps for Business Efficiency
Les Mills. 2019. Generation active: The 80% clubs can’t afford to ignore. Accessed July 2019: lesmills.com/us/clubs-and-facilities/research-insights/audience-insights/generation-active-the-80-your-club-cant-ignore/.