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On-Demand and App-Based Training: Getting Clients via Smartphone

Apps and online tools streamline the process of clients finding the right fitness pro at the right price in the right location.

The on-demand economy—featuring Uber-style personal fitness training—is here. While app platforms vary in structure and locale, they share a common thread: on-demand connection with fitness experts.

On-demand mobile commerce attracts more than 22.4 million consumers and $57.6 billion in spending annually, with $8.1 billion going to health and beauty services that include fitness training, Harvard Business Review reported in April 2016. It's essential for fitness professionals to understand how on-demand platforms can enhance their business. Facility owners and managers should assess the potential of engaging customers via mobile apps and figuring out how to accommodate new service delivery systems.

To get an idea of how these trends are shaping up, check out some early market leaders:

On-Demand Mobile Fitness

On-demand platforms include specialized fitness apps and businesses offering at-home services like personal training. Here's a sampling:

  • Thumbtack.com connects people with service providers in their communities; it's not a dedicated fitness app. The company says that about 4% of its marketplace consists of exercise-related categories like personal training, yoga and circuit training, and that trainers range from under 25 to over 65, with 52% of clients under 30. Most clients are in for the long haul: 44% want a trainer for 4 months or more, 26% want to train for 3 months, and 15% want a trainer for 2 months. Thumbtack expects continued growth in the number of people seeking trainers on its site. The company charges fees to service providers to submit quotes to interested customers. Thumbtack does not provide a payment platform, so service providers need to establish those terms with clients.

    "Until I ran across Thumbtack, it had been really hard for me to get clients. I was bottom of the barrel, just scraping by," says Steve Botsford, a featured trainer on Thumbtack's website. "[Thumbtack] started the process for me. Now the last 5 months have been insane. Now the phone is ringing off the hook." He's aiming to hire three or four people in the next year.

  • Bodymindr.com, based in Los Angeles, provides health and wellness services such as yoga, personal training, massage and chiropractic care, among others. The platform enables health and wellness professionals to offer services and accept payment without having to build an expensive website. Payment is through PayPal; Bodymindr keeps 5%, or a minimum of $3, as a commission. Provider listings are free.

    "We are only in the second month of our soft launch and are initially focused on organic growth through social media and word of mouth," founder Alex Gallner said in October 2016. "We've had approximately 1,850 organic page views in the past 30 days, and our Instagram account has grown to over 3,100 followers. Most listings are in Southern California, but we're seeing listings pop up from all over the world.

    "We recommend that [providers] on Bodymindr use the social media integrations we've implemented by sharing their listings on various social platforms, and be as descriptive as possible with pictures, experience, certifications and a proper description of the offer."

  • TruBe App (http://trubeapp.com), based in London, is an on-demand personal training app that lets customers choose a convenient time and location for training. Phil Taylor, marketing manager, says, "Since our full launch in January 2016, we have grown on average 30% each month." As of October 2016, TruBe had over 200 trainers in London and 30,000 booking requests. TruBe is looking to expand to other U.K. cities and cities around the world that are similar to London. TruBe will be offering the option to work out in some studios and gyms that they're partnering with across London.

    "The vast majority of our customers come from social media," says Taylor. "We also hold events like pop-up workouts and were the fitness partner for the Royal Parks Half Marathon."

  • Handstand (www.handstandapp.com) is an app that offers local on-demand personal training in Los Angeles; Orange County, California; New York City; and Boston. With a strategic partnership with Reebok®, Handstand plans nationwide expansion. The Handstand platform processes all bookings and payments. Tiffany Hakimianpour, CEO and founder, in Santa Monica, California, says the company launched in January 2015, and as of October 2016 it had 2,000 trainers and 3,000 users, with 500 trainers on a waiting list to be interviewed. "We have 700-plus bookings per month," she says.

    When clients book a training session with the app, they meet a Handstand trainer at the location of their choice. Fees depend on the number of monthly sessions—1, 4, 8 or more. Training fees tend to be less than studio rates; at the same time, trainers receive a higher percentage. Hakimianpour estimates that the average Handstand trainer is earning about two to three times more per session than trainers at gyms. Future plans include integrating national gyms and studios to increase personal training revenue. Handstand users may book sessions with trainers at participating gyms through the Handstand app without being a facility member. "Our vision is to be the name and brand associated with the best in personal fitness, where you go to book personal training sessions of any kind, inside or outside of the gym," says Hakimianpour.

  • Fitmo (https://fitmo.com) provides app-based personal training. Clients select a trainer by reading bios and reviews and then get personalized training through the app platform. "The human connection is missing on all the health apps out there," says Dave Roeloffs, CEO and founder of Fitmo, in Amsterdam. "We're using technology to break down geographic and financial barriers, since app-based training is more affordable." Fitmo offers only app-based training, but it's developing complementary offline training, where clients meet with coaches in real time.

    "We enable coaches [trainers] to find their specific niche and move toward what really drives them and where their passions lie. Coaches set their own rates. The first 7 days for clients are free. Fees are monthly; our guidelines only require that coaches contact customers within a certain amount of time of being contacted. Trainers receive ratings, so they are motivated to convert clients to monthly retainers and to do good work to attract other clients."

    To get the word out, Fitmo is developing strategic partnerships with wearable-tech companies like Jawbone®. The intention is to make app-based personal trainers the missing link for clients using wearables to achieve health and fitness goals. Fitmo is also partnering with local event providers such as Tough Mudder® and offering online trainers who specialize in preparing clients for mud runÔÇôtype events.

How On-Demand Training Helps Trainers

With consumer interest in virtually every sector, on-demand training for fitness services is only likely to grow. Trainers note these benefits:

On-demand optimizes training calendars. Apps let trainers fill time that would otherwise be used inefficiently. Trainers who offer app-based training can use off hours for program design and feedback. Trainers using on-demand platforms to train in real time can define their own hours, accept clients in time slots not typically used at studios or gyms, and fill calendars through broad customer exposure.

Trainers can target niches. On-demand training with search features lets trainers nurture a select niche. Motivated clients who want specific services can find them. "Because each trainer has a profile to sell themselves to potential clients, showing off your niche is essential to stand out from the crowd," says Joshua Ward, personal trainer with TruBe, boxing and kickboxing coach and weight loss specialist in London. For example, on the Fitmo platform, some fitness pros train only runners or triathletes for specific events, so the people interested in those services can find them easily.

Overhead is low. On-demand training has very little overhead compared with a gym or studio. App-based platforms can charge trainers as little as 5% or as much as 20%. Training, however, may occur in a client's home or workplace or outdoors. Trainers must be able to adapt to different environments and to provide equipment as needed.

"Typically, I have five to six sessions a day, with different locations and setup," Ward says. "I've always got to think outside that gym mentality and deliver effective sessions, no matter what I'm facing. Initiative and experience are key."

Trainers are free to focus on training. Most platforms have scheduling, recordkeeping and payment services. On-demand trainers recommend that fitness pros have active social media accounts that link with app profiles to help with marketing. Roeloffs says that a goal of Fitmo is to enable coaches to focus on the online coaching experience and not have to think about back-office administration.

Data can be integrated. Some platforms, such as Vida (www.vida.com), crunch data from many consumer devices. This simplifies the process for setting and achieving goals, making it possible for artificial intelligence (AI) to support the coaching relationship. "We're going to see more platforms where AI can augment what trainers provide, to help motivate clients and to modify behaviors," says Bryan O'Rourke, MBA, CEO of Vedere Ventures, Integurus, FITC, in Mandeville, Louisiana. For example, AI can do customized notifications that keep a client focused on specific fitness goals.

Adapting to the New Market

Experts agree that technology offers tremendous opportunities to expand training to a much larger market. That said, there are a few challenges:

Service redefinition. "Redefining service delivery allows the value proposition to shift," says O'Rourke. "People now expect personalization—training that is more convenient and relevant. And they expect integration of technologies." Meeting these new expectations requires trainers to broaden their coaching paradigm and learn these technologies.

Demand for experience. These new platforms are not always easy for new trainers to use. First, the market encourages specialization, which requires experience. Second, most platforms require trainers to offer services in a variety of settings (outdoors, offices, homes, etc.), which involves practice and/or training, although this may evolve as gyms participate. Third, app-based trainers compete with others based on profiles that highlight experience and that share testimonials, which typically take time in the trenches to develop.

Travel. As consumer expectations shift toward more convenience, trainers often need to come to clients, which costs time and money. Trainers in densely populated urban areas can limit travel by specializing in neighborhoods, but this may not work well in less-populated or more sprawling suburban and rural areas.

A Rapidly Changing Marketplace

O'Rourke predicts that traditional training business models will remain, but will shrink as a percentage of the fitness user experience. At the same time, new services create the potential to reach a lot more clients. Fitness pros today face a rapidly changing marketplace that can be both exciting and rewarding. Creating a clear business vision—a brand proposition—and a strategic plan, combined with intelligent use of emerging technologies, to stand out in a very crowded marketplace that includes on-demand services, is perhaps now more important than ever before.


These apps provide on&ndashdemand fitness services in the U.S.:


Shirley Eichenberger-Archer, JD, MA

Shirley Archer, JD, MA, is an internationally acknowledged integrative health and mindfulness specialist, best-selling author of 16 fitness and wellness books translated into multiple languages and sold worldwide, award-winning health journalist, contributing editor to Fitness Journal, media spokesperson, and IDEA's 2008 Fitness Instructor of the Year. She's a 25-year industry veteran and former health and fitness educator at the Stanford Prevention Research Center, who has served on multiple industry committees and co-authored trade books and manuals for ACE, ACSM and YMCA of the USA. She has appeared on TV worldwide and was a featured trainer on America's Next Top Model.

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