Remember when fitness was an exploding rocket, taking off like a firebrand in everyone’s consciousness? The future seemed endless with new innovations blending technology and health, fun and funky athletic trends, and a swath of boutique and health club options catering to every age, income, and preference.
The future will be “virtual, gamified, and totally immersive,” claimed a January 2020 Fast Company article. Then came the COVID-19 shutdown and gym attendance petered out, to the point where an estimated 70% of health club members have not returned to their local gyms. Many turned to exercise at their home – a story you’ve read a few times by now.
So what will it take to get people back in the clubs? What can you do to entice fitness enthusiasts to abandon their screens and make it to your gym?
Why don’t you just take up where we left off in January? Press forward and give them an experience they can’t find at home.
According to Forbes, studios were integrating training into everyday locations by partnering with shopping centers, eliminating excuses by placing facilities directly in the path of their customers. Even vitality brand clothier Lululemon’s jumped in by blending a restaurant, fitness center, and smoothie bar into a single shop, Fuel, which debuted in Chicago last year.
Although convenience is a big draw for most fitness fans, their expectations for the actual adventure and its programming continue to grow beyond the bread-and-butter step classes of yore. Successful studios were incorporating musicians, immersive theater, and virtual reality content like VirZoom to keep millennials entertained and engaged. They were building on the concept that gym attendance is no longer a chore for beleaguered suburbanites, but a lifestyle choice reflecting not only their core values but confirming friendships.
This tribalism crept into heightened expectations as fitness leaders no longer were considered teachers but, instead, gurus of their trade – living, local rock stars capable of turning a 500-calorie spin session into an afternoon’s entertainment by emotionally connecting with their students.
At the same time, boutique, personalized fitness was skyrocketing. According to the Association of Fitness Studios, these free-standing businesses are the “fastest growing segment of the fitness industry.” It is an estimated $22 billion industry outnumbering all other health clubs combined, including hospital-based, military and physical therapy locations.
Of this sector, made up of more than 100,000 businesses, nearly 60% are personal and small group training studios, and 31% are yoga or Pilates studios. That said, an interesting fact remains that a majority of boutique center customers attend more than one facility for their training needs, unlike traditional health club members – meaning they are seeking specialized, compelling and novel experiences.
At the same time, mental health and wellness are also on track as a big draw for the fitness fan. The Global Wellness Institute reported recently that the pandemic has changed millennial and Gen Z priorities, as they now consider mental well being more significant than their medical health, with one in five having added a meditation practice to their routine.
This move towards full-body-mind self-care is reflected in the worldwide approach to overall wellness. When it comes to spending money, the spa industry is one of the fastest growing revenue leaders, increasing 9.9% annually from 2015-2017 while personal care, beauty, and anti-aging soak up a reported $1 billion of consumer cash annually.
These same smooth-skin devotees are attracted to opportunities where what they love at home shows up at their favorite hangout. One company, Black Box VR, combines virtual reality, gaming, and weightlifting to draw in exercisers interested in competing against computers or other people – no matter where they might be in the world. As in regular gaming, the experience is always changing and evolving based on skill level.
So where does all this leave you? With a few ideas.
Consider gyms within gyms, offering specialized fitness regimens to attract individuals interested in mixing up their training while engaging in a social interchange.
Make it convenient – you’re competing with a couch, after all. Think outside the traditional strip center: Malls, airports, supermarkets are all fair game now.
Make it easy – streamline everything by integrating technology at each point in the process, from entry to exit.
Invest in immersive experiences not found in the average home.
Take a second look at external moneymakers, such as those offered by the wellness industry: Massage, meditation, recovery, esthetics, nutrition and complimentary medicine, among others,are all branches of the same tree – comprising a $4.5 trillion international market as of 2018.