In many ways, the COVID-19 gym shut-down accelerated an already intense competition in the virtual health and fitness marketplace. Companies such as Peloton and Mirror were already bringing high-end, high-quality workouts into individuals’ homes, while club-staple Les Mills’ expansion into the on-demand arena created another at-home avenueencompassing classes and training programs.
Meanwhile, brick-and-mortar gym shops shut down, forcing owners to pivot and change business models within weeks. Their one option? Jump into the digital fray–which is exactly what they did–giving away free classes, offering free trials, and supercharging their online community with ad hoc Zoom classes and YouTube videos.
Within weeks a brand new business vertical emerged–off-site virtual fitness and remote training. Local gyms went head-to-head with national competitors. Now, it’s time for your digital vertical to turn a profit because, demand suggests, virtual fitness is here to stay.
How Can You Succeed in the Digital Foot Race?
By capitalizing on your main advantage over purely digital offerings–your gym customer. The person who already knows, likes, and frequents your business. The challenge now is reframing what it means to be a member of your gym.
Prior to the lockdown, your club was home base for access to fitness classes and gym equipment. Then, both you and your customer learned how cool it was to exercise at home. For you to continue to be an important component of their lives, you need to become a trusted facilitator of their healthy approach to life – both at home and at the gym. From this perspective, you’re no longer just a building, you’re a reliable resource.
By creating the correct combination of services, offerings, and support you can construct incentives that will overcome reluctant prospects and keep hesitant members from cancelling contracts, all the while cementing customer loyalty.
Expanding Digital Offerings
As with any new business service, a successful digital fitness business begins with a plan for content and delivery. Live-streaming, on-demand programming and one-on-one coaching are the three primary forms of content expected by customers. All require a robust platform supported by community engagement tools and a methodology to tie it back into your physical plant.
It is not necessary to offer all three right away, but choose the ones that resonate best with your current customer base and build from there.
Livestreaming has the advantage of building your brand through the use of familiar instructors and the chance to incorporate your own identity and local flavor. These original workouts can beuploaded and used as on-demand services. Digitally streamed one-on-one coaching sessions keep familiar relationships intact and maintain a sense of normalcy for clients.
However, you may not be ready to double as a video production manager. Consider contracting with a content creation company to provide high-quality, value-added exercise classes that can fill empty studios while giving clients the choice of personal workouts either at home or on-demand at the gym. Companies such as Wexer, and FitnessOnDemand, to name but a couple, offer full online libraries of top-quality classes instructed by the best athletes in the industry. LIFT Digital Inc. and Trainerizedeliver platforms that support personal training or group sessions and provide technology such as branded apps and billing management to optimize profits.
This way, your clients dial into your website to find classes or services that support their goals.
Create a Home Based Plan
In order for your gym to be successful with its digital vertical business model, though, it needs a two-tier approach–a wholistic supportive method of engaging and supporting clients on their turf. This home-based plan combines accountability and motivation through a series of baked-in checks and balances that blend to become an invaluable support system. It is an organized, marketed tool showcasing a multi-step effort to support the health of your clients.
Mike Belfort, author of the blog entitled “Brick and Mortar Got Exposed,” explains that a well-designed creative plan would include:
Daily: Go beyond healthy eating tips. Teach clients how to grow and use their home-based gyms. Much private equipment goes unused because no one motivates them or teaches them how to use it. A customized fitness plan allows for daily reminders and positive reinforcements through an app, email or a private Facebook page.
Weekly: How-to workout videos featuring personal trainers, 15-minute phone check-ins, linking with professionals such as registered dietitians, nurses, doctors, and others in the wellness community.
Monthly: In-club or virtual live webinars to create involvement.
Culturally: Build community through group challenges designed to bring people together emotionally and, at times, physically or electronically through in-person or online get togethers. Lure clients back in through limited, Group X “pop-up” classes.
The idea is to create sustainable wins for your customers. Are they experiencing personal life changes? Is the club an extension of their friendship circle? Is the environment appealing and the employees hospitable? How important is your gym to their lives? A virtual vertical allows you to embed your business into their everyday lives.
Back in gyms’ golden years, it was common to choose between membership “levels.” Each provided a different set of advantages, from just pound-the-weights entry to all-inclusive white towel service. Although the details might be different, the idea is the same. For what is your member willing to pay? Retool fees to reflect a diverse choice of services.
These detailed memberships let members choose the level of support they need and showcase the advantages of aligning with an expert team capable of moving them towards their fitness and health goals.
A virtual business model tucked within your brick-and-mortar gym creates unlimited opportunities for growing non-dues-based revenues. Sold through an online store embedded in your website, supplements, home-gym equipment, fitness wearables and more offer avenues for additional profits.
Before fully launching remote training and virtual services, you should update member waivers to include online training, evaluate insurance coverages, and establish protocols to protect your company from intellectual property, risk management, and scope-of-practice violations. Club Industry’s blog ”Video Training Offerings…Liability Issues,” offers a succinct overview of these important considerations.
This new normal is moving fast and not all of it is covered under old-world standards. Make sure your business is protected from potential lawsuits by taking a look at your business practices from a lawyer’s perspective. Then flip the switch and go virtual.