Whether you were planning to hit the gym consistently (finally) in 2020 or you are the owner of a fitness center who wanted to bring new equipment and classes to your facilities, your plans will now be different. The fitness industry is not exempt from the consequences of the global healthcare crisis and both users and fitness managers are having to adapt to a different reality. What are the opportunities and challenges for the industry during this time when people are doing everything remotely?
In this blog we will explore how fitness managers and industry executives can develop new services for today’s fitness consumers, as well as the strategies and best practices they can adopt.
How can fitness managers adjust to new customer behaviours during the crisis?
There are a number of existing factors in customer behaviour that coaches and fitness managers need to keep in mind when providing services during the shutdown. In particular:
- Customers are informed and empowered. Most people don’t need to rely entirely on a fitness instructor to follow a fitness program. With the rise of fitness applications, people can easily search for options to exercise and improve their health. This means personalized routines and nutrition plans at home.
- Fitness is taking over social media. There are 17.2 million monthly advertisers on Instagram of whom a high percentage promote fitness and lifestyle products which have become a symbol of people’s values. Fitness boutiques, yoga studios and big-box gyms need to pay greater attention to their Instagram accounts as it is a powerful tool to provide services. Fitness centers such as Orange Theory Fitness and Fly LDN are offering live sessions on Instagram to keep in touch with their customers.
- Customers have many tools at their disposal to track their progress. One of the reasons why people quit fitness activities is because they can’t track their progress. Luckily, technology is improving the fitness ecosystem. Mobile apps and equipment that use IoT technology enable users to have visibility of their progress through connected devices. As people can use such devices at home to measure their performance, they will be less likely to quit their workouts during the shutdown. This means your fitness routines can be the perfect compliment to an audience that highly relies on technology to exercise.
As a result, a large number of fitness customers were already familiar with apps to optimize their health before the crisis; thus, fitness companies not investing in digital tools need to create a digital strategy as soon as possible to offer their products and services and harness people’s “digital habits”.
However, if you are the owner of a fitness center, you might want to make some adjustments to your strategy to keep providing high quality services. Let’s explore what fitness studios and big box-gyms are currently doing.
Strategies for when people are under stay-at-home orders
Today, every industry, including the fitness sector is focusing on digital services. In the case of fitness, personal trainers and managers of fitness centers are opting to offer their classes online. A good example of the digitalization of fitness is TS Fitness which is launching one-on-one personal training, online virtual groups and a mobile app. Also, Planet Fitness made its classes available online even to those who don’t have a membership.
Training centers such as Training Mate are offering password-protected workout videos on Vimeo for members, while others like Carrie’s Pilates Plus offer pilates classes via Zoom. Y7, a yoga studio, offers two digital workouts per week on Instagram, charging either $25 per class or $179 per month for unlimited classes. This means that while some fitness centers are opting to offer their classes online free of charge, others have either reduced costs or continued to provide fitness services for members only. The approach will largely depend on the size of the company and the strategies they are creating to survive the crisis. Some studios expect to attract more clients offering free classes, while others focus on their existing members.
Other fitness studios are shifting their business models to focus on renting equipment, which not only enables their customers to have what they need to exercise at home, but also generates new revenue streams. For example, Balance Gym lends equipment free of charge to customers with an active membership while Sweat DC rents weight training equipment, exercise bands, medicine balls and other apparatus for a period of 30 days.
Fitness influencers have an advantage over some fitness centers as their way to communicate with customers has always been online. Instagram has become one of the most popular platforms to share nutrition plans and workouts. However, they are also changing their digital strategies. For instance, the famous fitness influencer Kayla Itsines adapted her workouts to have minimum or no equipment and to be apartment-friendly, meaning people can exercise in small spaces. Also some of the workouts avoid high intensity jumps to prevent people from bothering neighbors.
Best practices for fitness centers to adapt to a new reality
Adopting a new digital strategy can be hard, particularly if you were not investing in digital capabilities before the crisis. However, by taking quick action, you can reduce the negative impact on your business, and retain and even attract new customers. Here is what we recommend:
- Focus on your staff first, so they can best serve your customers. During these hard times the first thing that comes to mind is how to retain customers and how to keep providing classes and fitness programs they feel motivated about. However, in order to build a personal relationship with your users, you need a team, and it’s crucial they feel their company understands them as humans. Once you have taken care of your staff you will be better prepared to assist your clients.
- Think about who your audience will be and adapt to their needs. Before going virtual, analyze if you are offering online classes for members only, or if you are going to provide workouts free of charge. A good strategy for fitness businesses right now is, on the one hand, keep offering classes that your current customers are used to taking and provide a familiar environment. And on the other hand, create innovative content on platforms such as Youtube or Instagram, which might attract a more varied client based, as distance is not an impediment when it comes to virtual content.
- Help your customers, regardless of whether they want to cancel their program or start exercising. It’s crucial that you make things as easy as possible for your clients. You might want to take a different approach from your cancellation or registration policies. Enrolling in your fitness training should be as easy as canceling or postponing a membership. This is something your clients will remember and it will impact customer loyalty and brand image.
- Nurture your community. A crucial factor to keep your customers happy and your business running is to nurture the community you have built. For many people, their motivation to exercise during quarantine is to keep in touch with their fitness community. It’s not only about standing in front of a computer to follow a workout, but also about interacting with others. Real time platforms such as Zoom, Google Meets or Instagram live can work very well to let your customers know you are there to assist and nurture your community.
- Create training sessions for children and elders. Consider that many of your customers are now at home with their kids and relatives. We don’t know how much longer stay-at-home orders will last, and children and seniors might want to start exercising at home as well. Think about creating content that adapts to their specific needs.
- Think about how the fitness experience will look like when the pandemic is over. The experience your customers will have after the pandemic starts now. Their perception of your brand largely depends on how you treat them today, during times of crisis. Your strategy can motivate or discourage them to continue using your services when the shutdown is over. Also, even when some people prefer to exercise at the gym, some people might stick to classes online, which is why you might want to plan this digital shift in the long-term.
If you want to keep exploring what CEOs, managers and coaches of fitness centers are doing to stay relevant amid the shutdown, fortunately there are a lot of resources available. For example, you can explore the MXM idea lab, a platform where you will find strategies and ideas that fitness clubs are implementing to navigate the crisis, how to boost employee engagement, how to collaborate with supplies and partners, and more.
IHRSA is another platform worth exploring. There you will find videos, articles, forums, and webinars with the insights of fitness managers on how to use virtual tools to engage staff and members, sales and marketing resources, tips for going virtual, reasons to keep exercising during the shutdown, and many other resources to keep your business running.