As we emerge from lockdown, fitness consumers’ behaviours and expectations are changing faster than ever before, and the implications for operators of bricks and mortar health and fitness clubs are both far-reaching and pressing.
Neither are these implications unique to our sector. We can’t stick with ‘business as usual’ and hope things blow over, or assume the new rules don’t apply to us – that we’re somehow different.
Because the reality is this: in a recent survey by Accenture – spanning 25,000 consumers across 22 countries – a full 50 per cent said the pandemic had caused them to rethink their personal purpose and re-evaluate what’s important to them in life.
It’s also altered how they choose products and services, with the most important drivers – across all ages, sociodemographic groups and sectors – now ease and convenience, a personalised service, and trust and reputation.
The digital opportunity
When you superimpose those three drivers on the health club sector, the implications are incredibly clear: consumers now expect a fitness offering they can consume wherever and whenever they want, that’s tailored to their needs, and that’s delivered by a reputable brand.
In other words, they expect a hybrid offering – with personalization powered by their data – that’s delivered by their trusted gym brand. And they expect it to be incredibly easy and convenient.
“Over half of gym members now expect a digital offering from their club, and they aren’t afraid to spend money to get it,” confirms Jake Shand, Wexer’s head of business development – USA. “2020 was a hell of a year, but the spend on digital fitness globally increased by over 50 per cent to US$4.5bn.
“My question to operators: how much of that do you want?”
Nad Myan, business innovation director at Evolution Wellness, agrees with the size of the opportunity identified by Shand. “The fitness industry has never received the kind of attention globally as it has over the last couple of years,” he observes. “Those that have the fortitude, the foresight and the finance to take advantage of that are going to be winners – and if we all work together, there’s plenty to be had.”
A share of this digital fitness pot won’t simply land in your lap, though. Fundamental change is needed, and it starts by properly scoping out your plans…
Get your strategy straight
“Strategy is more important than ever,” says fit-tech expert Bryan O’Rourke. “Acknowledge and embrace what’s happening, recognise your strengths and weaknesses, and have a real strategy you can execute.
“If you don’t do this, you really are risking your business. This change is real, not conjecture, so you have to jump in and embrace this new environment. There really is no alternative.”
“Bricks & clicks is a competitive advantage for those in the bricks and mortar space, but you have to start by making the critical decision to transcend being a location and become a service provider,” adds Xponential’s Garrett Marshall.
“Keep that front of mind and you’re sure to make the right choices along the way.”
Commit to hybrid
So, how do you turn your business into a ‘bricks & clicks’ model?
The first step is to recognise that this isn’t just something you can dabble in. “My biggest piece of advice is to take digital seriously and to give resource to that,” says Myan.
“Don’t look at it as just a project. See as an ongoing, integral part of the business. Have leadership, have a plan, have a strategy, get buy-in and you’ll knock it out of the park. Don’t treat it as a fleeting moment in time. It’s not.”
In fact, you need to be investing the same levels of attention and effort in digital as you do in the physical space. Evolution Wellness has done exactly this, and as a result has very successfully rolled out a monetised digital fitness offering – one that’s now driving revenue for the business.
Myan explains: “Rather than posting your content online for free and seeing digital as a cost centre, see it as something that can actually generate revenue.”
And bear in mind that this revenue might come not only from existing members but from those not yet engaged with your clubs, by reducing ‘gymtimidation’ and giving people an easy way in to your brand. “View your digital platform as a ‘gateway’ drug” for the 80 per cent not currently engaging with the gym, advises Myan.
Invest in your team
Yet at the same time as committing to digital, realise that a hybrid model shouldn’t come at the expense of your people: consumers may expect a convenient digital service, but you cannot neglect the human side.
What we do now have though, as club operators, is the opportunity to automate the mundane and “shift investment into human capital at key touchpoints”, says O’Rourke, pointing out how important it is to understand where tech ends and human interaction begins, and get the balance right.
“Invest in your team,” confirms Myan. Your staff must feel valued so they’re raving fans of your brand, bringing passion to their face-to-face interactions with members and building your community.
And ensure your people are adding to members’ sense of community away from your bricks and mortar space too, says Marshall, with familiar faces populating your online offering: “Provide your members with a ‘local live’ digital offering when they can’t make it in, so they see everything you do as part of one experience.”
Hybrid is absolutely not about replacing people, then. It’s about ensuring the best possible experience at every single customer touchpoint – and your people will remain central to that.
Don’t get left behind
But hybrid is, unavoidably, also about embracing technology.
As consumers’ expectations of brands have changed – with ease, convenience and personalisation now driving decision-making – digital has gone from being a nice-to-have to a must-have. It now impacts consumers’ decisions to choose you and stay with you.
For fitness operators, it means a hybrid model is now an absolute business necessity.
“We’ve seen disruption in other industries act as the death knell for some companies that didn’t feel the need to evolve their offering digitally,” concludes Shand. “The result: their industries left them behind.
“Don’t get left behind. Use disruption to your advantage by adopting new technologies that make your members’ lives easier.”
Get in touch now to discuss how Wexer can help your fitness operation start or accelerate its fitness journey: firstname.lastname@example.org
This article is based on a recent panel session – sponsored by Wexer and entitled ‘Fitness consumers’ expectations are changing, fast. Here’s how to stay relevant’ – which took place at the IHRSA 2021 Convention in Dallas, US.
Moderated by global fitness expert Emma Barry, the panel featured Nad Myan, business innovation director at Evolution Wellness; Garrett Marshall, president of fitness streaming for Xponential; Jake Shand, Wexer’s head of business development – USA; and Bryan O’Rourke, managing director or Fitness24Seven Thailand and CEO of Vedere Ventures.