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Here’s What Gym Operators Should Consider Before Investing in Tech

Here’s What Gym Operators Should Consider Before Investing in Tech

EGYM’s experts weigh in.

As tech and fitness continue to merge and COVID-19 accelerated the need for streaming, many gym and fitness operators are left with questions about where to invest. Pulse and EGYM, a global fitness tech leader, recently published a white paper and hosted a webinar to review the results. Leading industry experts discussed what areas fitness operators should expand and offered solution-based actionable advice on fulfilling member experiences. With 75% of operators stating that they plan to make tech investments in their facilities in 2022, will it pay off?

EGYM’s white paper compiled data from a global survey of 275 fitness operators. The survey sought to discover how (and why) gyms are investing in tech and what specific investments have caught the eyes of the responding gym operators. Here are the key takeaways:

Most fitness operators are looking to invest, but almost half are unsure of where to invest

75% of gym operators will be investing in tech in 2022, but 45% are unsure where to invest. Chris Craytor, CEO of ACAC Health Clubs and Vice Chairman of IHRSA, says this uncertainty isn’t surprising. He says there are so many options for tech that it can be overwhelming for a gym operator to select one solution. “It’s like looking at a very large menu at a restaurant and not knowing what to order,” Craytor says.

Knowing how and where to invest is paramount. “We are going to continually be judged by the experience we provide relative to other commercial brands (outside of the fitness industry). As other industries personalize and optimize their end-user experience, the fitness and health industry needs to keep up,” Craytor suggests.

The threat of growing tech looms for some gym operators

While nearly three-quarters of decision-makers will be investing in tech in the upcoming year, some operators are uneasy about advancements and view it as a business enemy. E-GYM’s white paper revealed that 41% of fitness facilities believe that streaming content is the biggest tech development that poses a threat. At-home workout technology is also viewed as a foe, said 34%. 

Dana Milkie, GM of EGYM North America, says that the real competitor isn’t local. With new fitness sources trending, it can be challenging to attract traditional gym attendees. “Instead of focusing on competing against the club down the street, operators need to shift their focus to address the competition that comes from other sources, like wearables, gadgets, and at-home workouts,” he says. 

While some operators are uneasy about tech, 63% say that offering streaming content and other virtual services gives them a competitive edge. 

How COVID-19 shaped tech investments in gym facilities

As a result of the pandemic, 42% invested in streaming content and virtual classes, 42% in mobile app development, but 30% reported that they weren’t comfortable maintaining a digital service in the long run. 

Milkie says that while streaming saw a huge uptick and there were six months of app development and content mania, it didn’t resonate with most members at the end of the day. Milkie says the process was too rushed and wasn’t strategic. He also mentions that it can be challenging for others to compete with tech leaders like Apple Health in the streaming game. He says it’s more important to have technology with a purpose and a strategy. 

Who isn’t investing in tech & why

Around 43% of respondents said they wouldn’t be investing in tech in the new year, as they have already made tech investments. The rest of the gym operators won’t be making investments because of lack of funding (21%), unclear ROI (14%), and uncertainty about where to invest (10%). 

Member experience is the #1 reason for those who are investing

61.5% of those investing are looking to improve member experience and stand out from the crowd. 13% are hoping their choice to invest will allow them to compete with home fitness. Others are looking to reduce operation and member acquisition costs. 

“The expectations of the consumer are growing exponentially each year. To me, this is something where we are probably underselling the need to invest in the member experience according to the survey,” Craytor says. Milkie agrees, saying, “I’d like to see more people focused on the member experience going forward.”

What consists of a member’s experience? Operators say PT and Smart Gym Equipment

A sizable percentage (70%) say that the most important aspect of membership experience is personal training, services, and the gym floor. 59% will invest in trainers and staff productivity, and nearly 55% will invest in smart gym equipment to enhance the member experience. 

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The panel pointed out that when it comes to implementing tech, sometimes simple is best. But when gyms operators become too attracted to the bells and whistles, it can exclude some members. For example, a gym should identify a problem that tech can resolve, like lead capturing. But implementing tech on the gym floor can make it more difficult for certain consumers, like a senior citizen who may not have a smart phone.

The solution, the experts say, is applying tech with purpose. A fitness facility needs to analyze its demographics.The tech should support and enhance a consumer’s experience, not make it difficult. “At the end of the day, the consumers pay the bills, and it has to be easy for the consumer to consume,” Craytor points out. He believes gyms must look at things from the lens of the consumer. 

Another tip, the experts say, is to keep it simple. “It all stems from your member,” says Milkie. “We are a member-driven industry that relies on membership growth in order to continue to evolve, so if you don’t have a really good CRM system in place, that should be job [number] one,” says Milkie.

The connected tech features that gym operators find most appealing

Facility decision-makers ranked the following in order of importance: assessment and training, member and trainer tools, progress visualization, and gamification. These features, respondents said, would influence them to select more connected fitness in the future.

One element that fitness operators should consider is the long-term investment in tech. Craytor says that investing in exciting new tech can be like getting a puppy. An operator invests in streaming or a mobile app, and now they have 15 years of maintenance and upkeep. An operator will then be responsible for constantly releasing fresh content or having dedicated studios, which doesn’t get any easier. “You started with a puppy, and now you end up with a dog,” Craytor says. Before a long-term 

investment, he says operators should ask themselves how long they can reasonably support the system for an extended period of time.

The bottom line is that the real world is member-centric

With tech accelerating, fitness clubs need to recognize that members may still love its brand and gym, but are finding at-home fitness and tech more conducive to their busy lives. “If we think we’re going to stop consumers from doing that, we’re going to have a very long road,” Milkie says. Instead, he says it’s important to embrace the changing world of fitness and ask, “How do I create a platform where we’re the one providing the content and enabling this new world for them?”

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