The future of the fitness industry may include more hybrid models, where gyms and studios sell memberships and packages that include both in-person and online offerings.
The COVID-19 pandemic has undoubtedly caused difficulties for so many fitness businesses. Yet crises can spark opportunities. This year’s home workout boom hasn’t just benefited home equipment brands like Peloton, it has also coincided with many gyms and fitness studios rolling out online offerings to diversify their business models and become hybrid gyms and fitness studios.
Based on the success of these launches, online offerings like live-streamed classes will likely continue to some degree long after the pandemic ends. However, don’t expect each gym to reinvent itself as solely a YouTube channel. Instead, the future of the fitness industry may include more hybrid models, where gyms and studios sell memberships and packages that include both in-person and online offerings.
Adding Value to Members
Similar to how it took the pandemic to cause some workers and their employers to embrace working from home, many gym-goers and fitness businesses now recognize the value that virtual memberships provide. From on-demand classes to nutrition coaching to trainer check-ins, the number of opportunities that exist online can add value to gym memberships and studio packages.
“This was something that some people were already starting to do [before COVID]. It’s a great way to get people to check out your space,” says David Mitroff, founder and chief consultant at Piedmont Avenue Consulting, which advises businesses in the fitness industry, among other sectors. “But now the virus has made it a necessity. The businesses that are not online are not going to be around much longer.”
In Milwaukee, Ryan Mleziva, founder of Brew Fitness, a gym that focuses heavily on classes, had already been planning to offer a hybrid model by rolling out an on-demand workout library as a way to add value to members pre-COVID.
“I always thought that an on-demand workout library that would be included in memberships added more value to an already competitive market and would give us a one-up,” he says. “But also, I just thought that it would be a feature that our member base would appreciate.”
Fortunately for Mleziva, when the pandemic hit, Brew Fitness was able to quickly launch an online platform with Zoom-based live classes as well as on-demand ones. Members can continue to use these offerings as part of their memberships, or those who froze or canceled memberships can join for around $10/month. In doing so, Brew Fitness has been able to limit some of the financial fallout from the pandemic, including by keeping virtual members who might not otherwise feasibly be able to join the gym.
For example, for people who moved or who are in long-distance relationships with someone they want to still work out with, “keeping that digital presence has kept a lot of those people as members of the gym in some regard, compared to in the past, they would have traditionally just canceled,” says Mlezvia. “It gives us the ability to reach a broader audience.”
Building Community Across Channels
While hybrid offerings can add value to members, gyms and fitness studios can only get there by continuing to build community, both virtually and in-person where possible.
As Mitroff of Piedmont Avenue Consulting notes, fitness businesses that in the past simply scanned people in at the front desk and where members kept to themselves — without focusing on the community and camaraderie that can occur when working out among others — may struggle in this new era.
“It’s about building relationships and creating customer loyalty,” he says.
And in order to compete with the plethora of online offerings and home workout gear that already exist, gyms and fitness studios need to find ways to form stronger connections with members.
“We’ve always said, our yoga is awesome, our teachers are some of the best, but why people stick around is because of the community and being able to tap into ways to connect with their own impact in the world,” says Emily Morwen, co-founder of Modo Yoga LA, a set of three hot yoga studios in Los Angeles that are part of the larger Modo Yoga brand.
For example, instead of just offering online classes, Modo Yoga LA’s studios offer virtual memberships where for each one purchased, they donate a virtual membership to someone from an underserved community.
“We also try to personally connect with our students. My partner, Alice, and I write to our students and send little video love notes/updates to them every once in a while just as a way to try and remind them that we are here for them and we miss them,” says Morwen.
When the pandemic ends, continuing to focus on these types of activities can help gyms and fitness studios build stronger businesses, particularly through a hybrid approach.
For example, being able to quickly send a video to a personal trainer to have them check your form, or having a trainer design a workout that clients can use with home equipment can help build relationships, says Mitroff. Clients won’t always be able to work out in-person every day, so maintaining these connections through other channels can lead to stronger bonds.
The next evolution in fitness
While it’s not exactly clear what hybrid business models might look like when the pandemic ends, some form of both in-person and online offerings appears here to stay. Both types can feed off each other, such as with in-person communities growing closer by having members also engage online to support one another’s progress. Plus, hybrid models can add revenue streams to gyms and other fitness businesses looking to recover from the difficulties of 2020.
“The fitness industry evolves and changes, and I think this [pandemic] kind of just forced us to change in this direction,” says Mleziva of Brew Fitness. “I don’t see it disappearing overnight. I think it’ll be something that we stick with for quite a while.”