Disruption and long-term gains

At a time when gyms are closed and home workouts are the norm, what does the future hold for the fitness industry, and where are the areas of disruption?
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The (near-term) future of fitness

Gym memberships plummeted back when sites shut their doors last spring – some for good. Now, almost 60% of Americans say they won’t renew their membership when things go back to normal. But all’s not lost for the sector…

Where are the opportunities?

Not surprisingly, workout gear sales and home equipment orders have surged. Of US consumers, 76% have switched to home workouts and more than 80% of millennials say they prefer home workouts to gyms, according to research from The New Consumer.

1. New brands

Platforms like Mirror, FORME Life Studio, Tempo and Tonal have since boomed, as have eco and sustainable athleisure brands like Picture and Girlfriend Collective and fashion-friendly brands like LA’s District Vision, Hong Kong’s Lane Eight and Melbourne’s Maap. If recent stats are anything to go by, their popularity isn’t likely to fade.

2. Going solo

Tons of private trainers, many of whom were sole traders operating out of big-box gyms, have moved classes online, and those who were already online, like YouTube star Adriene Mishler, got a huge boost in traffic. This digital shift in client spend is not to be ignored, with some people now paying upwards of $30k for their annual fitness fix. Hope Hudson, a London-based PT, launched her online classes business after losing a part-time job during lockdown. After initially running workouts with friends and family, she’s now opened them up to the public.

‘The main benefit for me is that I’ve been able to take clients on who don’t live on my doorstep – we can work together from anywhere in the country,’ Hope says. 

However, she does point out that not every trainer is able to adapt as easily. ‘If you’re in a position that you can adapt to online or outdoor training then, yes, it does work, but many aren’t able to offer this so, without a gym setting to work in, they will suffer. Group exercise classes have obviously been hit really hard, which is such a shame as it’s a reasonably accessible way for people to exercise without the cost of hiring your own PT.’

3. The micro-gym

One concept that’s thrived is the micro-gym – an out-of-home space where people can work out alone, with a friend or one-to-one with a PT.Wilfred Valenta is CEO and co-founder of Silofit. He set up a small inner-city studio in Montreal two years ago, which allowed customers to rent space by the hour, as often or as little as they liked. Even as larger gyms closed, Wilfred has expanded to eight spaces – with 12 new sites in Toronto and a major US push planned for this year.Post-pandemic, he reckons hybrid fitness models will become the new norm: ‘They will want to go back to the gym, but this time they will want to combine it with the digital routines they’ve relied on in recent months. Consumers expect to spend 40% of their budget on digital options and 60% on in-person training. 

‘We anticipate a new fitness era focused on personal training that is on-demand or pay-per-user in fitness studios rather than big-box gyms, all connected with a digital layer that will make in-person and remote workout routines seamless.’

The takeaway

With commercial rents falling in major cities worldwide – office vacancy rates in San Francisco have reached their highest in nearly a decadespace is up for grabs and that could see micro-gyms take off in a big way. But whatever happens post-Covid, even if traditional gym culture returns in some way, larger chains won't retain their share of the pie that they were used to for so long.

A version of this article was published in the Courier Weekly newsletter. For more useful stories, tips, tricks and simply good advice, sign up here.

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