In response to the COVID lockdown, studios hastily set up online Zoom classes to retain members. Poor quality video and other limitations of this approach will drive members away to better experiences. Instead, a converged model is best - one that combines the physical studio experience with a seamless connected digital one for members at home - or in the gym. Consider a connected fitness digital platform.
Why not Zoom
The Fitness Industry is faced with unthinkable challenges from COVID. Boutique gyms in particular are the hardest hit after leading the industry with 30% growth year over year. The much anticipated re-opening of facilities is overshadowed by restrictions that could make studio economics unsustainable.
Data from a YouGov poll showed that only 30% of gym-goers feel comfortable returning to their club once restrictions are lifted. A study by RunRepeat shows a similar trend. According to the survey conducted with more than 10,000 gym-goers, only 50% are likely to return to their clubs in the US. Female customers seem the most hesitant to return even though they often make up more than 60% of the overall number of members.
Many studios have successfully started offering virtual classes with conference tools like Zoom in order to retain members and keep some revenue coming in the door. With Zoom, studio owners and their instructors stream live classes from their homes and offer primarily stretching and body-weight exercises. Zoom was a godsend for these studios, as it offered a ready-to-go solution for connecting to members live during the lockdown.
But as convenient as it is, Zoom is not designed to help gyms go online. Don't get us wrong - it's a phenomenal video conference solution for business teams that we rely on too. But it wasn't purpose-built to replace the in-gym experience nor does it offer ways to generate revenue for virtual classes. The longer a studio relies on a conference solution like Zoom as their digital offering, the more likely it will drive their members away.
For this article we spoke with numerous boutique and national chain studio owners about their experience going digital. In it we'll explore some important considerations for studios as they look to build longer term digital offerings for members that Zoom cannot offer and will help their business thrive post-COVID.
#1 Consumers have high expectations for digital experiences
Experiences from other industries have “spoiled” consumers. Streaming services and apps have set high standards in terms of seamless experiences, ease of use, interaction, tracking and personalization. Consumers expect a similar service level when it comes to consuming fitness content.
Fitness is more than working out - it's an important part of one's lifestyle . Boutique studio members workout not only to stay healthy, but to also find motivation from their coaches and support from the brand community. The physical studio delivers that experience incredibly well, but the low quality audio and video of conferencing platforms just doesn't translate the same energy and experience.
With most other digital experiences, individual tracking data can be captured to help personalize the experience. For example, Netflix does an excellent job of suggesting new shows based on your watching history. Conferencing platforms simply do not offer the data tracking that helps members achieve longterm fitness goals or help studio owners personalize their experience.
#2 Zoom or Skype fitness classes are clunky for members & owners
Because platforms like Zoom were a hasty solution, popular studio management software solutions like MindBodyOnline or ClubReady did not have much to offer for integrations. For studios to offer video-based classes, they had to set up a completely separate Zoom account and manually plug in web links to their member booking calendar. To take classes, members had to first use the studio portal to book a class time, then download separate software and sign-in to each class individually. In most cases members pay additional fees over their membership. This put a lot of work on the member for a low quality video experience.
Gym owners are equally challenged figuring out how to connect these different technologies. For most owners, digital technology is mainly the back-office club management platform. These platforms are primarily accounting, staff management and member scheduling services not designed for providing a seamless digital experience. They were never built with that in mind, and don't have the infrastructure to support real-time video and data streaming, personalization and at-home connection with other members. This leaves gym owners dependent on an inferior digital offering.
#3 Competition is not local anymore
Most members solve the digital problem themselves. When gyms use Zoom to go online, their video experience looks no different than the thousands of free home-made videos already out there. According to a survey by UK Active, 73% consume their exercise sessions via YouTube, 19% via Facebook, 19% via Instagram, and only 9% via a gym website. Video "noise" is increasing and it's very difficult for studios to stand out.
Moreover, the studio business was mainly dominated by local services pre COVID-19 lockdown. Class participants would hesitate to drive more than 30 minutes to attend a class and at-home options for connected fitness were very limited. The explosion of online classes and accessibility of home fitness machines has given consumers many more options. Now studios compete for member attention with neighborhood gyms and streaming platforms around the world.
What are the opportunities?
#1 Studios that offer a seamless gym-to-home experience will outshine competitors
A British Fitness Industry survey of 4,000 participants found that 54% of gym members would prefer a mix of at-home and in-gym activities for their future fitness routine. When we asked our Regatta community why they prefer working out at home, the top three answers were (1) Time savings, (2) Flexible schedule, and (3) Privacy. In addition, the main reasons people missed their gyms were (1) Community and (2) Classes offered.
It's important take the view of members when integrating a digital experience. In order for them to feel connected to the community, the experience must be seamless from the gym to the home. This means offering access to their favorite instructors, helping members join together in classes and retaining a complete history of their fitness activity. As such, winning studios must seek technology partners who focus on creating digital solutions that mirror and extend their in-gym experience.
Regatta's digital platform, for example, does this well for machine based exercise classes like rowing. It provides video-based coaching integrated with member competition boards that merge in-studio and at-home classes for one seamless virtual experience. Our solution can integrate with back-office systems to seamlessly pull member data for a more personalized experience.
#2 Digital solutions can expand classes and support members in new ways
Post lockdown restrictions for studio and gym cleanliness will take an economic toll on the fitness industry and possibly drive some out of business. In-studio distancing and capacity restrictions will limit member access and take energy away from the experience. Frustrated members will question the value of their membership when they often cannot get their class of choice.
Digital class offerings that closely match the in-studio experience can expand access for members. When they can't go in person, members can supplement with digital at home. Facilities can monitor member data to ensure fair distribution of class time in and out of the studio. A new possibility is connecting members at home with live classes in the studio or across multiple locations for a unique experience.
Alternatively, members can access pre-recorded classes and simply use equipment available in the gym such as an elliptical or rowing machine. A digital in-gym experience can allow clients to experience a guided exercise session whenever it fits their schedule and not have to worry about schedule or space constraints.
#3 Adapt your studio's business model to drive new revenue & growth from a Connected Digital Solution
Until COVID, the Boutique Fitness was thriving because consumers loved the focus on brand, the intimate format and the community that it offered - and were willing to pay in excess of $400/month for it. And for a time, digital and physical fitness offerings peacefully co-existed as consumers split workout time between their home and the gym.
Now, however, convergence is a matter of survival. Consumers want their favorite brands at-home as well as in the gym. With a connected digital solution, boutique brands can capitalize on this by offering different types of memberships: (a) In-studio only, (b) In-studio & at-home, (c) At-home with occasional in studio drop-in ClassPass style, etc. The types and possibilities are much greater. Studio-only brands can reach audiences they could not in the past (at-home and outside their geography) and price differently to ensure they match the value to the member expectation. Members can connect with others across studios in the chain, allowing the brand's community to knit together.
Expanding with digital also helps scale the business more cost effectively. New, at-home members can be acquired that don't strain the capacity of facilities. Live and on-demand streamed classes reduce the cost of hiring instructors and enable the best ones to grow their followers.
Finally, the overall quality of the experience for members and owners goes up when a dedicated connected solution is employed. HD video classes are more realistic and broadly accessible. Data tracking is deeper allowing for a more personalization and up-sell opportunities. The overall image of the brand is elevated in the minds of members and in the market against the competition.
evolve your business
Regatta is expanding it's connected fitness platform to help boutique studios bridge the at-home and in-studio divide. We're helping boutique brands reach at-home consumers to create hybrid offerings for retaining members and expanding into new markets. Contact us for more information on how we might help your studio build :a connected fitness solution at: email@example.com and mention this article. We look forward to talking!