Originally published in Athletic Business.
It’s hard to predict exactly what the post-COVID world will look like, but it’s going to be different — and not just because people will be wearing masks to the grocery store every flu season from now until forever. It’s going to be different because this pandemic has introduced a new era of consumer convenience that will forever change the way we do business.
Let’s call it the age of Everything from Home. And that includes home-based fitness.
Society has been moving in an Everything from Home direction ever since the internet made such a thing possible, but COVID and the year-long quarantine accelerated it dramatically. Over the past year, we’ve seen companies scramble to introduce online ordering and delivery services, or to create virtual versions of their in-person offerings. We’ve even seen the rise of the virtual happy hour, which is perhaps the one innovation that won’t survive when things get “back to normal.”
It’s going to be extremely difficult to ask consumers to give up the ease and convenience of the Everything from Home lifestyle. Just because you can go outside without risking a deadly respiratory disease doesn’t mean you’ll want to.
As in any other industry, owners and operators in the fitness space have spent the past year creating solutions for a socially-distant customer experience. The key to succeeding in the next stage of pandemic recovery is optimizing and refining these solutions in order to maintain and grow your customer base.
Before we dig into the solutions themselves, let’s be clear about one thing: even though we’re experiencing the Everything from Home phenomenon, not every solution needs to actually cater to the at-home experience. It’s just that getting people out of their houses and into their gyms is going to be even harder than it was in the past, so your job will be making it as easy and enticing as possible.
Here’s how the future of fitness might look in the Everything from Home era.
Serve your customers where they are
At-home content was, understandably, 2020’s biggest fitness trend. Workout equipment like weights and yoga mats went flying off the shelves as people looked for ways to stay active (and/or sane) during quarantine. Solutions like Peloton, which doubled its annual sales in 2020, were incredibly popular as well, allowing people to feel like they were part of a traditional gym experience without having to be in a room full of other people.
But here’s the thing — if you already offer group classes or one-on-one training at your gym, you already have the most important pieces for providing a similar experience for your members: talent. Investing in a ring light and a decent webcam for running virtual classes is a lot easier than finding talented trainers who can lead a class through a workout. Platforms like Zoom make it easy to create private video sessions where you can limit attendance to active gym members. And simply recording and streaming the normal, in-person class provides a viable at-home option without creating a ton of additional work for your staff.
Online classes can help keep current gym members active and they can bring in new memberships as well, as anxiety around actually attending a gym can be one of the biggest hurdles for new members. Add a way for at-home workout enthusiasts to purchase any necessary equipment directly through your gym, and you may just find a new revenue stream as well.
Creating a reason to leave the house
The other side of the equation is convincing people that, even though they could just work out at home, they have a reason to attend facilities in person. And that all starts with a simple concept: making sure your facilities are cleaner and more sanitary than ever. We’ve all spent the past year painfully aware of breathing other people’s air and touching the things they’ve touched, so things like adequate ventilation/filtration and having sterilizing wipes at every equipment station will go a long way in helping members feel comfortable.
Put up signs touting your sanitation routines to make sure everyone is aware of just how clean your gym is. Even if you’ve always kept things impeccably clean, there’s never been a better time to let everyone know it.
It’s also an ideal time to rethink the way you handle crowds. No matter how excited we all are to get out of isolation, nobody wants to go stand in line to use a piece of gym equipment. The last year saw some incredible advances in technology to allow scheduling and reservations, allowing gym members to plan their workouts for less crowded times. Eliminating lines and bottlenecks isn’t just about protecting members’ health as we work our way out of this pandemic — it’s also about continuing the kind of convenience that everyone came to expect after a year spent enjoying practically Everything from Home.