Since the start of the pandemic, consumer attitudes to fitness and wellbeing have changed in line with personal values. Both the fitness industry and consumers have been focusing on the role of physical and mental wellbeing within the bigger picture of health, and we’re seeing the language of fitness shifting to reflect these changing needs and values.
What does this mean for operators?
“We can expect a more holistic approach which highlights movement, recovery and nutrition and a focus on health, rather than the more traditional reasons for engagement, such as performance or body image,” says Karen Wilkinson, operations director at The Bannatyne Group.
Consumer awareness of mental health and wellbeing will also offer a range of opportunities around connection and community.
“Mind, body and holistic training will emerge as a strong trend as we see people wanting to look after their mental health,” says John Penny, MD of Third Space. “Community-led group exercise is likely to rise in popularity, and operators can leverage this in clubs, outdoors and at event-led days. Humans love to achieve goals together and tell others about it.”
As greater numbers of people become aware of looking after their health, the challenge of guidance and signposting remains.
“We need better links between health and physical activity,” says Ben Beevers, group development director at Everyone Active. “As a sector, we’re set up to help, but our industry bodies need to work collectively to provide guidance for the general public – especially those with health conditions.”
Engaging with wider audiences
The past two years has brought fitness and physical activity to the forefront of people’s minds, and the sector now faces the challenge of reaching and engaging new audiences, including those who’ve been living an inactive lifestyle.
Everyone Active manages over 200 sites in partnership with more than 60 different local authorities. With the insights that come from this work, Ben Beevers says it’s vital the industry takes the right steps to ensure inclusivity and accessibility for all. “This includes ensuring all colleagues undertaking relevant training to understand the specific needs of different groups of customers,” he says.
Expanding reach through partnerships
The physical activity sector can reach more people through collaboration and this could be the year for the creation of more meaningful strategic partnerships and bold acquisitions.
The Bannatyne Group views these as key ways to expand its offerings to a wider demographic with recent examples including the launch of its recently opened club at Cardigan Field, Leeds where it’s providing a point of difference for members through its spa, to a partnership with Teesside Airport for the opening the first Bannatyne Travel Spa.
Everyone Active is using partnerships to explore immersive activity, with the launch of its first Tag Active arena, with more sites planned as the partnership develops.
Joon plans to build on its proof of concept by offering franchising opportunities to the market in 2022. These will open up other geographies, particularly in less developed markets that are in the early stages of positioning fitness.
High Studios, part of the Urban Gym Group, plans to host a community 5K running event, leveraging the popularity of its ‘learn to run’ digital product, which was launched during lockdown.
Exciting and memorable experiences
Consumers have just spent two years finding their own way and attaching themselves to brands that match their values. As they make their way back to you, be sure they enjoy the experience. Whatever your business specialises in, 2022 is the year to work hard on making every touchpoint memorable.
For younger audiences, this means facilitating more ‘experience-led’ products and services and leveraging the power of digital. For those who have been engaged with outdoor exercise, this may mean developing hybrid offers that showcase the community support of the sector. For everyone, it means revisiting every detail of the customer experience, regardless of demographic or offer.
“We need to create compelling offers to tempt consumers out of their home gyms and online training sessions,” says Christian Dietrich of Joon. “Humans are social by nature, but prospective members will be looking for the best possible match to their needs. I believe this will be more important to them than the usual evaluation of whether to maintain or cancel a membership. This is a phenomenal opportunity for new concepts to stand up and communicate why they’re the best solution.”
“With the advancement in technology and continued growth of social media, people want an experience they can share or engage with outside the facility,” says Beevers. “Our fitness offering now includes a joint venture with HIIT specialist Speedflex to offer a new group fitness class – a premium experience, with the very latest technology that makes the most of data and social media sharing.”
“Group training is a fantastic way to create memorable experiences that can use the latest equipment and trends to generate a valuable sense of connection with others.”
“The gym floor needs to be an exciting place to visit,” says Wilkinson. “It’s becoming one of the primary social outlets for younger generations. In many cases, the gym floor can be the biggest and best group exercise studio. We expect to see more classes taking pride of place on the gym floor, with the design reflecting this through the creation of more dynamic spaces.”
Strengthening the customer journey
With more people than ever actively reflecting on their health, the sector will see greater numbers of first-timers and lapsed exercisers coming through the doors. We must be ready to not just support them on that journey, but also to optimise each element of the customer experience. Technology, apps and workforce talent provide exciting opportunities to get this right.
“Too many people find it difficult to maintain that initial increase in their activity levels, despite having a very strong initial motivation,” says Wilkinson.
“2022 gives us a fresh opportunity to onboard clients more effectively, preventing that cycle of joining, cancelling, and re-joining, which is no good for anyone.”
How can we be better at supporting people at this important stage of the journey? Empowering people with relevant knowledge, a greater focus on education delivered by skilled professionals, as well as better partnerships and signposting, should be key focuses.
“We’re back up to pre-pandemic membership levels, despite a lot of lockdowns here in the Netherlands,” says Barbara den Bak of High Studios. “I put this down to our hard work in staying in contact with members, developing new products in response to their needs and remaining extremely flexible as things changed.
“We even had instructors doing door-to-door delivery of prizes for in-house fitness competitions. That kind of personalised attention to detail really matters to people in these challenging times.”
Balancing digital, hybrid, and physical
The explosion of digital technology presents opportunities and barriers to operators, with the increase in independent online coaches and unregulated fitness trainers giving the sector new competition. This isn’t only a problem when it comes to attracting consumers, but also for when it comes to recruiting skilled professionals into the workforce.
Developing a digital or hybrid offer bridges the gap between consumers’ homes, outdoor spaces, and traditional fitness sites. If customers are faced with more gym closures and lockdowns, having a digital option as part of (or all of) their membership is an engaging way to promote brand loyalty.
“After lockdown, customers understand where and how they can consume fitness through multi-channels,” says John Penny. “We should develop an omnichannel approach to connect with customers in different ways – app-led, outdoor, via community and events and through traditional in-club attendance. Genuine engagement across all these touchpoints through innovation, collaboration and educating your teams will ensure no opportunities are missed.”
The growth of digital means operators can offer more innovative and flexible solutions that meet consumers where they are – in a technological and geographical sense.
“We can now support customers within our centres and from the comfort of their own home through digital platforms or apps,” says Ben Beevers. “This opportunity to support customers’ physical and mental wellbeing is hugely beneficial.”
In 2020, Everyone Active launched its Everyone on Demand app that has provided customers with a digital fitness solution and access to a number of leading fitness apps for their everyday fitness and wellbeing goals. This offer evolved in 2021 to include NHS-approved exercise prescription app and data portal, EXi. The app has helped Everyone Active support more people and forms part of its Exercise Referral Service.
All operators will need to get their brand into people’s hands and homes in 2022. The hybridisation of live/digital content and the creation of brand experiences – balanced with physical in-person contact – will be crucial factors for success in 2022.