Ryan Grimshaw, Head of Brand and Marketing at Topodium Group, explores what Covid-19 revealed about the fitness industry.
We only have to look at the news headlines; household names and large retailers to small independent brands and local businesses folding into administration and laying off their staff to try to stay afloat financially. Even in April, retailers were warning of an uncertain future.
The fitness industry certainly experienced its share of unrest, as non-essential public places, including gyms and health clubs, closed their doors to their customers under Government stipulation.
Many gyms found themselves denying their members cancellations or refunds throughout the duration of their closure – while others stopped collecting membership fees or pursuing due balances until clubs reopened.
Between November 2018 to November 2019, approximately 6.1 million people participated in fitness classes in England. But what happens to that revenue, livelihood and profession when that’s no longer possible?
The fitness industry pivot
In among the bleakest of landscapes where families adjusted to life in lockdown, businesses tried to pivot and deliver overnight digital transformations, and general uncertainty caused global market shares to plummet, the fitness industry somewhat bucked the trend.
Fitness brands found new ways to reach their audiences with a drive towards digital. The world of at-home exercise and training became a central focus. Many gyms, health clubs and personal training professionals went virtual with online classes, livestreams and group sessions via Zoom.
This pivot was fuelled by industry figures and popular celebrities generating a new wave of tailored content, appropriately aimed at those now refined to the four walls of their homes.
Take for example the #StayAtHomeChallenge which swept our social media channels seeing sports stars, fitness professionals and enthusiasts showcase how they’re staying entertained and physically active whilst social-distancing and self-isolating.
Then we had The Body Coach himself, Joe Wicks, easing every parents morning with daily workouts for the kids, alongside every other fitness professional, personal trainer, and fitness influencer producing their own digital and social content, online classes and Zoom sessions.
Even the global fitness brands recognised the shift. Les Mills were quoted as seeing a 900 per cent increase in sign-ups to their digital fitness platform as the world turned to home workout sessions.
Another tact saw sports and fitness brands playing their part in reinforcing the importance of physical activity, with the likes of Sport England whose Return to Play became a central resource and library of information and advice for physical activity providers.
It has and continues to be an unprecedented year for the fitness industry. While few fitness brands, gyms, health clubs and leisure centres were unprepared for their prolonged closures, they have used the time to rethink and reimagine the future of health and fitness delivery. The swift pivot worked well for the fitness industry, and could prove a permanent cornerstone for fitness brands and businesses long term strategy.
Are virtual workouts here to stay for the fitness industry?
The question on many fitness brands lips. Will this shift to virtual workouts continue once covid-19 restrictions ease?
With the UK’s coronavirus lockdown measures changing frequently, and with no end in sight, the fitness industry will continue to be shaped by the impact of stay-at-home and social distancing measures.
There is no doubt the online world will now forever be a place to access quality fitness content, and brands will have to consider how their strategies match a new world expectation for their memberships and customers.
Enhanced accessibility, new digital communities of fitness enthusiasts, and online support for an increasingly health conscious population are just a few positives that have come out of these challenging times.
Interestingly, if we pull back from that question to pre-lockdown, the Government announced a two-year £4million trial for ‘green prescribing’. This new proposal from the Environment Secretary George Eustice would see people prescribed exercise by their GP such as cycling and walking to support their physical and mental health.
Then, published in July, the Department of Health and Social care unveiled a new obesity strategy as England was urged to lose weight to beat coronavirus (Covid-19) and protect the NHS.
To further cement this new health-focused agenda, the news and media outlets provided daily reminders of the importance of keeping active, in a way that was never given such prominence pre-pandemic.
What Covid-19 revealed about the fitness industry
We know first-hand that the fitness industry is full of resilient and determined people. They are the backbone of the industry without a doubt. Though anything of such magnitude will shake the sturdiest of foundations.
What Covid-19 has revealed most of all is that the fitness industry will inevitably fight and bounce back. The networks and associations will stand tall in the face of adversity and remain there for their communities. They will pull together to find solutions, share resources and support one another.
Covid-19 has revealed a greater sense of community that has brought people together, be that digitally rather than physically, despite the lockdown measures and the distance placed between us. It has caused us to slow down and take stock of our accelerated lifestyles, and value the things that sometimes we easily lose focus of – our health, our wellbeing, our connection to one another.
There is certainly a positive future for the fitness industry, so long as fitness brands and businesses can commit to remaining agile, adaptable and creative, and ultimately meeting the demands of their customers and members in a new way.
That is not an easy ask particularly on slashed budgets, reduced workforces, uncertain balance sheets, prolonged disruption, and the confusion and uncertainty that still remains from weary consumers.
Right now, my advice for fitness brands and businesses would be to combine your live-data and respond in short sprints; check on your competitors, adapt to immediate industry trends, and stay ahead of what is happening in your regions and locale to examine positive examples and emerging practices.
This article was written by Ryan Grimshaw, Head of Brand and Marketing for Topodium Group.