In choppy waters and after the worst of the storms, we can look ahead to the horizon and know that the future is calmer. In the fitness industry—which has seen major upheaval, club closures and the loss of big brand fitness names—shifts in consumer behavior, emerging and explosive new technologies and a recharged member spirit are creating new opportunity for re-imagining how clubs look and function for members. Here’s what we see out there and what club operators should know to ride the next big wave.
Three Parts of the New Horizon
Clubs are way more than the sum of their cardio equipment and high-tech studio spaces. Operators have always known that clean, attractive spaces and up-to-date equipment are the points of entry for attracting members, but 2021 and beyond will shine a spotlight on the driver of all club success: member experience. That now comes down to three key ideas: evolving smart club design, integrated technologies and boundary-free access to the club’s fitness offering, wherever a member chooses to work out. Let’s take a look at each of those ideas.
1. Smart club design. Club design continues to evolve, but the best member experiences will blend aesthetic environments—the smoothie bars, work areas and communal gathering spaces that members already love—with elements that are more functional, such as indoor/outdoor spaces. In Europe where clubs are only just reopening, we’ve seen an enormous rise in interest in outdoor equipment and workout experiences. Not just cardio machines moved outside when the weather is nice, but high-quality equipment designed with all-weather functionality, ultra-durability and quality fitness experiences firmly in mind also did so. Flexible spaces are on the rise too with doors and walls that open when required to boost ventilation in interior spaces but also to connect indoor cardio spaces with other workout experiences located beyond the walls. The one-time practicalities of COVID-19 club operation are becoming baked into more flexible footprints, workout spaces and operating practices of the future that will increase floor capacity and re-energize member experience. Other unseen changes are already beginning to include improved air filtration systems and new thinking in the way workout areas are planned to improve member privacy and segregate areas.
2. Integrated technologies. Club operators are continuing to experiment with automation and frictionless experiences, as the design experts say—things such as touch-free check-in with a tap of your phone, continued automated temperature screenings for long-term health monitoring and peace of mind as well as the gradual integration of personal performance and health metrics into group fitness classes. Expect more connectivity in this area as public displays of class member heart rates and calorie- burn tracked from wearables gradually become parts of the class experience. Touch-free health food vending and scan technologies will also become part of the post workout experience when members need a drink or energy to recharge.
3. Mobile experience. The last frontier of seamless member experience is already here. The pandemic supercharged the arrival of streaming content in member homes, but the convenience is driving long-term member demand for a mobile, anywhere-and-always-on experience with their clubs. Integrating on-demand classes and workouts that synchronize with live instructor classes on site in your club is rapidly moving from a smart idea to a must-have offering. Curation of content is also becoming more important to members—the ability to find, search and play stretches, mini workouts, short form content and classes without wasting time or energy looking for the right class. In short, members want the same experience on the go, in their living rooms that they experience in their clubs—when they’re ready to exercise, they gear up and attend an expert-led class whether in person or on their own schedule.
It’s not new to say that club membership numbers and club operator success can be tracked back to member experience: how they feel when they visit and workout in the club. But what is new is the pace and impact of member expectations post-pandemic—a desire, if not demand, for lifestyle in-club comfort, on-the-go convenient access to club offerings and club investment in the technology, practices and physical design changes that create that seamless experience now, not tomorrow.
Andrew Evenson is senior director, operations and brand strategy at FitnessOnDemand. He can be reached at [email protected].