Styku CEO Raj Sareen was a research scientist searching for new planets and stars before he found his way to the fitness industry.
It was that background working with cameras and imaging systems that inspired Sareen to invent his first 3D body scanning device with 21 consumer-grade webcams in 2009. He then hacked Microsoft's Kinect camera to create what would become Styku, developed a relationship with Microsoft, filed several patents in 2011 and was accepted into the prestigious Techstars startup accelerator program in 2012.
Techstars resulted in Styku's unsuccessful two-year pilot with Nordstrom to develop a sort of virtual fitting room. But where Styku failed to take hold with Nordstrom, it and other digital 3D body scanning device manufacturers such as Fit3D and mPort have found opportunities in a variety of health clubs.
"It's [3D body scanning] just a great way for clubs to sell personal training, sell memberships, retain members, help their members reach their fitness goals, and be able to track it in a way that's easy to communicate," Sareen told Club Industry.
Sareen is bullish about the potential of 3D body scanning technology in the fitness industry. Styku will introduce a new model at the IHRSA show in March and is experimenting with different pricing models in an effort to make the technology more accessible to the industry, Sareen said.
"This year could be a massive year for us and for the category more importantly," he added.
Styku's 350 worldwide clients since its 2015 IHRSA show debut include Anytime Fitness, Gold's Gym, World Gym and Workout Anytime.
Fit3D, another 3D body scanning company, told Club Industry it is growing at a rate between 30 and 40 new units per month, and its approximately 450 clients include Equinox, Joe Cirulli's Gainesville Health and Fitness and Fit Body Bootcamp.
Last year, Australian-based 3D body scanning company mPort announced it would roll out its kiosks at LA Fitness locations in California with intentions of being available in 300 to 400 of its clubs by the end of 2017, according to a Financial Times report. The deal is expected to be worth $80 million over seven years.
The Styku purchase price is just under $10,000, Sareen said. Fit3D declined to disclose its cost for this story but said it is offered at a lower price point than Styku. mPort charges consumer users $4.95 monthly or $39.95 annually for full access to scanning data.
Although there are differences between the manufacturers, each delivers a core function of mapping a person's body shape through millions of data points generated by digital camera imaging. The scan is displayed as a three-dimensional avatar with measurements utilized in a variety of analyses.
It is this kind of data readout that has presented opportunities for health clubs in retention efforts, sales processes and competition with other gyms in their communities.
Gainesville Health and Fitness in Florida uses Fit3D in its X-Force Body training program. The program consists of a diet plan with trainer-led 30-minute classes once per week. Darryl Bryd is the director of the X-Force Body program at the club and estimates Fit3D generates approximately $50,000 annually for the club.
The X-Force Body program has 124 members who received scans at the start of the program with additional scans every six weeks. The scans are reviewed in a meeting between the trainer and member where problem areas are identified and encouragement is offered.
"It has been such a valuable tool for us in the sense that sometimes you don't necessarily see that weight come off," Byrd said. "But your body composition is changing a little bit and by showing them that scan they can see where their body composition is changing."
Byrd views the technology as continuing education to keep members engaged and informed of their progress. X-Force Body is the only training program at Gainesville Health and Fitness that currently uses Fit3D, but the club offers scanning to all members at $25 per scan.
"I think it [3D body scanning] most definitely has become the new norm, and I recommend any club that doesn't already have this piece of equipment to look into getting this piece of equipment just for the fact it is going to help your members or clients have a gauge to look at," Byrd said. "Without a doubt, I do believe it is the wave of the future, and I don't believe it is just a fad."
Mike Kersten owns a Fit Body Boot Camp location in Clovis, California, and recalled what pushed him to purchase Fit3D in October 2016 after initially deciding the unit was out of the club's budget. He shared in the frustrations of some members who struggled to lose body fat, many of whom were running excessively in an unbalanced exercise plan as part of marathon training.
"A scanner like that helps us pinpoint and change the mental direction to change how we're going to go about reaching the goals," Kersten said. "It takes away the guesswork: me measuring somebody a certain way, my other trainers measuring a certain way. It takes away the inconsistency. It doesn't make me the bad guy."
Fit3D is used as a membership perk at the Clovis Fit Body Boot Camp as it constantly battles for customers with a nearby big-box style gym that does not offer 3D body scanning. Monthly membership dues at the big-box gym are $40 compared to a range between $157 and $198 at the Clovis Fit Body Boot Camp, where all members receive one free monthly scan.
"It [Fit3D] adds so much value that I can't tell you what it adds to my business financially because I know what it is adding emotionally for my members," Kersten said. "I'm not going to be your businessman who has told you it added this much and made my investment on it because I didn't buy it for that. I bought it for value for my members so that I could be more accurate."
Kersten's value proposition for his members is similar to what attracted the Hockomock Area YMCA in Massachusetts to 3D body scanning. The Y considered different manufacturers before deciding on the Styku brand at the 2015 Club Industry Show.
The purchase came after the Y developed a plan to hire a full-time nutritionist and start a year-round weight loss program, Leigh Fontes, senior membership experience director, Hockomock Area YMCA, said.
"What we find often is that it [scanning] is a sale after as opposed to before," she said. "If they come in, they sit with our nutritionist for about 15 minutes, she goes through all the different pages on their personal profile and, from there, if they're looking to lose weight, she can set them up with a trainer or a nutrition consult. We've sold something, and then they buy the scan."
The Styku was installed in January 2016 at the Hockomock Y's Foxboro branch, and it recorded between 300 and 350 scans by the end of the year, Fontes said. Before-and-after scans scheduled between six and 12 weeks apart are offered for $20, which resulted in 124 total sales in 2016. The remaining scans came out of the Y's 10-week weight loss program.
"When we purchased it, we were hoping to make our money back on the investment, which we have not done on scans alone," Fontes said. "But we kind of thought that would happen. We knew it was going to be an add-on or plus for our members."
The Hockomock Y expects to purchase two additional Styku units in February for its other branches. Fontes estimated approximately 95 percent of clients who finish the 10-week weight loss program enter into small group training or personal training programs, and some return for additional scans. She said 3D body scanning will stick in the fitness industry, especially for YMCAs heavily invested into weight-loss programming.
"It gives us a baseline and helps our clients work from there," Fontes said. "I can't imagine going back to tape measures or calipers. It's too easy to do it the way we're doing it now. It's just so much more accurate and user friendly on our end and for the clients."
Twelve Anytime Fitness locations offer Styku. Six of those locations are in the eastern Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota, metro area at clubs owned by Nathan Jesperson. Scans are included every four-to-six weeks for members as part of personal training packages with additional scans available for $49.
Jesperson discovered Styku after Anytime Fitness' corporate office ran a short pilot in 2016. He initially struggled with a vision for implementing the technology and worked together with Sareen on the rollout.
The install at the Oakdale location started with a removal of all tanning bed rooms, which Jesperson called a "bold move." The rooms were converted to a single room dubbed 'mission control' and a large television screen was added along with a fresh coat of paint. Scanned members see themselves on screen as a purple avatar – the color matching the company's running man logo.
"We made a spectacle out of it," Jesperson said. "Now it's part of our tour for new membership and part of our sales process."
Jesperson's staff starts the process by building a relationship with a potential member before moving into goal-setting, movement screening and a workout that concludes with the scan. Some members can feel intimidated when they see that purple avatar showing problem areas, Jesperson said.
"It's a perfect ending because we've built relationship and got to know them a bit," he added. "It's the perfect time to say, 'We can work with that.' For me, this is my closing deal right here. I get them on that machine, I take them through the calorie report, the workouts, we go through the risk factors and it's where our training managers become professionals."