Here, two industry leaders share virtual offerings they’ve implemented at their facility that other clubs can use as profit centers.
The COVID-19 pandemic propelled the digital fitness market forward.
According to Allied Market Research, in 2019 the minority of Mindbody app users used livestreams (7%) or pre-recorded videos (17%) to workout. However, during the COVID-19 pandemic about 75% are using livestream video workouts and about 70% are exercising with pre-recorded workout videos.
On the other hand, with at-home fitness companies like Tonal and Peloton restructuring and laying off staff, many industry experts are questioning the staying power of virtual and digital offerings moving forward.
Despite these reservations from operators, the LES MILLS’ 2021 Global Fitness Report found the majority of exercisers now favor a 60-40 split between gym and home workouts. While many members still prefer to come in the gym, they like having the digital option available as well.
Donyel Cerceo, the marketing director at Merritt Clubs, said their virtual offerings have dropped since the club has been revamping its in-person classes post-COVID, but they still have members utilizing the offering.
“We are still getting about 1% of our total regular in-club group fitness participants using the on-demand feature,” said Cerceo. “The on-demand feature really helps those members who occasionally may not be able to make it to class for one reason or another. Members like having the option because of their busy schedules.”
Merritt Clubs offers all their digital classes through the Merritt Clubs App, which is powered by MotionVibe. The most popular virtual classes with members are boot camp type classes and barre. Cerceo said they also started offering treadmill classes in the summer to keep members engaged with the online content.
“You have to always add new content,” said Cerceo. “Let people know how many new classes they can expect each month up front.”
Merritt Clubs offers two virtual options. Current members can add virtual to their membership for a small monthly fee. If someone is not a member, Cerceo said they pay a larger virtual online membership fee. Overall, to make their digital classes attractive to both members and non-members, they have a dedicated virtual studio where they film all virtual content.
“We have a professional sound system, including a microphone for the instructor that is piped directly into the recording device,” noted Cerceo. “You need to make sure your classes are professional looking and a great representation of your brand. Members expect this when they are paying for content.”
However, it’s important to note members are also willing to pay for non-exercise related virtual offerings, too.
Saco Sport & Fitness began offering online nutrition counseling as a result of the closures during the COVID-19 pandemic and continues the program today.
“As we employ registered dietitians — not nutritionists — we are billing insurance companies directly for their services — both group classes and one-on-one counseling,” said Scott Gillespie, the president of Saco Sport & Fitness. “Insurance companies allow telemedicine as a billable method of counseling, so we shifted to online counseling instantly for both our classes and individual coaching. It allowed us to continue to serve our members during a very stressful time, kept our dietitians employed, and gave us a significant revenue stream while we were closed and not collecting any membership income.”
The online counseling is an add-on service, much like personal training or small group training, and Gillespie said it’s a profit center. The online fees are billable at the same rate as in-person services. It’s also open to non-members and acts as a feeder system to membership as many use nutritional counseling as a first step to healthy habit adoption.
If you are considering going this route, Gillespie recommended using dietitians — licensed medical professionals able to bill insurance — instead of nutritionists who are not recognized by the medical or insurance communities.
“It’s a long and arduous process to become a preferred provider to the state health insurance companies, and billing is also challenging,” explained Gillespie. “But once mastered, it opens up many more doors to clients who will not pay out of pocket. It also increases your credibility with the medical community increasing M.D. referrals.”
If nutrition services are already offered at your facility, Gillespie also said it’s very simple to modify the delivery to online to reach a group of people who may be uncomfortable coming in the club. “The pandemic has changed people’s perception of how they can consume healthcare services,” he noted.
However, if you are thinking of adding nutrition services, it needs to be a strategic decision and carefully considered. Gillespie emphasized this offering is not a quick-fix profit center. It takes considerable time to find the right staff, build a funnel of clients and create a successful billing process.
Regardless of if you offer exercise-based or nutrition-based offerings, or if your online classes are popular or falling off, one thing remains the same: members expect a variety of options to choose from.