Omnichannel is a multichannel approach to sales that seeks to provide customers with a seamless shopping experience — online, mobile app, physical store, etc. In the fitness space, omnichannel translates to creating the same member experience both in person and digitally.
Health clubs entered the virtual fitness market fiercely three years ago out of necessity. However, as time has passed the heavy virtual fitness push has been dialed back by some facilities. But one thing remains true: the digital fitness market isn’t going away.
According to Grand View Research, the global fitness app market was estimated at $1.1 billion in 2021 and is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 17.6% from 2022 to 2030 to reach $4.8 billion.
“The pandemic taught our industry to adapt and there are many positive takeaways because of the fight for survival which we all went through,” said Brent Frueh, the general manager of Rochester Athletic Club. “Many clubs will continue to do things differently because they found things members like by doing things a different way. Each club, community and membership demographic are different. There is no one-size-fits-all approach in this industry. Virtual fitness is here to stay, but I don’t believe every club has to offer it to their members. However, digital offerings must be vetted to attract and retain members.”
Rochester Athletic Club has seen an incredible rise in membership and interest over the last year. Frueh said they have digital offerings and on-demand group fitness classes when live classes are not scheduled.
“This has worked well for us,” said Frueh. “When we look at investing in equipment, software, extra staff, etc., we make sure it’s justified and fits the overall experience we’re looking to provide. Digital is no different and to do it right can be an investment. It needs to be justified.”
Bill McBride, the president and CEO of Active Wellness, agreed that virtual and digital fitness will stick around but on a reduced level. For him, clubs need to really dial in and focus on creating an omnichannel member experience. “Focus on a member’s full life and lifestyle, not just the short time they are within the four walls of the facility,” he said.
As the level of professional content being created continues to improve, McBride said the industry is going to see more and more from big tech companies, and needs to embrace it.
“I think clubs should look at not competing but including external content in addition to internally generated content,” said McBride. “View it as collaborative versus cannibalistic.”
According to App Annie’s industry-leading State of Mobile 2021 report, it’s estimated more than 71,000 health and fitness apps were released globally in 2021, up 13% from 2019. With apps like Headspace, Nike Training Club, Fitbit, MyFitnessPal and Fitness Coach, it’s clear there is a lot of top-notch competition in this arena.
But for Frueh, the question isn’t can health clubs compete but do they need to?
“A member’s experience while at a gym or health club is a much different experience than what a person receives from their home workout or through a device,” said Frueh. “This experience is how we differentiate ourselves.”
In December 2022, Netflix launched a series of workout classes in collaboration with Nike, a total of 30 hours of exercise sessions. The programs are available in multiple languages on all Netflix plans. With 231 million global paid subscribers at the end of 2022, this is giving many people access to fitness. Some operators are asking themselves, “Is this an alarm to the fitness industry or a potential entryway for clubs to reach new members?”
“I believe this is very positive for our industry because it offers another way for people to exercise, which is great,” said Frueh. “But this is not a social experience. As long as club operators take great care of their members, they will share that experience with their friends. The social aspect of being a gym member should not be understated; you cannot get that by watching Netflix.”
McBride agreed the streaming access is a benefit to the industry.
“I think the more people who are exposed to exercise, the more it helps to create overall demand,” explained McBride. “I see all external fitness options as being accretive overall to our industry goals. We still have a lot of work to do as an industry in getting the next 5% to 10% of the population using our services. If the industry had 30% to 35% of the population using our facilities, we would not have enough clubs to serve them. We would have more business than we could probably handle. So, I’m a big believer the more awareness and impetus getting people active, the better it will be for all clubs.”
Overall, the digital fitness market is continuously evolving and isn’t going away.
“Based on everything we are experiencing, I believe the best is yet to come for our industry,” said Frueh. “I remember about 18 months ago the question was, ‘Will the people putting home gyms in come back to gyms?’ We have learned now the answer is yes.”
Digital offerings are a great way to service members when they are not inside your facility, attract those who may not have ever found your facility and expose more people to fitness. While it’s not going away, it doesn’t mean your facility has to carry it out. Ensure that it makes sense for your club and your membership base before diving in.
If your facility is offering virtual or digital offerings, ensure you are creating the same omnichannel experience throughout. It’s vital all your programs outside your four walls represent your brand correctly and give your members a positive interaction wherever they may be.