It’s all about the experience

The pandemic has profoundly affected every aspect and area of business. And while nearly all consumer-facing companies have had to deal with disruption and uncertainty over the past two years, those in the fitness sector have been through the mill more than many others. 

But business is bouncing back. Now that COVID-19 restrictions have been lifted, consumers are increasingly eager (and able) to get back to in-person exercise routines. This means that gyms, health clubs, studios and other facility operators can finally, with confidence, begin planning for their post-pandemic future. 

The good news is that the pandemic has made people reassess their relationship with their personal health. COVID-19 made it crystal clear to everyone just how important it is to stay fit and healthy. As the virus was deemed to be much more destructive among people with underlying health conditions, exercise was among the few things people were allowed to go out for during lockdowns. Being “fighting fit” had never been more important. 

And people took note. A wide-ranging report by McKinsey, on the pandemic’s effect on fitness and health attitudes in 2021, showed that 40 per cent of people now consider wellness a top priority in daily life. This shift in attitude is music to the ears for everyone in the fitness industry. Finally, the penny seems to have dropped for the general public too. 

Equally important – if not even more important – for the future of the fitness sector is the fact that, in this post-pandemic world, people want experiences more than ever before. This trend is led by the customers of not just today – but those of the future. According to an Eventbrite study, “more than three in four millennials (78 per cent) would choose to spend money on a desirable experience over buying something desirable”. The message is clear – the experience economy is here to stay. 

And make no mistake: we in the fitness industry are very much part of the experience economy, defined as one in which “goods or services are sold by emphasising the effect they can have on people’s lives”. This is both an opportunity and a threat for fitness facilities. Those who can create an experience and get it right will prosper. Those who won’t, could find their businesses in trouble. 

Therefore, the next 12 months will be crucial for health clubs, gyms, studios and leisure centres as they rebuild and put in place their plans to attract people back into their facilities. At the heart of these strategies should be a drive to create gym and fitness experiences. Discounted (or free trial) memberships and similar offers might tempt people to visit, but won’t be enough to keep them coming. 

What members now expect is, you guessed it, is an EXPERIENCE. Something that engages them and makes them want more. An experience that offers something they can’t get anywhere else.  

Thankfully, health clubs and gyms are in a strong position – they just need to further enhance it. Take The Next Fitness Consumer Report by IHRSA, which surveyed gym members who had cancelled their membership during the pandemic and have since rejoined. The results show that the most popular reason for rejoining a gym, cited by 54 per cent of respondents, is the range of equipment on offer. In other words, the at-home fitness experience, while increasingly popular, can not compete with the experience on offer at gyms. 

We already know that the future fitness market will be defined by consumers looking for an omnichannel offer, which will allow them to exercise where and when they want. As part of this new approach, consumers will look for the facility-based aspect to provide them with a connected service which links to their at-home experience. Expect clubs to increasingly hear the question “which online fitness platforms do your equipment support” from prospective members. Therefore, clubs which invest in a true omnichannel experience and offer members a “club without walls” – allowing them to track their fitness journey whether they are in the club, at home or on the go – will be the winners of the new gyms arms race.

In addition to an omnichannel offer, clubs will need to be able to offer experiences which members can’t access at home. For example, gyms can now offer cutting-edge technology and analytics services and equipment, which will provide the framework for a member’s fitness journey. The thing is that any tech solutions that clubs decide to invest in will need to offer more than consumers already have at their disposal from ever-improving fitness trackers, smart watches and a plethora of other wearable devices. 

The solution to this could be offered by the likes of 3D body scanners, which are able to extract measurements, shape, body composition and other insights. As they can offer something that isn’t readily offered by any at-home or digital platform, scanners could play a significant part in creating a gym experience with a difference. Some, such as Styku, use artificial intelligence to enhance and make the analytics more user-friendly. For example, Styku can show people their risks of obesity related disease and how those risks are changing thanks to their exercise regime. 

So as the facility-based fitness industry evolves and becomes further embedded into the experience economy, operators who move with the times and enhance their offer have a much better chance of prospering. Those who miss the opportunity to adapt could end up being in danger. 

Do you need help with creating an experience? With our wide range of innovative fitness brands, equipment and experiences – from Freemotion and Styku to Hydrow and Booty Builder – React Fitness can help you develop an environment which attracts and engages the new breed of club members. Get in touch!