Leadership

Everything You Need to Know About Running a Hybrid Fitness Business

Eamonn_Curley
Eamonn Curley
19 May 20
11 min read
woman stretching on matt

In a recent interview with the podcast Futures in Focus from Forbes Insights, Les Mills CEO Jean-Michel Fournier pointed out something interesting about the kind of products that have experienced growth in the past 10 weeks. The first one was bread makers while the second one was gym equipment. Scrolling through your Instagram feed is reflective of this, with many people either baking or working out!

This is the impact COVID-19 has had on our lives. With most of us in lockdown, we have had to turn to inside activities to keep us entertained and at-home workouts to keep us fit. Gyms and studios around the world have moved their services online to cater to their members at home and online fitness has, for the most part, been successful. 

However, as lockdown restrictions begin to ease, fitness businesses are now starting to open up again. IHRSA has put together a useful list of gyms and their current status which is divided by country. In the US, for example, restrictions have varied from state to state. Some states like Tennessee have allowed gyms to open since May 1st. 

The reality is that no matter what restrictions you are under there are two factors that will be largely consistent for every gym around the world: 

  • Reopening will have to be done in phases, with strict health and safety protocols in place.
  • You will need to still provide online for the foreseeable future alongside an onsite offering.

We have already gone through the best practice you should follow for reopening your gym so now we want to go through how to successfully operate a hybrid business of online and onsite services. In this article, we will look at what exactly a hybrid fitness business is, what the future of the fitness industry looks like, and some best practice for running a fitness business. 

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What Is a Hybrid Fitness Business?

Put simply, a hybrid fitness business is a facility that offers both onsite and online services. Onsite is what you offer within the four walls of your premises. Online is what you offer through live streaming or on-demand content. For the past two or three months, the best chance of survival was to move your fitness business totally online. If you can now reopen your physical premises though, you will need to operate a business model that incorporates both services. 

Why Should You Operate a Hybrid Fitness Business?  

The likelihood is that gyms will have to reopen in phases and under strict health and safety protocol. To operate safely with correct social distancing you will need to reduce class capacity and general capacity to stop the spread of the virus. Therefore you will still need to operate online classes. 

One reason for this is outlined in the Association of Fitness Studios Reopening Guidelines. By continuing to offer an online service, you will be able to reduce footfall to your facility while still allowing your members the option to work out. Crucially, this will really help you retain members as you go through the challenging process of reopening. 

What Does the Future of the Fitness Industry Look Like?  

Every year for the last 14 years, the ACSM’s Health and Fitness Journal publishes its list of fitness trends for the coming year. This list is a good indicator of the direction the fitness industry is heading and is essential reading for everyone in the industry. Despite COVID-19 turning the industry on its head, some of the trends listed will still have an impact on the direction of the fitness sector.

Gyms and Studios Need to Be “Anytime, Anywhere” 

The number one trend since 2016 has been wearable technology. Brands like Fitbit, Apple Watch, and Garmin lead the way in this sector. What this indicates is that people like to have a sense of control about how they workout and fitness trackers provide this. Instead of a fitness instructor tracking their progress, they control it. 

This feeds into another interesting point that Les Mills Media CEO Jean-Michel Fournier made in the podcast we referred to at the beginning of this article. Because consumers have gotten used to working out from home they now feel they have a choice and they have control. According to Jean Michel, fitness clubs will now become “consumerized.”By this, he means that there has been a shift from things being on the studio’s terms to being on the consumer’s terms. Gyms and studios will have to go where the consumer goes. 

woman working out at home

Group Training Will Return – With a Difference

Second on ACSM’s list of fitness trends for 2020 was group training. There is no doubt that group training has made fitness more accessible and widespread, driving the rapid growth of franchises such as Orangetheory and F45. But what will it look like in the future? 

This Los Angeles Times article references a recent study by Classpass who surveyed 300 fitness studios in the US. They found that 49% of studios were planning to reduce class capacity with 58% saying they will not offer hands-on adjustments in class. Vice President of Partnerships Kinsey Livingston says that studios are realistic about members being hesitant to return to classes initially, so a virtual option will be necessary for studios. 

So, while group training will not look the same for the foreseeable future, the pull of community that it offers will still be significant. A recent Salon article takes in the opinions of several instructors and studio owners and points out that while the likes of small retail businesses suffered in the Internet Age due to online shopping, fitness survived and thrived as it offered a genuine place for human interaction. The strength of this cannot be underestimated and group training will return, albeit in a stricter form in terms of health and safety. 

A Hybrid Business Model Is the Way Forward

What this tells us is that fitness businesses need to change their business model to one that can succeed in addressing the needs of the post-COVID-19 consumer. Membership bases will now be diverse in what they want, with some favoring the convenience and perceived safety of a virtual offering, while others will desire the sense of community and team that group fitness offers. A third section will see value in getting a mixture of both. 

A hybrid model also increases your options for revenue generation. One person who saw the potential of this way before the pandemic was Gym Launch founder and owner Alex Hormoz. He joined us on The Fitness Founders Podcast recently and referred to the Hybrid Gym Program he has developed. The basic idea of this allows you to offer different services packaged together or separate that will ultimately provide more value to your members and drive more revenue for your business. 

How Your Hybrid Business Should Operate

In a hybrid business model, your fitness business will operate both online and onsite services. Here is an overview of how you should structure these two sections of your business. 

Onsite

In our recent article entitled Everything You Need to Know about Reopening Your Gym, we went through in detail what you need to do to reopen your business safely and successfully. The key areas you need to manage are: 

Health and safety: First and foremost you need to make sure that your facility is safe for both your staff and your members. This means regularly deep cleaning your gym and equipment in between class times, posting signs with health protocol and social distancing guidelines, providing and advising appropriate protective equipment, and, if feasible, running regular temperature checks on members and staff. 

Capacity: As we pointed out earlier in the article, gyms and studios will need to operate at reduced capacity to ensure the safety of everyone. This means class size needs to be reduced to allow proper social distancing. Classes will also need to be scheduled far enough apart to allow for appropriate cleaning time. Finally, only staff who are absolutely necessary should be on the premises. 

class working out

Online

For the next while, it’s highly advisable that you continue with your online offering in some capacity. We went into the fundamentals of running an online business in Everything You Need to Know About Running an Online Gym  so here is a summary of the key areas you need to manage: 

Diversify your online content: Working out in front of a screen in a living room or bedroom has become the norm now for most of your members, so you will need a way to offer them that choice now. Gyms and studios need to either continue with a live-streamed schedule or offer a library of on-demand content that can be followed as part of a program. 

Retain value: By this we mean you should continue with any extra online value you provided while your gym was fully online. Services like one on one coaching, regular accountability and nutrition seminars added real value to your offering to cover for the fact your gym wasn’t open. However, if these services are popular with your members, consider including in your overall retention package. 

Making a Hybrid Business Successful 

Success with a hybrid business comes down to managing three main areas:

  • Communication
  • Retention
  • Growth

Communication

Going from closing your gym, to moving online, to the reopening again in such a short space of time means that your members need to be informed regularly about what is going on. Because you are operating under a completely new business model, you need to be clear with members about things like:

  • Class scheduling 
  • Class capacity 
  • Health and safety protocols

Send out regular updates on things like when the gym is reopening, what the new virtual timetable will look like and what the onsite timetable will look like. All this needs to be delivered in a positive and uplifting tone. One great piece of advice from podcast guest Jack Thomas was to make your gym a center of positivity for your members.

Retention 

When you reopen your gym as a hybrid business, you will still be competing with online fitness businesses. Not only are there established businesses like Beachbody and Peloton but also fitness influencers with large followings who are doing free workouts every day. There are a host of apps that you can now use to help your business compete in the online space. check out this blog post for 6 fitness apps that will improve your member experience right now.

To gain the edge over these competitors you need to hold your members accountable so they get the result they want. They are more likely to stay if this is the case. People pay for you to pay attention. Read more about holding members accountable in this in-depth article.

Another important aspect in retaining members is to map out a customer journey for them that gives them the best experience possible. In an episode of The Fitness Founders Podcast, retention expert Dr. Bedford gives a quick overview of what this playbook looks like in reality. 

First of all map out the timeline of the journey from the sales process onwards. Then identify what the customer service is at each stage and what the emotional experience is at these stages. Finally, layer on top the means of communication, be it SMS, email, or a combination of both.

Growth

Now that your gym is operating with two revenue streams there is a lot of potential for growth. On the one hand, you have your online offering, which can reach people who still favor at-home workouts. On the other hand, you can offer onsite classes in your facility, which will appeal to people itching to get back into the gym. A key aspect of excelling with both sides of your offering relies on your team; you need employees with a mix of skills and attributes to power your hybrid success.

When you just operated as an online gym, the competitive advantage you had over competitors who had closed is that you still could offer a workout. Now, however, you have the advantage of offering a sense of normality to people who miss the community aspect of a class – even if it will be somewhat different than before.  

The key value that you really need to get across in your marketing communications is that you are an all-round fitness studio that can cater to the difficult times we find ourselves in. It really goes back to the prediction of Les Mills CEO Jean Michel Fournier; the value you bring to the consumer is “anytime, anywhere” meaning you can deliver results no matter what the circumstances may be. 

In Summary

The fitness industry has been transformed completely due to COVID-19. Gyms and studios have innovated to survive by moving online. The next step is to take the learnings from these innovations and combine them with what they offer in their reopened facility to continue giving current and new members an experience that will deliver results.