The Best Commercial Fitness Strategy for 2021

The best strategy for 2021 is at-home fitness combined with the fitness facility.

Workout habits changed in 2020 with more members switching up their at-home fitness routine. As we kick off 2021, the industry is trying to quantify what proportion of gym members will choose a combination of at-home and in-studio workouts going forward, now and for the longer-term.

“It’s about thinking beyond the next three months,” Stages Cycling CEO, Jim Liggett, joins VP of Information Technology Mike Catterall to talk with Kristen Markey, Director of Global Business Development, about the critical considerations when it comes to taking your studio and fitness experience online, monetizing your online offering, and how straightforward both can be.

Q. Is at-home fitness here to stay?

Jim: Home fitness subscriptions were not new to 2020, but it’s a trend that gathered pace with the pandemic and we saw consumer-oriented brands hijacking membership dues from the commercial facility. These brands are seeking the same dollars for memberships that the commercial fitness industry has built an entire industry around.

Clubs are at an advantage because they are already in the business, but adding a robust digital offering to their model, and doing it quickly, can feel complicated and expensive too -- from equipment, to tech, to marketing and operations. We wanted to combat that and help our customers launch an at-home fitness subscription model that was easy to integrate into their existing business, could seamlessly feed into their existing operations, and be a money-maker -- we’ve built our entire business around helping our customers to get ahead of opportunities or get around roadblocks.

For certain this is only the beginning. A recent study by The New Consumer and Coefficient Capital found that 76% of people have tried working out at home during the pandemic — and crucially, 66% prefer it. Among millennials, the number is even higher: 82% made the switch and 81% like it more. These data points are telling, and the uncertainty remains around how long local restrictions will limit clubs’ capacity to operate as they normally would. As a sector we must constantly think beyond the next three months to be best prepared for how the pandemic will shape our industry’s future; our priority is to protect our customer’s businesses and help service the member community to a world-class standard.

Q. What do you mean by Virtualization?

Mike: It’s the term we use to describe the cloud environment we built for studios, to integrate customers at home with customers in the studio. As Jim explains, Virtualization really is the future combination of at-home and in-club.

StagesStudio Now has helped our customers to pivot in the last six months to a combination of at-home and in-club workouts for their members. As we unpack the future impact of COVID-19 and these new member behaviors, establishing a strategy for at-home and in-studio absolutely does not need to mean operating nor designing two separate experiences.

Right now launching an at-home/virtual product can seem like a huge task, and with a lot of businesses operating with smaller teams right now day-to-day, the thought of adding a new project to the docket is off-putting, even though the need for a solution may be clear.

To help the process of launching an online solution as easy as possible for our customers, when we built StagesStudio Now in early 2020, we went beyond helping our customers broadcast content, and added a ton of features that we knew clubs were asking for, taking much of the thinking (and building) off of their hands, and making a home fitness subscription easy to switch on and resemble the club experience as closely as we could.

Jim: It took a little longer because it was important to us to reproduce an optimum customer experience that most closely matches the club experience for clubs customers online at home -- so that no matter where the consumer workouts, they feel equal enjoyment, match the fitness benefits and remain a part of the studio community.

Mike: For us, the must haves included an on-demand service for home users, online interaction (helping members to be part of a studio community and stay close to their favorite instructors at home), connectivity with product at home, integration to the club CRM, hosting content for all modalities, like yoga -- so not just cycling. So we built all of that into the product as standard from the get-go. Meaning that our customers could pretty quickly replicate as much of what usually happens in club, online, and ASAP.

Q. You have been quoted saying, “At-home fitness subscriptions: it’s about your brand, not ours.”. Why is that important?

Jim: A large number of companies are creating their own branded content to market direct to consumer in response to the demand for home fitness; it’s a very big market and it’s growing. We have made the decision to not address that market opportunity directly as our own brand.

Rather our decision has been to partner with our commercial customers to help them extend their brands into the homes of their members and wider audiences with a robust and easy to adopt platform, which they can easily integrate into their existing business, and create new income from.

That philosophy is woven into every single thing that we do. Our business has never been about competing with our customers for the consumer audience -- that is simply not who we are.

Q. The StagesStudio Now club app hosts on-demand and live workouts across every genre, not just indoor cycling. I was surprised to see that.

Jim: Hey, we would love you to be on our equipment as much as possible! [laughs] but we will let our customers connect any products available to them to the StagesStudio Now App: our goal is to provide our commercial customers with as many opportunities to connect with their customers at home as possible. Mike will tell you…

Mike: Sure it will connect with your Stages bikes, but also other non-Stages products, and will deliver your club content -- whatever it may be or wherever you film it, even third-party content if you choose. All that can be broadcast live or hosted in this one place, rather than across various apps or platforms. It also enables real-time interaction with members at home and in the studio, at the same time -- this was super important for us. Likewise, the app connects heart rate in real-time, reads power meter data in real-time, connects data at home with the data in the club -- the whole nine yards. As much as possible we wanted to capture every element of the in-club member experience.

To help our customers maximize connectivity with their members and to cut through the noise, we had to give them a system that would allow them to scale up what they were already offering on 1:1 streaming platforms, or monetize content they were streaming for free through traditional channels, like social media or platforms like Zoom.

Q. Are at-home fitness subscriptions: the new money-maker?

Kristen: For commercial clubs and studios who take time to thoughtfully put together an at-home fitness experience for the long-haul, it will result in a net positive increase in membership.

Jim: We’re in a competitive battle to keep members in clubs and studios.

We want to work with all our customers to make sure that they come out ahead. That’s why we’ve done what we’ve done.

Kristen: At-home fitness is very hot in every part of the world. There will be members of the household who have not previously been members of the facility or studio that will be interested in fitness in the home. If this is done correctly and different options are provided, this should be one quick win to increase membership, not just maintain existing membership. The best strategy for 2021: at-home fitness combined with the fitness facility.

Jim: We have the ability to invest in what our customers need to facilitate their own strategies. We will continue to invest, and you can count on us to come to you with the latest as it relates to cycling. But it’s not just about the modality; it’s about the delivery of the experience. That’s where we intend to maintain our position: as state-of-the-art category leaders in cycling and in helping our members to deliver world-class member experiences.

Jim: At a time like this, companies pop up interested in riding the tide on the immediacy of opportunity. We have seen this happen with brands launching at-home content direct-to-consumer.

Kristen: We have built a platform that can deliver the standard to the most complicated enterprise solutions. With StagesStudio, from the beginning we wanted to make the choices our customers make around technology and modalities simple. Now the fitness club can do the same things they do inside their building for their members at home: offer a great service, with great instructors.

Jim: We’ve made the decision to invest in helping our customers to deliver the combination of ‘home and the facility’, which we believe is here to stay.

Watch the whole conversation from Club Industry's 2020 Future of Fitness conference on YouTube here.

Find out more about the new StagesStudio product suite by contacting your sales rep, or emailing TheTeam@stagesindoorcycling.com.