A Silver Lining For The Fitness Industry In The COVID-19 Situation

Undoubtedly, you have read or heard the story about the demise of Blockbuster Video. The Goliath brick and mortar video rental company, with literally no competition, sat back and watched as a DVD delivery start up slowly destroyed them brick by brick. The story is actually much more interesting when you consider that Blockbuster CEO John Antioco could have purchased Netflix in the middle of the 2000 dot com crash for $50 million. Unfortunately for him (and his shareholders), he did not even bother to consider the possibility.

These stories have repeated themselves over and over in business. Unfortunately, there is no recipe to predict success. For every shiny startup like Netflix, thousands of others don’t succeed. However, each of these success stories has two things in common:

They have managed to deliver a new product or service.

They have leveraged technology and made it easier for consumers to engage.

For years we have watched comfortably as shiny ellipticals served as expensive coat racks in people’s bedrooms or the latest pill purporting to solve the obesity crisis was pitched on late night infomercials. (Of course, one might argue that the sweat suit was revolutionary technology, but the diet and exercise book that came with it were not.)

Products and services such as Peloton and Mirror, though, are another story. They brought to the home market a variable that Chariot Skates  and Face Trainer did not: community, connection and convenience. And they used technology to enable these things. The fitness industry continued to stand by and watch.

And then COVID-19 happened.

Whether by force or by choice, industries change. In order to grow, you need to keep a pulse on the ever-evolving needs and preferences of your customers so you can pivot as needed. That is exactly what happened to the health and fitness industry in mid-March.  As our doors were closed to our customers, we were forced to figure out ways of remaining connected to them. We were forced to send the uncomfortable email to all of them saying they could freeze or, even worse, cancel their memberships without penalty. We were finally forced to wake the proverbial sleeping dog.

Digital connectivity and communication have more of a hold on the everyday habits of consumers than ever before. From online shopping to online meetings to online fitness.

Nielsen research shows that consumers may have greater motivations and fewer perceived barriers to more actively seek technology-enabled solutions to assist in everyday tasks such as shopping. For some consumers, this may be totally new behavior (such as exercising online for the first time), while for others, this may mean increased online usage or the addition of new technology, tools and software.

Calm Seas Do Not Make Skilled Sailors

Coming out of the crisis, the fitness industry could (and should) look fundamentally different: much more agile, secure, connected and digitally enabled. It is the operators that keep pace with this transformation that are likely to succeed; those that fall back to the old ways are likely to lose market appeal, particularly among certain demographics (55+) or shut down completely in the event the second wave comes.

Perhaps COVID-19 was the digital wake-up call our industry needed. Now, the opportunity is here for those who can to gain value from it for their organization.