What Fitness Industry's Pandemic Experiences Can Teach Brands

Before the pandemic, consumers’ fitness preferences often trended toward boutique studios like SoulCycle, Orangetheory Fitness, and Pure Barre, according to a New York Times article. These offerings took a lifestyle approach to fitness that appealed to millennials, creating a sense of community absent from most big-box gyms.

Simultaneously, startups like Peloton and Mirror tried to bring the group exercise experience into consumers’ homes. Although these companies started to gain a fanatical following, exercisers still craved the dynamism they believed only in-person experiences could offer. While boutique fitness classes created that sense of community and a healthier alternative to meeting friends at a bar for after-work cocktails, the classes were pricey. In fact, CNBC journalists warned boutique fitness studios in 2019 that a recession could severely impact their success and profitability.



Less than a year later, that prediction came to pass. When the pandemic hit, people looked for at-home alternatives such as YouTube classes, and bought up expensive options like Peloton and Mirror to the point that the devices were back-ordered for months. Who would have thought that everything would change so quickly?

Shifting Workouts From In-Person to Onscreen

Though gyms and studios had experienced 121% growth over the past few years -- according to the International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association -- those profits ground to a halt in 2020. Health clubs across the nation were forced to close when COVID-19 numbers increased. As a result, members switched up their habits and started working out at home.

Suddenly, people from all walks of life were purchasing at-home fitness equipment and exploring virtual classes. The Washington Post reports that equipment revenue more than doubled, and YouTube workout video viewership climbed by 515%, according to USA Today.

Boutique studios knew they had to do something. They felt the seismic shift, so they pivoted alongside their members and launched livestream workouts.

And even as fitness studios and gyms have reopened, many say that they’ll continue offering virtual classes for at-home audiences.

Learning From Fitness Consumers’ 180-Degree Shift

What’s the big takeaway? Consumer habits and behaviors can change at a moment’s notice depending on the current environment. That’s why brands have to meet consumers where they are, creating products and developing solutions that can adapt to their evolving needs.

Losing touch with a target audience means potentially losing market share. Whether it’s a livestream or an in-person experience, a brand is only as valuable as its latest engagement with consumers. Every touchpoint must continue to offer something unique and meaningful.

Moving into the post-pandemic era, brands should follow in fitness boutiques’ footsteps and cater to two audiences. After all, McKinsey reports that 55% of consumers who tried virtual workouts plan to continue exercising at home. If consumers in other industries plan to make their COVID-19 habits permanent, brands will need to adjust accordingly.

By keeping a pulse on their customers’ immediate needs, brands can ensure continued growth. Yes, it might be difficult to pivot away from how things have always been done. But making changes based on what today’s consumers need will result in improved loyalty and increased profits.

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