What’s the “New Normal” for the Fitness Industry?
Since April 2020 EuropeActive, the European Health & Fitness Association, is supporting the physical activity sector with a series of Webinars focusing on the Corona pandemic and its impact on the industry. In the latest Webinar “Equipment Suppliers’ Perspective on Covid-19” EuropeActive President David Stalker talks with Frank van de Ven (Vice President International, Life Fitness), Marco Vonk (MD, Matrix/Johnson Health Tech) and Philipp Roesch-Schlanderer (CEO, eGym). The four stakeholders discuss the path to re-opening gyms, government regulations in Europe, people’s behavior as well as the digitalisation of our industry. Here’s our summary of the one-hour panel discussion:
“From shock to survival mode”
To open the talk, all three corporate representatives reflect on the weeks of the pandemic that have passed. Marco Vonk remembers quite well the first time he heard about Corona coming back from a trip to Asia in January. He quickly learned that the Matrix/Johnson Health Tech factory in Asia would need to close and remain so for a while. The arrival of the virus in Europe was for him a “shock phase”. From then, Vonk reports, things rapidly switched to “survival mode” within the team: “Everyone wanted to do something and take action.” As Vonk notes, it was great to see creative minds in the industry coming up with innovative ideas.
Frank van de Ven agrees, giving examples of Life Fitness producing masks and equipment for hospitals. Van de Ven points out the importance of protecting the health and safety of employees from the virus, especially in those first weeks: “Life Fitness was very quick to set up home working – around the world. Also, in the factories, social distancing rules were implemented even prior to announcements from the respective governments.” Vonk summarises: “It was a difficult period for all of us. However, we’re now in the phase of preparing the best re-opening possible.”
“Digitalising the fitness industry doesn’t mean going from watching to streaming”
Marco Vonk is convinced that fitness apps and online workouts caught on a lot faster and stronger than they would have without Covid-19. Matrix already has a comprehensive digital system in place working with an open source connection to partners, like eGym. For Philipp Roesch-Schlanderer and his company the pandemic not only comes with many issues but also upsides: “At eGym digitalisation isn’t just a word. We don’t digitalise simply because we want to be digital. Digitalising the fitness industry doesn’t mean going from watching Jane Fonda videos to streaming Jane Fonda videos. We want to create a fully personalised user experience.” For Roesch-Schlanderer it is important to extend the industry’s core business on an individualised level through digital tools that are used inside and outside the four walls of the gym: “As an active person I want a smart system that combines my running outside, with the strength and core workouts I do in the gym to support it.” It takes a lot of positive energy to make this happen, but together with key partners, like the other participants in the Webinar, he is convinced this is possible.
“The overall data from the first re-opening of gyms in North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany is positive.”
After gyms in North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany being open for two weeks now, Philipp Roesch-Schlanderer is able to share some eGym data with the group: “In Week One check-ins in the fitness facilities were 40%, in Week Two 55% compared to the week before gyms were closed. However, new memberships were +150% in Week One and +200% in Week Two compared to the same weeks last year.” According to Roesch-Schlanderer, one of the reasons for this is obviously people simply being unable to sign memberships for many weeks. For him there is still a lot to catch up on but in his eyes the numbers show, “if we give the members time and make sure they feel safe, they will come back.” Marco Vonk reports on some talks he had with fitness facility owners in his network: “There are hardly any clients I talk to that had people in their clubs suffering from the virus. Fitness facilities with fit and young people are not so likely to become virus hotspots, compared to churches, for example, where mostly elderly people go.”
“Standard marketing promoting the ‘bikini body’ for summer are not what people want to hear”
For the re-opening Frank van de Ven recommends rethinking facility layout: “Don’t just block every other treadmill. Create space by moving areas and changing the layout of your gym.” He explains that it’s for instance harder to clean functional training areas and every piece of free weight training equipment all the time. So why not offer Functional Training outside and use the gained space for bigger equipment? Philipp Roesch-Schlanderer encourages trusting government decisions and regulations but, at the same time and within the given framework, serving the fitness fans the best way possible. He reports on a successfully introduced “Immunity Boost Training Program” that has been launched as part of the Corona Gym Solution by eGym. “Don’t launch the standard ‘bikini body’ marketing campaign this summer. What are the actual needs? People’s lives are at risk because they don’t have a great immune system. They ate too much over the weeks of lockdown and want to adopt a healthy lifestyle. It’s important to convey the right messages now,” says Roesch-Schlanderer.
“Part of the ‘new normal’ is the understanding that working-out is extremely important!”
The panel participants agree that people have learned about the need for a good immune system. Frank van de Ven points out “Covid-19 has shown the world, that working-out is extremely important. Staying fit means staying strong and healthy.” He adds that for him working out at home compared to the gym will always be different: “The gym is much more than a place to work out, it’s a place to meet your people.” Philipp Roesch-Schlander predicts that this “new normal” will remain for the next two years: “We are moving towards an area of more sustainability and the whole idea of the health industry itself is about a sustainable approach.” Marco Vonk agrees: “Exercise supports our quality of life and the fitness trend is not going to stop. It will probably even increase, because people are more conscious about their health. The industry now needs to recover from the lockdowns but going forward we will continue to grow. 10 years from now the fitness industry will be much bigger than it is today – indoor, outdoor as well as digital.”