Executive Q&A: CITYROW CEO Helaine Knapp

After two years of on-again, off-again gym closures and a workout-from-home boom, we asked industry executives for their thoughts on the future of fitness.

In this Q&A, we spoke with CITYROW CEO Helaine Knapp about shifts in consumer behavior, building an omnichannel experience from the start, and delivering “fitness nutrients.”

Shuttered during the pandemic, gyms/studios are rebounding. How do they succeed going forward?

Helaine Knapp: In-person experiences are almost always the gold standard. And we are in the midst of a recalibration where the world was forced to adopt new behaviors in fitness (namely, at-home exercise).

Now that studios are an option again, people are remembering why they are the gold standard: At-home fitness is often a replication of a studio or group experience, and for some, it’s enough.

But there’s a reason most people go to or belong to a gym — it’s motivating, encouraging, makes people accountable, and fosters community, among many other reasons.

We are human beings who naturally want to forge emotional connections — gyms, and particularly boutique fitness studios, curate that. Coming out of COVID, we are craving rich interpersonal experiences more than ever.

So, in order to win, studios need to lean on what they do best in driving a high level of experience, engagement, community, and connection.

Omnichannel or hybrid fitness is gaining traction. How does it play out?

HK: Hybrid/omnichannel experiences will thrive because it matches consumer behavior.

Consumers are engaging with brands across multiple channels. Brands that are able to match that behavior unlock more consumer touchpoints, creating a deeper emotional connection and, ideally, strong tracking, motivation, and accountability.

Plus, people have grown to embrace the flexibility of being able to work out at home for convenience’s sake, as well as outside the home in a gym or studio.

Lastly, from a commercial perspective, omnichannel done in a complementary way enables efficient acquisition that is hard to achieve in a single channel.

Digital/connected fitness is facing headwinds. How will the category evolve?

HK: The pandemic accelerated the trend forward decades, bringing awareness to the digital/at-home option that only had about 7% household penetration pre-COVID.

However, connected brands have to adapt as demand swings, all while the overall category continues to grow.

If digital-only brands can optimize for cash flow in the near term, there’s a chance to succeed. Wellness/fitness categories are still growing, and the digital/connected fitness sector is still a young but growing piece of that pie.

What trends will shape the future of fitness?

HK: As more people prioritize health and wellness moving forward, there will be a lot of opportunities in meeting customers earlier in their fitness journey.

At the same time, established fitness consumers will want more, better, and smarter options.

We’ll also start to see people realize not all movement is created equal. As we start seeing lifetime trends and impact on the body, people will start viewing movement like nutrition — not each calorie of burn is created equal in terms of “wear and tear” on your body.

Wrapping up: Anything else we should keep in mind?

HK: As the first brand to build in-person and digital from the ground up (in a complementary way), CITYROW is at the forefront of omnichannel. We’ve experienced both the pain of the in-studio collapse and the boom of digital over the past two years.

It’s easy to read the monthly or quarterly trends and ride the rollercoaster of the space. But when you take a step back, the macro trends have and will continue to dominate:

  • More people will be starting a fitness journey.
  • Engagement will increase from one or two days to many times a week.
  • People will crave smarter ways to move their bodies more often.

We believe delivering the core five aspects of the workout—cardio, strength, mobility, flexibility, and stretch—is the smartest way to deliver the most “fitness nutrients” for your body in the shortest amount of time and is the cornerstone behind why I started CITYROW.

Fitness and wellness are growing and will continue to grow, but not all workouts are created equal — and not all digital fitness companies are set up to weather the long-term fitness landscape.