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, FORTË CEO Lauren Foundos explains why gyms and studios are embracing digital transformation and how brick-and-mortar operators can enhance their omnichannel offering.
Shuttered during the pandemic, gyms/studios are rebounding. How do they succeed going forward?
Lauren Foundos: Gyms will never die, but they need to evolve, and the pandemic expedited this.
Technology has increased the rate of change. The on-demand economy was already very real before the pandemic. Now, it’s even more apparent — working out from home, remote work, and the need to meet the customer where they are.
For gyms to compete and excel, it’s essential that they enable their members to interact with their brand when they want, where they want, and how they want.
Omnichannel or hybrid fitness is gaining traction. How does it play out?
LF: Gyms need to meet their customers where they are and offer a true omnichannel experience.
It’s not black or white, home or gym — it’s creating a better experience around the facility for members through digital. The gym’s content should be on the consoles of their equipment, and that should be made available for exercisers both within the club or for them to have in their homes.
Gyms should leverage technology to bring their expansive community together. Brands with many locations don’t often bring those communities together, but with technology and digital tools, we can do this. And a strong community equals a stronger brand.
Just as we can now work efficiently, collaborate, and achieve company goals from anywhere—with tools like Zoom, Slack, etc.—the same should be the case for working out and members’ fitness goals.
Leveraging digital, members can compete on leaderboards, stay connected, do workouts together, and more, together at the gym or even from their homes.
Digital/connected fitness is facing headwinds. How will the category evolve?
LF: We are done living in the extremes. Therefore, digital-only and connected fitness products will see slowed sales unless they adapt.
Home gyms have always been present, and tech companies have certainly enhanced those experiences, but people still want to get out and see people — and that will never change.
To compete going forward, there has to be a truly integrated approach. For instance, members may choose to do certain workouts at the gym that require equipment they don’t have at home.
FORTË’s clients, in the US alone, have 60M members, and our first and most important goal is to enable gyms to meet their members where they are. I think solely direct-to-consumer plays will struggle to find their footing as people continue to return to their gyms.
Gyms are positioned extremely well to succeed if they open themselves up to a truly omnichannel model rather than fearing technology or thinking that digital will cannibalize their business.
There are many reports now (and FORTË data) to support that digital quite literally has the opposite effect: It reduces churn, increases engagement and revenue, and brings in new business.
From VR to web3, immersive exercise is trending. How will it impact fitness?
LF: The metaverse has real potential. That said, VR has been coming for 20 years, so as much as I believe we are closer to it than we were before, I don’t think it will be mainstream in the immediate future.
However, our company is dabbling in the metaverse. We are working on features for users to share their two-way video and choose to look like someone else or a character. Working out has a high intimidation factor, so if someone is willing to put their camera on and look like someone else, then let’s facilitate that to get them moving.
We’re also working to incorporate NFTs that reward highly active and engaged users. They will be able to gain access to workouts, influencer events, and other incentives.
NFTs, in my opinion, are a cooler and newer version of a rewards program that is highly engaging and super fun.
The internet can be a dangerous tool because it lets people hide behind hurtful words and actions. But it can also be a powerful tool because it empowers people that may not have the confidence otherwise.
The goal is always to get more people active, and I believe digital is that gateway.
But we still believe very strongly that the true secret sauce for a successful digital product (or gym) comes from finding great talent/trainers, incentivizing them properly, building a strong community and value proposition, and understanding the needs of your core demographic. The rest only enhances the experience.
What trends will shape the future of fitness?
LF: I believe that digital is no longer just a checkbox for gyms. It’s essential to their future and the future of the fitness industry. People are tethered to their phones, consuming content constantly, and that content—whether they are working out at your facility or outside of it—should be yours.
People only workout once a day, so thinking about content and how to engage members outside that hour is also increasingly important. You want to be top of mind — always.
I think that 3D motion-tracking, real-time feedback/form tracking, wearables, and personalized data/programming will be used to shape in-person and digital experiences, while also blurring the lines between the two experiences, making them feel almost interchangeable.
Wrapping up: Anything else we should keep in mind?
LF: At FORTË, we have seen very strong growth. In the first quarter alone, we launched over half the number of gyms that we launched all of last year.
Gyms are now returning close to pre-COVID membership levels, have brought their teams back, and are committed to investing in the future, which they know includes digital.
Consumers already wanted digital and the flexibility that it brings, but now the gyms also see it. This will transform the digital landscape as great fitness brands integrate the two experiences.
Many gyms are still using Zoom or Facebook Live for live-streamed workouts and YouTube for on-demand. They’re realizing this isn’t sustainable, so we’re seeing an influx of new customer inquiries.
We’re unlocking a massive opportunity for gyms to understand their community and meet them where they are.
We are putting content around the facilities, streaming live classes from location to location.
We are working to put the gym’s content on equipment around the clubs and enabling members to compete on the leaderboard whether they are in-club or remote.
We are actively developing the ability for gyms to have 3D tracking for both their digital product and in-person, which enables them to count reps, correct form, and reward progress on good form or improvements made over time.
Altogether, our biggest goal at FORTË is to enable our clients to leverage our technology so that they can attract more members and increase their funnel.