Insider No. 70: How Coronavirus is Affecting the Fitness Industry

We’re coming to your inbox a day early as the deadly coronavirus reshapes our world. As it relates to the Fitt Insider community, operators are being forced to adjust in real-time.

To access the fallout, we spoke with executives from across the fitness and wellness industry.

Building on their stories, we uncovered examples of how the spread of COVID-19 could accelerate fundamental changes in exercise, nutrition, and digital health.

Fitness IRL

Amid a rush to shut down large-scale events, schools, and even the borders, name-brand fitness facilities are resisting calls to close.

At the time of publication, prominent gyms and studios like Equinox, Planet Fitness, SoulCycle, and many of the Orangetheory and F45 locations remain open. Across the board, the corporate response emphasized increased cleaning and sanitizing. And many studios have reduced class sizes, booking every other spot or bike.

Speaking to executives and instructors at leading brands, the intention is to remain open until local or national authorities mandate a full-scale closure. Although some brands like Barry’s, Rumble, and 305 Fitness elected to voluntarily close all studios.

Local studios are also suspending classes. Through Fitt, our consumer discovery platform, we’re tracking closures from New York City to Cleveland, Ohio and San Francisco, California.

Of course, these small businesses are more vulnerable than their high-end or mass-market competitors. It’s possible for some small-scale studios to weather a weeks-long or 30-day closure. But beyond a month, the situation becomes dire — with rent, loans, employee wages, and personal expenses (many operators don’t take a salary) to keep up with, some may close up for good.

Looking ahead: Long before the coronavirus cropped up, brick-and-mortar providers felt the pressures of oversaturation, a looming recession, and the emergence of connected/on-demand fitness. If this pandemic persists, that cycle could accelerate as mom- and- pop studios struggle to regain their footing.

What We're Hearing

Checking in with leaders across the industry, here are early reports of what’s happening on the ground.

Jim Crowell, CEO of OPEX

  • With 60 gym owners and 3,000 certified coaches in its system, OPEX recommended cutting expenses and conserving capital in preparation for a 30-day closure.
  • OPEX uses TrueCoach to deliver personalized training plans alongside in-person workouts. Crowell noted in-person sessions can easily shift to remote coaching.
  • Members are continuing to train in-person, with the San Francisco location seeing an uptick in sales consults in recent weeks.

Dan Williams, CEO of WIT Fitness

  • The sportswear company is fighting a battle on two fronts at its London-based flagship, a gym and retail store in one.
  • While retail foot traffic is down 30%, Williams is planning for a 50% decline.
  • At the gym, attendance is down 50% but staying open is an unknown. WIT plans to use the gym as a content studio amid a closure.
  • Per Williams, the company is re-forecasting aggressive, private equity-backed growth plans and is hopeful its strong e-commerce operation can mitigate the downturn.

On-demand Fitness

A few weeks back, we explored the impact of on-demand fitness on the industry. The punchline? On-demand options were growing quickly and retaining users longer than traditional gyms. Now, as social distancing and mandatory closure take effect, at-home and streaming fitness are sure to surge.

Writing via email, FightCamp co-founder Tommy Duquette said the at-home boxing company has seen a 30% increase in usage compared to this time last year. Though we’re still in the early days of the coronavirus fallout, FightCamp’s sales were up 2.1x.

Onyx CEO Asaf Avidan Antonir said organic traffic for the company’s AI-powered fitness app is up 30% in the last week. Meanwhile, the total number of sessions logged by existing users increased by ~50%.

At FORTË, CEO Lauren Foundos told us both sign-ups and usage have increased, noting “the past 72 hours have been our strongest three days since inception.” The company’s technology allows studios to stream live and on-demand classes. According to Foundos, this unfortunate situation will likely prompt gyms and studios to embrace digital products.

In fact, that’s exactly what we’ve seen from studios like 305 Fitness, Gold’s Gym, CorePower Yoga. Both CorePower and Gold’s have made their digital products available to members free. And 305 Fitness CEO Sadie Kurzban has taken her cult following to YouTube, streaming free dance cardio classes from her parent’s home, with her family joining the workouts.

Food & Nutrition

In cities across the country, restaurants are being forced to close their doors or switch to take-out only menus. Similarly, grocery stores are trying to offset panic buying. As consumers are forced to change their habits, food-based businesses follow their lead.

On Instagram, Daily Harvest CEO Rachel Drori said the company doubled its inventory to help customers keep their freezers stocked. And Territory Foods CEO Abby Coleman, who will be a guest on an upcoming episode of the podcast, said the company has seen demand grow in recent weeks.

According to Colemen, when cases of coronavirus first emerged in California, Territory Foods saw 100% growth overnight. The same increase occurred in Washington, DC and New York City when the cities declared a state of emergency. However, the company is being forced to shift from delivery and pick-up in gyms to home delivery.

Meanwhile, O2 Active Recovery is encountering a similar issue as Territory Foods. According to VP of marketing Eric Le, O2 relies on distribution through fitness partners, especially CrossFit gyms. Already, Le said the company is wargaming scenarios where sales decline as much as 50% in some channels. But amid the uncertainty, Le found optimism in a quote: “When I’m not fishing, I’m mending my nets”. O2 will use this opportunity to “mend nets”, Le said.

Punchline: As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to unfold, we’re all being forced to react to daily (and hourly) changes. In the days and weeks ahead, we’ll do our best to help keep this community informed — sharing news, stories from operators in the space, and connections where they’re useful.


💻 Digital Triage

Telemedicine and digital health startups are doing their part as our healthcare system braces for impact.

The big picture: Speaking to Fast Company, Dr. Robert Wyllie, the chief of medical operations at Cleveland Clinic, said: “What we want to do is not have everyone come in”. Instead, “we have our infection control people do a phone interview or telehealth visit and then send [patients] into an emergency room or doctor’s office or to monitor their own health.”

Takeaway: Until mass testing or treatment is available, digital triage might be the next best thing.

⌚️ Tracking COVID-19

WHOOP, the next-generation wearable technology company, launched a new feature allowing users to tag and track instances of the coronavirus.

For context: A WHOOP user who contracted coronavirus posted their data to Reddit, revealing how their health data and recovery score was impacted by the illness.

In response: The company created COVID-19 tracking, allowing users to voluntarily and anonymously contribute their information to a de-identified dataset. The hope is that the COVID-19 dataset can help pinpoint how the virus impacts overall health before, during, and after infection.

For more: WHOOP CEO Will Ahmed has been sharing updates on Instagram. You can also listen to Will’s appearance on the Fitt Insider podcast, where he talked about sleep, burnout, the impact of alcohol on recovery, and more.

📰 News & Notes

💰 Money Moves

  • Impossible Foods, the plant-based meat maker, raised $500M in series F financing. More from Fitt Insider: How Hip Hop Made Plant-based Cool
  • Athletic Brewing Company, makers of non-alcoholic beer, raised $17.5M in series B funding. More from Fitt Insider: Will Wellness Overtake Alcohol?  
  • Foods United acquired plant-based digital media platform LIVEKINDLY, rebranding as The LIVEKINDLY Co — a “collective” of food brands with $200M in funding, which it plans to deploy into plant-based food companies.
  • Vault, an at-home healthcare startup focusing on men’s wellness, closed $30M from Tiger Capital. More from Fitt Insider: The DTC Healthcare Report
  • b.well Connected Health, a personalized health platform, secured a $16M investment.
  • Heartbeat Health, a digital health company addressing cardiovascular disease, closed $8.2M Series A funding.
  • Planet FWD, a startup building a regenerative food platform, raised $2.7M in seed funding.
  • Numinus, a Vancouver-based natural healing center, raised $6M to deliver therapeutic psychedelics.
  • ZBiotics, a maker of genetically engineered probiotics, raised $2.3M in seed funding.

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