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Where Has All the Huffing, Puffing and Sweating Gone During Lock-Down?

Image Credit: Prostock-studio / Shutterstock.com

As virtually all non-essential businesses continue to be closed across the country during the COVID-19 pandemic, the pain of the closures is being felt across all business sectors. Even businesses that have been declared essential are experiencing a strain on operations, having to reduce hours, limit the number of customers who are permitted inside at one time and managing concerns for employees’ health. It is a rare moment indeed when it can be said that every business entity is experiencing stress all at the same time.

Even in the deepest of recessionary periods there often is some sector of commerce that benefits, but not with COVID-19. It is true that entities who implemented and utilized new digital communication and internet technologies prior to the nationwide closures are positioned to suffer less than those that had not, and small businesses are likely to suffer greater injury than larger businesses, but the premise that “we are all in this together” is impactfully certain. The recently completed Resonate Coronavirus Connected Flash study evaluated how American consumers are viewing and adapting to the current crisis across a broad spectrum of industries and categories. “The ongoing COVID-19 crisis has thrown every sector — from travel to retail to financial services — into disarray, and brands are struggling to understand the new reality and adapt to continual new information,” said Bryan Gernert, Chief Executive Officer of Resonate.

Health and wellness is just one industry that is dealing with a debilitating body blow to its marketing strategy. The industry, which was worth $94 billion in 2018, is feeling the pain but no gain. “The COVID-19 global pandemic has presented a challenge unlike any other that the health and wellness industry has seen,” said ClassPass CEO Fritz Lanman. “Almost 90% of our 30,000 gym, studio and wellness partners across 30 countries have indefinitely closed their physical locations.” One could envision millions of exercise junkies becoming couch potatoes, fattening-up as they suffer the dulling effects of being locked-down at home. Apparently, however, that is a vision not to be realized as millions of fitness and wellness advocates are simply privatizing routines at home. As a result, businesses that produce home exercise equipment and virtual fitness programs are booming.

Bryan Goldberg, a personal trainer and consultant for a gym in New York City said, “We know now how vulnerable certain populations are despite most people experiencing mild or no symptoms. It’s no longer about me and how this virus may affect me, it’s about my mother and stepfather who are in their late 60’s and 70’s, respectively. It’s about my grandmother who lives with them. It’s not that I think the gym is any more risky than going to the supermarket. It’s that shopping for groceries is a necessity. Going to the gym is not. You can work out at home for a bit of time and lose very little progress, if any.”

Virtual and digital fitness companies like MIRROR, an interactive at-home fitness system that sells for $1,495, have seen an increase in sales. “Sales have more than doubled since the advent of COVID-19,” said MIRROR CEO Brynn Jinnett Putnam. But home fitness brands MIRROR and Peloton also have brick-and-mortar studios that have been ordered to close. NEOU offers thousands of live virtual and on-demand classes, for just $14.99 per month or $50.00 per year. Fitbit’s Premium service has a vast menu of workouts, running, yoga and weightlifting routines which can be personalized to match the health data collected by your Fitbit device, all for just $9.99 per month or $80.00 per year.

The virtual fitness market is becoming increasingly crowded with literally thousands of fitness companies as they reposition service distribution models to accommodate the new reality. However, that new market reality may be in for another major adjustment as society gravitates back to a new normal. The question for all those brick and mortar locations is; “how many of the virtual customers will abandon the convenience of their home bound equipment and programs and return to the gyms and wellness centers around the country?”

The saying, “In time all things change” may be one of a few absolute truths, but the gravitational pull back to communal fitness activities may be more representative of a trickle rather than a deluge. The challenge to drawing all the sweat and grunting back to the gyms after they reopen for business may be more difficult and protracted than many believe. The anticipated sprint may just be more of a marathon among an expanded and more competitive field.