Health club chains are pedaling hard to bring pandemic-weary consumers back to the gym.
But some of the bigger companies are taking different paths as the industry waits to see if COVID-19 infection rates drop enough to make consumers feel safe to resume group workouts.
The YouFit and Planet Fitness discount chains are expanding into personal advice on fitness, wellness and nutrition. Full-service chain LA Fitness is rebranding some of its locations and offering simple plans to compete with the low membership rates of discount chains.
The movements follow a few painful years for the fitness industry. Quarantine orders intended to stop or slow the spread of COVID-19 in the spring of 2020 have forced the closure of almost all gyms in the country. In some states, they were closed for nine months. Florida gyms were allowed to reopen after just two months, but they faced capacity restrictions and consumer reluctance to expose themselves to potential infection.
Efforts to get back to normalcy last year were hampered by a wave of infections that hit the country over the summer, pushing many gym chains, including YouFit, Gold’s Gym and 24 Hour Fitness, to restructure their debts through bankruptcy.
Vaccinations spiked membership rates in early summer, but fell again as the Delta variant raged across the country in August and September. Since the start of the pandemic, about 22% of all U.S. gyms have closed permanently, according to industry figures.
Now, as infection and hospitalization rates drop again with no known new variants waiting behind the scenes, gym owners are betting consumers are ready to get back in shape. But they also know that the good old days are over.
A “hybrid approach” to physical training is here to stay, says Sami Smith, spokesperson for the International Health, Racquet and Sportsclub Association, which has 8,000 members. “Many facilities are ready or preparing to offer virtual or on-demand services over the long term,” she said in an email.
YouFit embraces well-being
They include YouFit Health Clubs, which plans on October 25 to change its name to YouFit Gyms and launch a $ 20 million renovation of its 80 locations in the United States.
The new offerings will include optional personal on-site training, personalized nutritional advice via the EatLove smartphone app and access to virtual in-home classes via a new mobile app called YouFit On Demand.
The company, which filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy last year and sold itself to its lenders in exchange for debt forgiveness, is betting its future on the belief that consumers are tired of working out at home and hungry for results that can only be achieved with weights and machines, said Brian Vahaly, who was named CEO in February.
“The big change is that people understand what they can and cannot do at home,” Vahaly said in an interview. The corporate renovation will focus on “more diverse types of cardio training and more diverse types of strength training,” he said.
“Lifting weights is essential for young adults and the elderly. People 50 and older need strength training to maintain bone density, and they need to combine cardio training to keep their hearts and bodies healthy.
YouFit was founded in 2008 by Rick Berks, the creator of Planet Fitness, and both channels have grown with a focus on similar no-frills, non-judgmental philosophies. Distinguishing themselves from the culture of mirror gaze and bulging pecs that characterized chains like Gold’s Gym in the 1980s and 1990s, both channels have emphasized accessibility to all.
Planet Fitness offered its “non-judgmental zone” while YouFit aimed to be “the most welcoming gym in the country”.
What also sets them apart are their prices.
Both channels have seen success by announcing a monthly no-contract membership fee of just $ 10 per month (plus start-up fees, annual fees, cancellation fees, and taxes where applicable), while the larger full-service health clubs commanded rates of $ 30 per month or more and required long-term contracts.
But the low fees bought a no-frills experience. Members had access to bikes, treadmills, weight machines, free weights, a locker room and nothing else.
Vahaly says the narrow options have kept YouFit from becoming more than “a gym and an entry-level product”. He added, “We couldn’t serve people when they got more mature and sophisticated. “
YouFit will still offer a basic monthly subscription of $ 10, while its expanded offerings will continue to be priced below its competitors, he said. Personal training sessions will cost as little as $ 30 compared to $ 45 to $ 75 at other clubs. A $ 24.99 premium membership will get you access to all YouFit facilities, unlimited group exercise classes, half-price drinks, and unlimited guest privileges.
The company’s new YouFit On Demand app, slated to launch on November 15, will cost $ 4.99 as a standalone subscription or as an add-on to basic and premium subscriptions. A $ 39.99 Premium + subscription will include the on-demand app and access to the EatLove nutrition service.
Currently, YouFit clubs are operating at around 80% of their pre-pandemic volume, Vahaly said. Members avoid congestion by spreading their training hours throughout the day.
Planet Fitness’s health strategy
Planet Fitness, one of the world’s largest gym chains with 2,170 locations, is moving towards a health and wellness strategy that it says will resonate as we emerge from the pandemic, said the CEO Chris Rondeau to investors last month.
Consumers “realize that (…) being overweight or in poor shape or not taking care of one’s health is a contributing factor to hospitalization and the proportion of deaths,” he said.
The number of members of the society has increased by 700,000 since April 1. Forty percent are first-time members, he said. “You’re really getting people off the couch for the first time, and these are the people who really need our help. “
Executives at the state-owned company attributed the success to its ‘bricks-and-clicks’ strategy of engaging in-home members with online fitness classes, then convincing them to use the app to upgrade to memberships. in person.
No fees are required to download the app and access a personal fitness tracker and dozens of home workout videos. Once registered, consumers can use the app to purchase a digital-only $ 5.99 subscription that gives them premium content. They can also sign up to access in-person facilities starting at $ 10 per month plus an activation fee of $ 49.
Between 65% and 75% of new members join through the company’s app and website, up from just 30% to 39% in 2019, Rondeau said. “The world has changed,” he says. “And I think it’s something that’s going to stay.”
LA Fitness expands its discount brand
Not to be missed, LA Fitness, a full-service club chain with higher membership fees but more amenities like basketball and racquetball courts, Zumba classes, and swimming pools, has rebranded some of its pitches in Esporta clubs.
The company’s website shows that 41 of LA Fitness’s 108 clubs are now Esporta clubs. As part of the new branding, the company is promoting a monthly single club membership fee of $ 9.99 that matches those of YouFit and Planet Fitness. The catch: Basic members only have access to weight training and cardio equipment. And they have to pay an initiation fee of $ 99. Esporta registrants can avoid the $ 99 fee by opting for a monthly subscription of $ 24.99 which includes use of all facilities, a group training session and a personal training session.
LA Fitness Club memberships, on the other hand, start at $ 35.99 per month to access a single club with no initiation fee, or $ 35.99 per month plus a $ 49 initiation fee for. access all clubs in the state.
All bets are off whether COVID-19 or a new variant returns this winter, Planet Fitness executives said. Members of the industry, meanwhile, are pushing Congress to approve a $ 30 billion relief fund to keep struggling fitness companies afloat. Although introduced in a congressional bill last February, the fund has not been included in the US $ 1.9 trillion bailout package passed last spring, nor in any ongoing spending programs. negotiation this fall.
“During closings, health clubs had to pay their bills in full with little or no income,” said trade association spokeswoman Sami Smith. “As one of the first industries to close and reopen, the fitness industry received no direct relief from Congress.”