Paul Bowman is the CEO of Wexer Virtual, a global provider of digital fitness solutions, present in more than 30 countries across 5 continents. With over 100% growth in the past year and installations in the majority of the top 25 club groups globally, we spoke to Paul about how and why clubs should consider a virtual offering as well as his take on the future of digital fitness.
Why should clubs be considering digital fitness?
Our research shows that not everyone will go to the gym, but they will engage with digital fitness in some form. High quality mobile applications are allowing people to exercise outside of the four walls of the club, and in doing so they are supporting people to make their first step into a gym. Club groups which are offering digital experiences through a branded app are not only increasing footprint into their sites, they are also retaining members for longer by continuing the digital journey throughout the club. We have seen that club groups which streamline fitness content across all member touch points (mobile, virtual and gym floor) significantly reduce intimidation amongst members and therefore maximise profit through increased usage and engagement.
“not everyone will go to the gym, but they will engage with digital fitness in some form.”
How can virtual fit within a club’s group ex model?
Clubs need to define the goal of their virtual offering. Is it to increase usage by offering additional sessions? Or to engage with a different member segment to better acquire and retain members? We offer a huge range of fitness content for specific audiences to meet these needs. Alternately we can provide clubs with the platform only and then support them to create their own content.
How do you ensure success?
Once virtual is installed it needs energy behind it just like any other product. Clubs having most success with virtual are including it in the prospect’s tour, then the member induction, as well as including it in programming; timetabled weight loss programmes might include a virtual class once a week for example.
Members cite three main reasons for not taking part in virtual classes at their gym;
1. They are uncertain whether classes are included in their membership.
2. They didn’t know their gym offered virtual.
3. The content / scheduling doesn’t work for them, which means the club needs to revisit the timetable on offer. Clubs need to timetable classes according to their usage data. They need to look at patterns and member statistics rather than simply matching their virtual timetable with the live one. Look around your gym, if everyone does high intensity training at 5pm then that’s the time to schedule some high intensity virtual content. Also cater for your non-group exercise user as well as your die hard groupX fans; our research has found that men prefer virtual to the live alternative.
How does virtual impact revenue and retention?
Virtual adds more flexibility and variety for the member – both elements are crucial to sustained engagement as our research has shown that 56% of people rank flexible terms as a highly important attribute for gym membership, and 72% recognise the benefit of being able to take a class when it suits them. Virtual fitness also eliminates intimidation buy bridging the gap between ‘at home’ fitness and ‘in-club’ experiences for new / disengaged users. For experienced fitness users, virtual is a tool which allows them to vary and complement their training routine.
What about the ‘at home’ offering? How does it fit?
Membership through a mobile app is the perfect bolt on product for most clubs, supporting both revenue and retention. We know that 37% of people are either intimidated or disengaged by the gym, but 29% of those would pay to get fit if it didn’t involve a gym. Therefore, targeting them through an external and on-demand product is the perfect solution.
Clubs have the ability to create online memberships through a mobile app and therefore extend brand presence and generate additional revenue from new member segments. Online club memberships also break down barriers for new or less experienced exercisers, ultimately giving them the confidence to try a live or virtual class in the club.
What’s the future?
The percentage of UK clubs currently offering virtual is still small but it’s definitely on an upward curve.
More clubs are focusing on the digital member journey to ensure they meet the member demands for flexibility and convenient workout experiences, however all club groups need to ensure their digital delivery is consistent across all their platforms i.e. mobile application, group exercise studio virtual and gym floor virtual.
Club operators are becoming smarter at understanding who their members are and how best to serve them, therefore identifying which segment of member the operator wishes to target is critical in determining the digital execution across all platforms.
We’re seeing growth in virtual fitness across the rest of the world. The first micro virtual club has just opened in Berlin, Germany by McFit and the UK market is starting to take notice. I think in five years’ time we will see the arrival of virtual only clubs.