The fitness industry was amongst the hardest hit during 2020, with shutdowns and restrictions severely hampering business and opportunities for growth. Despite this, many business owners used their ingenuity to adapt and thrive. We asked five giants from the industry to weigh on on their learnings and successes from the year that was…
Tim West, MD of 12RND Fitness
We were in the middle of an international launch when the COVID lockdowns hit. In fact, that week some of our team members were flying to the US, UK, NZ and UAE to look at sites and meet with prospective investors, and we were due to open our first UK location.
It was very chaotic at first, but our entire head office team scrambled to battle stations and kept the momentum going. We had 90 franchisees who needed support so we jumped in and helped them with their leases, getting them and their members online with our “Train: At Home” app and “At Home Training Pack”. We made sure communication was key so that all of the franchisees knew what was happening. We also made the app so that each franchisee could run their own show and keep their community together, which was important as it was equally a stressful time for our community too so being there for them.
When clubs launched again, we have had to adhere to strict Covid-safe practises to keep both members and staff protected, but due to our business model, offering ’round-based’ circuit training, and “No Fixed Class Times” it has not affected our member attendance, retention or capacity as much as we had anticipated. Instead, upon reactivation we were 3 months ahead of our initial projections.
We managed to sell 15 new franchises at the end of 2020 with many more territories being finalised in these coming weeks, so while this year has impacted our business we have managed to stay ahead within the industry through constant innovation and unity as a franchise network.
In terms of learnings, throughout this year we have learnt that innovation will always be a massive driver for our growth and therefore a primary focus for our business to stay ahead of competition and continue enhancing the experience that we provide to both our Franchisees and our members.
We also identified that one of our key strengths was our community as a franchise network, and the strong member culture our franchisees have fostered in their club environment. Our business growth has historically been fuelled by advocacy, with many members and coaches becoming franchisees, and franchisees investing into additional sites and becoming multi-site owners. This advocacy has also carried us throughout club closures with members even offering to continue paying memberships during lockdown and constantly supporting our franchisees as small-business owners. Some clubs were even fortunate to open with over 90% member retention after the lockdown period.
Ian Jensen-Muir, CEO of Belgravia Health & Fitness
Belgravia Health and Fitness, the group who own Ninja Parc indoor Obstacle Course, have been in operation for a very long time. So, having their entire portfolio of brands forced to close their doors when the COVID-19 shutdowns occurred was never something they anticipated.
Here, CEO of Belgravia Health and Fitness, Ian Jensen-Muir shares.
The closures were challenging for all businesses. But the benefit of being part of a franchise company was that our franchisees were supported by a large team, made up of multiple business units.
From March (when the closures were first enforced) we held regular video conferences with our key stakeholders, including franchisees and centre managers.
We used the calls to guide our people through the significant human resources challenge that COVID-19 created.
We also kept everyone updated on all state government announcements and guidelines, post the information being supplied to us by government and key industry bodies.
In most instances, there were less than four days between receiving this (the operational guidelines) and reopening in that state and, as the information was often received at the same time as the general public, the ability to interpret the information, and form execution plans fast was critical in each state’s reopening. We also ensured that all franchisees were ready to go with their reopening plan and that health and safety was consistently a priority with our COVID-19-safe measures.
I’m pleased to say that within two weeks of re-opening our Ninja Parc locations each site was back to their pre-COVID visitation numbers. Due to our drop-in model and the size of our Ninja Parc locations, we were also able to safely manage COVID-safe capacity, while still delivering on service.
While our Melbourne launch was pushed back, I’m also pleased to share that we’re back on track, with our launch taking place early 2021, and more franchise locations – including Sydney – to come.
Expansion aside, we’ll continue to provide our franchisees with the knowledge, support and systems they need to make sure their Ninja Parc operates at the highest safety standards possible.
Customer retention will also be at the fore. We’ll be consistently reviewing our programs and product offerings in 2021 to keep our members and visitors active and engaged.
Ben Lucas, Director of Fitness and Yoga Studio Flow Athletic
2020 was certainly not my best year as a business owner, but it really put us to the test, it showed us what we were made of and new opportunities even arose due to it.
When I saw that all of the studios in LA were shutting down I figured it was very likely to happen to us too, so my team quickly got our heads together and organised a game plan. We decided to move our classes to FB live, which would allow all of our trainers to still take their classes and would offer some interaction for our members too. We even loaned our spin bikes to members free of charge which was great for keeping our spin instructors working. This model worked well and it was great for community engagement. It also helped us generate a lot of clients who are not located near our studio and several from overseas too so we have since created a dedicated on-demand platform called Flow Athletic TV.
Additionally, we moved all of our PT session to FaceTime which meant that our trainers could still work and I am pleased to say, that with the help of job keeper and keeping members to a schedule, we managed to keep all 20 staff members on their normal wage
When the studios were able to open again with reduced numbers, we were completely booked immediately. Concerned about members not being able to get into their classes, we ended up opening a pop-up studio down the road so we could fit more people into the same time slot. That has been working very well so far, however, we are really looking forward to the restrictions being lifted as having extra rent to pay when you also can’t fill up to capacity is not ideal, but in terms of member retention, it was definitely the best way to go.
We also had a lot of good opportunities to come our way. Our workouts are now featured on the Optus Sport channel, we also launched a gym hygiene company with world leader Aeris Environmental which we sell to gyms to help them keep their studios Covid-Safe. We also now do workouts for businesses and their staff including Salesforce and Facebook used us as their case study because we were using them to deliver our workouts which drove more interest to Flow Athletic.
We also did a tonne of media which resulted in TV stations reaching out to me for updates on what is happening in the fitness world. That opened the doors for more opportunities and brands wanting to work with us.
All in all, it was no record year, but it did open the door up to opportunities. I found that a lot of businesses got creative with the cards they were dealt and collabs, new ideas and opportunities arose as a result. Therefore I would say it has been an inspiring year, it was good to see what we were made of and how other people handled the situation, however the restrictions are still concerning for us so hopefully they will be lifted soon.
Luke McLeod, Founder of Soul Alive
“We launched Soul Alive in Sept of 2019, Australia’s first live-streaming meditation platform, because we noticed there was a need in the market for more support with meditation yet also keeping things convenient for people to be able to learn. Obviously, we had no idea that COVID-19 was just around the corner and were very lucky to have Soul Alive up and running when it hit because up until that point our consulting business was our primary source of revenue and almost overnight most of that stopped or was put on hold.
It was kind of like a perfect storm as people were all of a sudden looking for ways to help them through such an expected and for some, very difficult time. Soul Alive became a great solution as you could attend any class from home, plus each session is lead live by a meditation guide to help support you. Our total membership numbers almost double within 3 months.
Seeing a lot of people doing it tough we decided to offer nurses and frontline staff dealing directing with the virus a free membership to help them relax and unwind. Plus, any teenager under 18 can also join for free as we want to help support the next generation as much as possible.”
Jon Gregory, founder of Vitruvian
I launched Vitruvian, my fit tech start-up last week but we have been working hard on the launch for a year, searching for investors, getting the technology perfect and finding our team all over the world- as naturally we decided to launch internationally from day 1.
The pandemic was certainly concerning at first as we couldn’t travel, so I didn’t get to see any of the team face to face who were based outside of Perth, nor was I able to fly around with the V-Form Trainer to show people what it was all about, but we made it work and we managed to get $2.5 Million USD in investment for our launch. We also outsold the world leader of our category Peleton in our pre-sales.
The pandemic was interesting for our business for a few reasons.
We launched a teaser video in May, and as the Vitruvian is an indoor fitness solution which is something everyone needed due to the lockdowns it helped us generate interest which led to strong pre-sales. The strong pre-sales were a huge help in securing the investment that we managed to secure
We were able to see how everyone works remotely and i’m pleased to say that we have a very strong team who I can trust to work from anywhere however, I have found the necessity of doing remote teams very hard. I much rather have everybody in a room, feeding off each others energy and ideas.
But being open to remote work has opened up a world of talent and if they are good enough then they will find a way to be productive in a remote work setting.
It has been hard communicating via video chat but it has forced a clarification of message and delivery that has been good to find. Also online meetings are a lot more efficient if you can make them effective. Remote product development and production has also been hard but we have done it and the company will be stronger and more efficient for it