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The “Next normal”: How the three themes of ‘community’, ‘connection’ and ‘flexibility’ are set to shape the health and fitness industry

on Tuesday, 06 April 2021. Posted in Analysis

As we ease out of lockdown for hopefully the final time, we take a look at three key themes that are set to shape the health and fitness industry, alongside many other sectors, in the months and years ahead.

The “Next normal”: How the three themes of ‘community’, ‘connection’ and ‘flexibility’ are set to shape the health and fitness industry

As we ease out of lockdown for hopefully the final time, we take a look at three key themes that are set to shape the health and fitness industry, alongside many other sectors, in the months and years ahead.  

At énergie Fitness, we have witnessed first-hand how the pandemic has accelerated change in the fitness industry. The “pivot to online” has been well documented, with many operators forced to shift their focus to providing value to members through online workouts. 

The extent to which gym operators have invested in their online offer and platforms varies. However, after 12 months of on-and-off lockdowns, it is now clear that a digital fitness offer is deemed an essential part of any forward-thinking gym operators’ offer. 

In line with this, we take a look at how the themes of ‘community’, ‘connection’ and ‘flexibility’ can create more opportunities, generate future growth and serve consumers on their terms in the “next normal”   

Community matters 

The ability for businesses to engage with their local communities will carry even more importance in the months and years ahead. This was a theme introduced by Andrew Brattesani, UK head of franchising at HSBC at the HSBC Elite Franchise TOP 100 2021 Celebratory & Awards Virtual Evening. 

When highlighting some of the key trends that would shape the franchising and business sectors in 2021, Andrew highlighted that national brands would look to expand through local markets. 

This means that more national brands are looking at franchising as means of expanding, further strengthening the value of the franchise sector. It also means that brands are recognising the importance and value of local connections in business. 

This is something that really resonated with the team at énergie Fitness. As an organisation, we have always championed the power of local ownership. Our franchised gyms have a strong focus on becoming active in their local communities, whether that's involvement with local charities or putting on events to collaborate and co-promote with other local businesses. 

This approach is also one of the reasons why our franchisees have been able to stay engaged with members during the pandemic - with their team members engaging with the gyms’ members on social media, closed Facebook groups and being creative when it comes to quizzes, online classes and cook-along events. This has proven vital as many members continued to pay membership and support franchisees gyms even when they were closed. 

Connection is key 

In addition to adding value to the local community, the ability for businesses to make genuine connections with consumers across multiple channels will become essential. 

For many of us, the past 12 months have seen us live our work and social lives in the virtual world. Whether it’s meetings, fitness classes, social events or entertainment, we have all experienced these through the screens of our computers, laptops, tablets and phones. 

Indeed, events such as the Elite Franchise Celebratory Evening were held virtually this year. This is in stark contrast to the previous year where attendees enjoyed a black-tie event, held at HSBC headquarters in Canary Wharf, London. 

It goes without saying that everyone would have rather attended the event in person this year, had it been possible. The event is an opportunity to network, get dressed up and celebrate with others. 

However, the event was still able to take place this year, albeit virtually and whilst this is not a real replacement for attending the event in person - it did give the opportunity to celebrate, comment and connect online. 

The ability to do this opens up multiple opportunities for the future. Streaming the event online this year meant that there were no limits on capacity, so whole teams could watch the event rather than being limited to the number of places at the physical black-tie event. 

It would also mean that if someone was unable to attend the event in person for whatever reason (other commitments, restrictions on travel etc) they can still enjoy the event online. 

The exact same trend can be seen in the fitness industry. Whilst many people have been working out at home in lockdown (as there is simply no other alternative), you simply cannot replicate the in-person experience of going to the gym when training at home. This includes the ability to connect with other members, enjoy classes with your friends, use the full range of equipment and train with the intensity that comes from being in a gym environment. 

After all, this is one of the reasons why "When will gyms re-open?" was one of the most searched phrases online in 2020.  

Flexibility fosters opportunity 

However, here is how the game has changed; Now, thanks to advancements in technology and the acceptance that it is possible to work out at home, members who can’t make the gym for whatever reason, can still workout at home through online platforms.  

This allows members to stay connected to the brand that they love, the workouts they are familiar with and enjoy, as well as being able to try out new ones of course.

This all works on the same principle as the Elite Franchise celebratory evening. Everyone would have rather attended the event in person; however, they were happy to enjoy it virtually on this occasion. In the future, a combination of a physical and virtual event would allow many more people to enjoy the event. 

And this is why ‘online’ has become a key area of growth for the fitness industry, but in tandem with the physical gym. In their report on the top 20 fitness trends for 2020, Health Club Management placed the “hybrid gym model” that combines a traditional in-gym and online experience as the number one trend for the future of the industry. 

The recently published report: "Sporting goods 2021: The next normal for an industry in flux" by McKinsey & Company outlined that: “Digital fitness won’t fully replace traditional sports and exercise but rather will enhance them in a “bionic” hybrid model. Digital workouts will continue to be a hot trend for 2021 and beyond, particularly when they offer an engaging and inspiring element and allow remote exercising in a simulated community setting."

And whilst digital and online fitness adds another level of flexibility for gym members, it may very well open up opportunities for new members to take their first steps into the fitness from the comfort of their own home, before building up the confidence to then attend the gym in person. 

As we await the re-opening of the health and fitness sector alongside non-essential retail on 12th April, it's clear that community, connection and flexibility are just some of key themes that will drive growth and opportunity in the health and fitness industry, alongside many others, in the post-pandemic era. 

This article comes courtesy of énergie Fitness, ranked 3rd in the Elite Franchise TOP 100 UK franchises for 2021. Get in touch with énergie Fitness to discover how you can bring the gym of the future to your community and join an innovative fitness franchise operation in this exciting and fast-growing industry.

Strategic Media Partners