FitTech Insider

"Gyms need to specialize - and forge partnerships to survive and thrive"

This article reflects the opinion of Natalia Karbasova, the Founder of the FitTech Summit. The full version of this article appeared in form of an interview with the Spanish publication CMD Sport. Read part 1/3 here ("Gym is not the synonym for health anymore") and part 2/3 here ("Big tech and fitness: What gyms can learn from Apple, Google & Co.").

Clubs should join forces and form strategic alliances.

We are entering the age of fitness and health ecosystems, with touch points to consumers – and their data - becoming as important as never before. For example, the corporate health aggregator GymPass is now offering access to other apps like Calm and Auro within their own app, apart from standard gym offerings. This way, they are making sure that different consumer needs get addressed within a single access point, and the partner apps are gaining new users and driving additional revenues.

So, what could gyms do? First of all, they should start putting their members and their needs first. To do this, they might want to create different alliances in the areas of marketing, content distribution, member management, or even software purchases. Let me give you one example. Some operators might cooperate to offer flexible rates between gyms with complementary specialization, for example a martial arts gym and a functional training club to address the needs of their specific audiences.

They might also want to partner with other companies specialized in the fields where gyms have little or no expertise, for example offering their members additional access to a home training app like Gymondo or partnering with fitness food companies like Foodspring, offering their members discounts and at the same time promoting their gym to the app users in the region. Thus, they could jointly create additional value for existing members and potentially drive new members to the club.

In the media world, there’s a famous quote saying by the journalism professor Jeff Jarvis: ”Do what you do best and link to the rest”. To rephrase this, I would say: Do what you do best – outsource or partner with the rest!

The shift to general health awareness is here to stay - and gyms could benefit from it immensely

We definitely see the shift to more general health awareness due to corona. For example, 64% of Germans say COVID has a positive impact on their health awareness (source). So what would all those people now finally paying attention to their health do? Would they get a fitness app, go to the doctor, ask their friends – or sign up for a gym membership?

Here, gyms definitely need to become part of the solution – and see COVID as a chance to redefine their business. For example, 82 percent of the German healthcare start-ups and investors see COVID-19 as a business opportunity (source). Now, gyms can also think of the ways they could become part of anti-COVID efforts, from strengthening the immune system to offering blood tests in partnerships with companies like LOEWI.

Gyms need to embrace change and understand that their members will make those choices anyways – the question is, if they will do this with or without their gyms.

Accountability and personal connection could become a differentiating factor for many gyms

What I believe is that gyms definitely need to offer more accountability options – from doing quick regular checkups to understand if their clients’ health metrics are improving and their goals being reached, to creating more personal connections to and between their members so that they know: Someone is waiting for them to come to the class, they can’t skip it! This is something a mere app can’t offer at the moment.

What we need is not more training options just because everyone else is doing it, but a deep understanding of your customers and a clear positioning. For some, this would be the focus on holistic health training and coaching, for others, more specialized concepts would work.

Local brands might become more attractive in view of COVID-19

I believe that being a local fitness brand could have a very positive effect on customer loyalty. The world is becoming increasingly insecure and providing a recognized “safe haven” for your local audiences might be one of the answers. It’s for a reason that a local social network like is thriving – people strive to create a safety net in their immediate surroundings, often unconsciously, and gyms could be part of the solution.

Proximity and knowing the people behind the business – be it gym owners or trainers – creates trust, and trust is what drives customer loyalty. If I were a gym owner, I would definitely experiment with different types of content and pricing strategies to find out what is it that my members value most – and where they have the highest willingness-to-pay.

Photo by John Arano on Unsplash