Many pessimistic predictions were voiced about the future of gyms at the height of the pandemic. The fitness sector’s future seemed bleak as memberships were frozen and/or canceled en masse, and surveys showed that most Americans didn’t plan to renew their gym memberships after the pandemic. But, as we know, the best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry – and in this case, gyms look to be the beneficiary. A deep dive into the sector’s location data reveals a far more positive picture. Foot traffic data shows an ongoing and impressive recovery pattern across many major gym chains. On top of a remarkable increase in unique visits, the sector also experienced a rise in the average number of monthly visits per visitor and in the reach of different target market segments prioritizing their health in light of the pandemic. How then is the fitness sector beating the odds and slowly nearing its pre-pandemic numbers of visits? The answer is an agile and innovative approach that’s enabled key players to adapt to pandemic-driven shifts in consumer behavior. From adopting new hybrid models of online/in-person classes to emphasizing physical and mental health to making fitness more affordable to other socio-economic population segments – leading gym chains have been working relentlessly at staying relevant in a dramatically changing environment. This whitepaper uncovers the major changes in fitness consumers’ behavior patterns and examines the impact of these shifts on the sector’s overall performance during the pandemic. The report then drills down into the foot traffic performances of specific brands to investigate how well they adapted to these pandemic-driven changes. Finally, based on the findings, we analyze how these trends could affect the fitness industry’s post-pandemic future.
A dive into the fitness sector’s location data shows it is experiencing a gradual and steady foot traffic recovery as more and more members return to gyms. And while the sector’s recovery pattern can undoubtedly be tied to an accelerated pandemic-driven health and fitness trend, there is another significant contributor to its impressive growth in visits. Fitness brands are internalizing and quickly adapting to new challenges and shifts in consumer behavior patterns, including:
Changing Exercise Preferences – Like many other sectors, the fitness sector has also been impacted by pandemic-driven shifts in the daily routines of millions of Americans. Data has shown that gym-goers’ preferences for exercising hours had shifted during the pandemic. There was an increase in the proportion of mid-day visits to the gym at the expanse of early morning and evening workouts.
Continued tracking of hourly foot traffic can be game-changing for gyms dealing with challenging limitations on gym capacity. And with the time distribution of gym visits likely to continue to change as daily schedules and work-life routines shift back to “normalcy,” close monitoring of these changes and ongoing hourly foot traffic regulation will be key to success.
Persistence is Returning – After the average number of monthly visits per visitor dropped alongside gym closures and restrictions in April 2020, it had gradually and consistently climbed back up, reaching its pre-pandemic number in January 2021. The growth in visits per visitor outpaced the increase in overall visits, indicating that as the sector’s recovery proceeds, gyms are showing in drawing back their core base of regular visitors.
Gyms now have a golden opportunity to leverage the ‘going back to pre-pandemic routines’ of many by attracting them in more often, thus retaining and potentially expanding their base of loyal customers as the effects of COVID slowly begin to dissipate.
Affordable Fitness For All? – The pandemic has driven many Americans to discover new and cheaper fitness alternatives for the gym. In response, many gyms understood that they had to focus on affordability in order to deal with this new form of competition. This concept has been borne out by a decline in the average income for gym-goers to many top chains.
The real question is whether or not this is a product of the pandemic that could quickly reverse. Did shifts in work routines limit some higher earners from visiting their favorite gym after work, or did the more severe declines in higher-income states like New York and California have a larger short-term impact? In the short term, value-oriented locations should have an advantage, though this could shift back as the year progresses.
On-Target Marketing – While there is no doubt that Planet Fitness remains the sector’s leading player, owning around 37% of the total visits share for a group of dozens of brands, and preparing for an expansion of 100 new gyms – other smaller brands have also had impressive growth during the pandemic. Crunch Fitness is an example of a brand that benefited from location-based on-target marketing efforts, witnessing some of the highest year-over-year and year-over-two-year foot traffic growth along with an increased target audience of former gym members. This shows that what matters most is the ability to leverage accurate location data and to reach strategic target audiences – not just size.
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