Reprinted: CBI Magazine, April 2020 Issue

Virtual fitness (VF) is a rather simple proposition: You place a hi-def LCD screen in a designated space within the club and play a video showing an instructor leading a group-ex class.

True, but there’s so much more to the story. When it comes to applying VF to the standard healthy club business model, its value proposition may not seem simple or obvious.

Skeptical club operators have often wondered: Will people embrace VF classes with the same enthusiasm as live sessions? How do I monetize them? Will they cannibalize my club’s personal training services? Where can I find reliable high-quality programming?

Fortunately, as VF penetrates deeper into the market, those fears are being allayed. VF, it turns out, is adaptable and relatively easy to implement, proving that it’s yet another valuable way to enhance the member experience.

Virtual on-demand guided workouts are rapidly becoming a programming staple at studios and clubs worldwide – for very good reasons. Here, operator and suppliers discuss how they can attract prospects, enhance a club’s offerings, engage members, streamline operations, optimize space utilization, increase revenue, and improve retention – in short, sharpen a club’s competitive edge.

VF claims its niche

One enthusiastic proponent of VF is Chris Griebe, the senior vice president of lifestyle and fitness at WTS International, based in Rockville, Maryland. Founded in 1973, WTS is a high-end leisure and spa consulting and management company that’s worked with some 300 facilities around the globe. Griebe oversees seven of the company’s facilities, including commercial, community, hospitality, and multifamily properties.

Because WTS provides a wide variety of services, Griebe has many gaps to fill, and he’s discovered that VF can successfully resolve a number of scheduling and programming issues.

“VF might offer 200 or 300 different program formats, while traditional group fitness might over 10,” he explains. “This allows our sites to market, promote, and satisfy a range of fitness interests that we couldn’t support with a staffing model. …It differentiates us and produces a higher level of member satisfaction.”

The company offers VF as an on-demand service and as scheduled classes, and also provides remote access to members off-site — so they’re always connected to their facility.

“There are really two basic ways we use it,” says Griebe, who works with several VF suppliers. “We set up our virtual training with standard classes that are embedded in the schedule, so people know they can take a virtual group class at designated times. We also leave a large segment of the day open so they can come in and select their own virtual content.”

Providing a private, on-demand option excites and engages new recruits, he points out. “Having group fitness classes available from open to close is a great way to sell memberships when we’re showing the club to prospects.” VF, he adds, also is a cost-effective way to test a class format before putting it on the permanent schedule. “To test the promise of a meditation class, for example, we can put it on the virtual training schedule for a number of weeks to develop interest and utilization before transitioning to a live class.”

One of the questions that vexed operators at the dawn of VF was whether it would appeal to different demographics. That was an issue for Griebe, since he oversees some facilities in age-restricted communities. He found that older exercisers warmed up to VF quickly. “Some of these sites don’t have the large payrolls required to employ instructors,” he notes. “Virtual offerings allow members and residents to take part in classes that, otherwise, they wouldn’t be able to enjoy unless they joined a large commercial or private club.

“They feel they’re getting great information, great content, and great results from a virtual class.”

The stuff of success

One major reason that VF is steadily achieving greater market penetration is the innovative product lines of suppliers such as Beachbody, BurnAlong, CSE Entertainment, FitnessOnDemand, Wexer, Wellbeats, and Les Mills that, with their thousands of titles to choose from, have emerged to meet the industry’s needs.

Among the new players is Aktiv Solutions.

Bryan Green, the firm’s founder and CEO, reports that he spent years laser-focused on designing functional training (FT) spaces, but, as he visited clubs throughout the U.S., he realized operators had programming needs that ranged well beyond FT and HIIT. To fill the perceived void, he developed AktivTV, a digital platform that delivers a selection of boutique-style, guided exercise options.

“AktivTV has an à la carte, on-demand library of the sort of session you’d expect in a studio setting,” he explains. “We also have more progressive workouts, such as aerial yoga.”

The Aktiv system allows clubs to upload original or customized facility content, including classes that are designed to be staged with a live coach present.

VF systems not only provide members with a virtually endless menu of choices, but also, according to cost-benefit analysis, optimize space utilization. “Real estate is often the most expensive line item for operators, so they need to find ways to increase the ROI on the space they have,” explains Green. “They have to figure out how to switch the space from format to format, theme it, and provide coaching within it most effectively.”

To continue reading the full article >> Visit CBI Magazine: Pages 62 – 66