Survival of the fittest: How operators must adapt to survive in post COVID times

Charles Darwin held the belief that organisms which adjusted best to their environment were most successful in thriving. He called this theory ‘survival of the fittest’.  As we emerge from lockdown, the leisure industry finds itself in a new environment.  One where workouts are no longer confined within four walls of a gym or studio. And where our members have adapted to the online exercise environment while our doors were closed.  In order to survive, operators must heed Darwin’s advice and seek ways to adapt and evolve in the post-lockdown landscape.

We spoke to Duncan Jefford, Everyone Active South East Regional Director about how the industry has changed due to Covid-19 and how operators should:

  • Accept the new environment
  • Adapt to consumers’ new fitness habits
  • Add value
  • Embrace the technology
  • Encourage flexible fitness

Accept there’s no going back

Consumers will never go back to their pre-lockdown fitness routines. Spoilt for choice, they can do what they want, where they want and when they want.  At first glance, that might spell trouble for leisure centres whose fixed opening hours and timetabled activities may now seem self-limiting.  While we can’t bring members back to their old routines, we can actively embrace their new-found freedom and love of online, on-demand fitness, dovetailing their habits into their use of physical facilities.

Follow your customers

Even before lockdown, not all exercise took place inside leisure centres. People ran and cycled outdoors, they played sports at specialist clubs and online fitness apps were increasingly being tapped into.  We managed to co-exist before and we will again by supporting our members to train in the way they want to, on any given day. Of course, the surge in online fitness choices has been unprecedented but don’t let that worry you. Instead, consider it an opportunity as many people have found fitness for the firsts time in lockdown and could now be ready to experience your gym and group exercise options…

Having experienced the flexibility of online digital sessions, people won’t want to drop this option.  As operators, we can’t ask them to make the choice between the gym and their favourite on-demand session but we can make it easier for them to combine their in-facility fitness with some of the best fitness apps to give them the best of both worlds.

Adding great value

That’s the idea behind Everyone On Demand (EOD) which comprises four market-leading fitness apps that collectively contain 2,500 workouts, at no extra cost to our members. EOD provides huge added value to our members giving them access to four apps which, together, would cost £25 a month if bought independently. We didn’t hit the market too early with a knee-jerk response to the surge in online workouts: instead, we took a considered approach to ensure we met the needs of our diverse membership.

As a leisure industry, we work tirelessly to engage a diverse range of members of all ages, abilities, backgrounds and cultures.  From family fun sessions to exercise referral and bespoke sessions for special populations, our reach is wide.  We must continue to engage with all these audiences and no longer assume apps are for youngsters as lockdown has brought many people online, socially and professionally.

Innovation over invention

Rather than create our own content, we have partnered with these four market-leading apps to ensure we offer top quality content which appeals to the widest possible cross-section of our membership.  Together they combine to offer 2,500 workouts – the largest on-demand offering of any operator including:

  • WithU – Over 600 immersive workouts, led by world-class personal trainers, via audio coaching and a 3D avatar
  • Flex by Fitness On Demand – More than 1000 workouts from a host of fantastic fitness brands including Jillian Michaels, Sleek Technique, SH1FT and Sweat Factor
  • Les Mills on Demand – 800+ workouts from Les Mills market-leading GroupX programmes, including BODYPUMP, CXWORX and GRIT
  • EXi – NHS approved, prescribed exercise programmes suitable for 20 long-term health conditions, all tailored and tracked for peace of mind.

Flexible fitness is here to stay

It’s no surprise that during lockdown, online fitness grew exponentially.  And all credit to those providers who brought such a wealth of online content to the fore.  Now leisure centres are opening up again, so too will the market as people welcome the social side of group exercise, the guidance and support of trainers and instructors and a return to their community hub.  As we welcome people back we must recognise and appreciate the new-found value they place on digital fitness.  As well as using online workouts away from centres, we see an opportunity to encourage people to bring Everyone On Demand content into our facilities.  The WithU audio workouts effectively enable people to bring free PT into the gym! This hybrid approach could also work EOD into our gym induction process as the right app or content could boost members’ use of our facilities and help their adherence.

Being flexible and open-minded to new ways to dovetail digital and physical fitness solutions will enable us to not only survive but thrive.



Posted in Gyms & Clubs, Interviews, Most Popular Interviews, The Fitness Network.