If we asked you to name one brand you most associate with the at-home fitness boom, what would that brand be?
Chances are it would be Peloton – and for good reason, with its millions of users and soaring revenues through lockdown. Things may have slowed down for the megabrand over recent months, but there’s nevertheless a huge global community that’s already invested in its bikes and become accustomed to the brand’s slick, customer-centric way of doing things.
And of course, Peloton is just one of a large number of brands that have entered the connected, at-home cycling space.
So, what does this mean for clubs and studios?
Positive return figures from operators around the world show demand is absolutely still there for the social, in-person experience; your group cycling fans from before lockdown will likely still be your group cycling fans now, provided your classes bring them value above and beyond what they can experience online.
Nevertheless, the future does seem to be hybrid, with these fans coming to your club or studio when it’s convenient and training from home when it isn’t.
But what about those individuals who weren’t members of a club before, who bought an indoor bike as their way of staying active during lockdown? And what about your returning members who didn’t previously do your (perhaps a little daunting) cycling classes, but who were drawn to the intimidation-free at-home cycling experience during the pandemic?
How do we get these indoor cycling newcomers into our studios and engaged with the in-person experience? Our panel of experts share their thoughts and advice.
My thoughts on this topic come from my own lockdown experience.
In September 2021, we opened our first multi-studio, with our new concepts – HIGH FLOW hot yoga and HIGH RIDE indoor cycling – alongside our signature HIIT class, HIGH RUN. Then, almost immediately, we went into lockdown again.
We shot a few simple videos to offer all our members for free, and I had a bike in my house to test the RIDE concept. I immediately felt a huge experiential gap between the live class environment and a single instructor on-screen telling me what to do. I didn’t enjoy it.
I started looking around online and came across an incredible cycling instructor, Kristina Girod, who films classes from her studio in Arizona. The way she does it, you can see the whole room. The studio’s full of participants, the music’s amazing, she has a really powerful presence and you can feel the energy coming through the screen.
“During lockdown, I immediately felt a huge experiential gap between the live class environment and a single instructor on-screen telling me what to do. I didn’t enjoy it.”
It transformed not only my at-home experience but my feelings about indoor cycling generally. I’ve always been more of a HIIT girl – I initially found choreography on a bike hard – but doing Kristina’s classes at home has given me confidence. I feel ready for the studio.
But to actually get me – and others like me – into the studio, we have to show people what they’re still missing at home. We have to create FOMO. My experience of following a face-to-camera instructor? That won’t work. But seeing a really cool instructor leading an incredible class, feeling the energy, getting a sense of the additional motivation and advice you would get in-person… It makes you want to go in and do a class with them in real life.
So, this is my advice to clubs and studios: shoot classes for your digital channels – it doesn’t have to be expensive – and show the whole class. Pick your top instructors. Do everything you can to show how cool it is to be in your studio. Then share at least some of this content on your social platforms and website, not just with members.
I know some of the big studio cycling brands won’t do this – their classes go on behind closed doors – but I think it’s beneficial not only for your own studio but for studios around the world. I can’t go to Arizona to do Kristina’s class, but seeing her energy makes me want to find a studio locally that can give me a similar in-person experience. It will help us all if we put our energy out there.
“Share at least some of your content on your social platforms and website. It’s beneficial not only for your own studio but for studios around the world. It will help us all if we put our energy out there”
We will certainly do this for HIGH RIDE, and I have no fear that it will stop people coming to our studio – and potentially studios plural, as I can see us opening standalone HIGH RIDE and HIGH FLOW studios in the future. People will cycle at home as well, but we’re all too desperate to get out of the house for at-home workouts to replace in-person classes.
Another thing we do at HIGH STUDIOS which is very useful for newcomers is make it really clear on our website what to expect in class. We spotlight our trainers, their style and approach to choreography, even their playlists, so you can choose the exact in-person experience you want.
Finally, and this relates specifically to our multi-studio, we place a big emphasis on cross-promotion of classes. That includes training our instructors to cross-teach so, for example, they can encourage their HIIT fans to try a yoga class with them too. We also do special HIATHLON events – a 20-minute ride, 20 minutes of HIIT then 20 minutes of yoga. This crossover is also likely to bring new people into our cycling studios.
“Live has got to get better. If I bother to be in the room, you had better bother to make it worth my while.”
Tune in to the global guru that is Emma Barry as she takes us through two caveats, five mega-trends and five calls-to-action to entice at-home cyclists to the in-club, in-person experience.
Expect pearls of wisdom on:
… and far, far more besides!
Alongside our studios in Bangkok and Singapore, we also offer at-home fitness: we sped up the launch of our Home Edition bike when lockdown hit and have sold or rented 700–800 bikes.
Around 60 per cent of the customers who have a Home Edition bike were members of our studios before the pandemic. They were already brand enthusiasts and wanted to continue to exercise with us even when they couldn’t leave the house. Our bike – with its integrated screen streaming Absolute content into their homes – was the perfect solution.
For this group, returning to our studios will happen naturally. In fact in Singapore, where the market is a little younger, all our classes are already over-subscribed. In Bangkok, people are still more fearful and are taking their time to return; we’re even seeing people making an experience of their home workouts, with groups of friends and family putting all their Home Edition bikes together in one of their houses to enjoy group rides!
But they know how great our in-person experiences feel. We’re confident that when the fear of COVID has finally gone, those who were members before will come back, settling into a hybrid pattern of both at-home and in-studio classes.
“We’ll create exclusive events for Home Edition members to come in and meet the instructors they’ve been training with on-screen for so many months, but never met in person”
The challenge is with the other 40 per cent: the Home Edition customers who became first-time riders during lockdown. Can these customers be migrated into our studios?
We certainly aren’t seeing many of them coming in yet. They feel safe at home and they don’t know what they’re missing, so they’re staying where they are.
Even longer term, it’s important to understand the motivations for purchasing our bike in the first place – including geography. In Thailand, our studios are all in Bangkok, which means people living elsewhere may never attend in person. They’ve chosen at-home cycling purely as a simple but effective class to follow on-screen. Absolute is a strong brand in our markets, so they’ve found their way to our bike. And commercially, as long as they continue to subscribe to Home Edition, that’s fine by us.
In fact, digital is set to become an even bigger focus for us as we finally get to trial our Absolute X hybrid club concept in Singapore. We believe there’s a huge market for virtual fitness, not least due to the shortage of good instructors, so Absolute X has a big virtual studio – including live streaming top classes from other Absolute studios – alongside in-person instruction. With this second distribution channel, we’re very happy to continue investing in high-quality digital content.
That said, when the time is right, we will try and encourage those in the 40 per cent group who live near our studios to experience an in-person class. We’ll offer lots of free trials and introductory discounts, not just for cycling but also for yoga and reformer pilates, giving people even more reasons to come in and experience the live ambience.
We’ll look at bundling Home Edition + studio memberships; use our Home Edition bike screens to show off our studio vibe; and use social media to drive awareness and understanding of how different in-person really is. We’ll also create exclusive events for Home Edition members to come in and meet the instructors they’ve been training with on-screen for so many months, but who they’ve never met in person. They’ll then do a special class with that instructor – a dedicated class just for Home Edition newcomers, so they don’t feel out of place.
As I say, if we can’t get all Home Edition members into our studios, commercially it isn’t a big deal. However, we know our studio environment, experience and community are big drivers of satisfaction and retention, so where relevant, we will try to engage them in-person too.