Digital Transformation Becomes a Lifeline for Health Clubs

While wearables and apps have been the hot tech topic in the past, member engagement takes center stage as the landscape radically shifts and member connections inside and outside the club become critical to survival.

“Digital transformation” has been a buzz term in the corporate world for a couple years now. It’s nothing mysterious. In short, it’s simply the adoption of digital technology to transform services or businesses.

Simple doesn’t mean easy. For most of the behemoth companies that undertake a digital transformation, between technology replacement and cultural change issues, it has been a years-long undertaking.

Because the changes engendered by digital transformation mean a heavy investment of funds and time, many firms have been somewhat slow to adopt it. But that all changed with the pandemic, which has accelerated the pace of virtually everything technology related, especially paramount to industries capitalizing on human connection.

Recent survey data from U.K. technology developer Studio Graphene reveals that London-based businesses have radically sped up digital transformation initiatives. Of the 500 business decision-makers surveyed:

  • 64% have deployed digital solutions much faster than they would have otherwise,
  • 50% noted that the pandemic is pushing them to improve their digital infrastructure and, since the onset of COVID-19,
  • 45% are undertaking the most radical digital transformation in their history, and
  • 39% have invested in a new area of technology that they had never used before.

Digital Transformation Comes to Health Clubs

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There is no doubt that club operators have, to some degree, taken one or more of the steps outlined above. But one data point in the Studio Graphene survey speaks to a phenomenon that is truly driving digital transformation in the club business: 47% of respondents have successfully migrated their offering from in-person to online.

We’ve seen several technological advances that may be part of an overall digital transformation in the fitness industry, such as the growth of wearables and apps, but it’s the surge of virtual offerings that represents what might be the biggest driver of change. In fact, moving programming online to reach members beyond the club walls has proven to be a lifeline for many.

It’s worth noting that online fitness in a range of forms, including streaming classes from clubs and other competitors, represents a massive growth opportunity. Recent research from Global Market Insights, Inc., indicates that the market valuation for online fitness will exceed $30 billion by 2026.

“Necessity is the mother of invention. In the health club space, the rapidly increasing integration of digital and physical fitness experiences is table stakes for most brands today,” notes Bryan O’Rourke, president of the Fitness Industry Technology Council. “Why? Because customers expect it and, in the end, it is all about convenience. In the world of COVID-19, convenience includes feeling safe and well.”

It’s About Member Engagement

While digital transformation is rooted in technology adoption, its true driver in the club industry is member engagement.

“Although omni-channel trends—having members experience your brand wherever they are—were underway prior to COVID-19, engagement-related activities were greatly accelerated because of it,” says O’Rourke. “Many clubs have jumped on the bandwagon of streaming live and pre-recorded content, which has been a significant component of offering services outside of the four walls. Other brands have offered SMS or ‘text’ experiences for clients as well. These efforts are just the tip of the iceberg as it relates to what will emerge in the realm of experience from club operators today.”

Regardless of the digital tactics used, the point has been about using technology to bridge the connection gap when there is a lack of face-to-face contact with trainers and an absence of in-club time.

“Clubs that had a mobile app and had a platform to deliver virtual content were light-years ahead of everybody else,” says Eric Vahey, Connected Solutions Specialist at Matrix Fitness USA. “They were able to transition to virtual offerings almost effortlessly to quickly deliver functional workouts using their own trainers.”

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The key benefit, he adds, is that these organizations used the technology to stay connected to their members, often in real time. It also had the potential to lead to personal connection and deeper engagement with members, which is critical in the current environment.

“In many cases, they had to have discussions with members that took them inside the home,” he says. “We’ve clients talk with us about the ways they would help their members through workouts. Trainers had to work with people to determine the space they had to work out in and their available tools. It might have been as simple as finding out they had a jump rope and a can of green beans or maybe even a set of 10-pound weights. That one-on-one communication supported workouts, transcended email, text, and other type of communication, and built a stronger connection.”

Applying digital solutions to boost member engagement doesn’t necessarily mean adopting entirely new technologies. In some cases, you might find that you can repurpose, or even reinvent, a legacy program. Matrix, for example, used an existing platform to boost outreach.

“The pandemic forced us to rethink certain things,” says Vahey. “When the crisis first unfolded, we quickly created 28 days’ worth of what we called Workout of the Day programming. We’ve had a product called Personal Trainer Portal for nearly six years. While it had been strictly for paid personal training, we were able to open the portal up to let every member have access to the programming wherever they were.”

Reinventing the platform to support member engagement, he says, is just part of building an omni-channel experience. “The connected member experience helps facilities nurture interpersonal connections built within their walls. Drilling more deeply into that meaningful connection is what increases loyalty and gives operators a true competitive edge,” he says. “While the era of digitalized member engagement came faster than we would’ve thought, it’s important to embrace digital content as supplemental tools to reach members moving forward.”

For more on the extensive Connected Solutions portfolio available from Matrix Fitness, visit their website.

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Jon Feld

Jon Feld is a contributor to