Is at-home fitness still relevant?

From the C-Suite newsletter: To hold their ground post-pandemic, brands like Peloton and Mirror should avoid mimicking gyms.

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When the COVID-19 pandemic forced closures in March 2020, one of the most glaring robberies surrounded gyms and physical fitness spaces. Suddenly, an outlet that not only contributed to physical health but mental health too, was inaccessible at a time when social and emotional boosters were sorely needed.

It’s no wonder at-home gym equipment purchases boomed, with sales increasing 42.5% in 2020, according to Statistics Canada. Brands like Peloton, which hit the Canadian market in 2018, and Mirror, which launched a nation-wide expansion that brought the virtual platform into almost 200 Lululemon stores in 2021, were go-to purchases for consumers looking to bring the gym into their living rooms.

But now as gyms have reopened and the world returns to its “new” normal, can at-home fitness equipment providers survive?

In a Canadian study published in May 2022 by Empathy in partnership with Vividata, 60% of respondents listed improving physical fitness as their number one priority for wanting to return to the gym. But other factors included emotional aspects such as managing stress and improving sleep, and social aspects such as meeting people and feeling part of a community. For participants who prioritized emotional motivators, 25% said that “looking for a partner” was their strongest indicator – an environment you just can’t recreate at home.

Even though the respondents listed social interactions as a compelling reason to return to physical fitness spaces, Mo Dezyanian, president of Empathy, advises that brands eschew pretending the at-home experience is akin to being in the gym.

“Nothing motivates like the atmosphere of the gym. Home gyms cannot, and should not, try to compete with that,” he says. “Instead, benefits of at-home fitness include that it can be a safe, judgment-free and accessible space to de-stress and work on your mental health as well as physical health. In some instances, it can also be a place to find and connect with a much bigger community online – in a safe and accessible manner.”

These aspects are something that Dara Treseder, SVP, global head of marketing communications and membership at Peloton, says the brand takes seriously. “Peloton is ‘members first’ so we will continue to evolve to meet the changing needs and fitness routines of our members,” she says. “We’re seeing people looking for more flexibility in their fitness habits.” In response, adds Treseder, the company looks for different ways to offer users access to its fitness content so that it can fit into their busy schedules.

Dezyanian says that at-home gyms have a leg-up on physical locations in one very important avenue for today’s consumer: accessibility. “Gyms are not the most inclusive or accessible places to seek fitness. Now the market demands that. We have found that more and more conversations are bubbling up on social media about inclusiveness in the fitness industry. This is where at-home fitness has an edge. It can be a safe space for those who cannot go to the gym for various reasons: schedules, physical distance, transportation needs, or psychological barriers.”

For brands and marketers looking to stay relevant, Dezyanian recommends having a deep understanding of  consumer behaviour and tapping into what motivates them. “For example, experiencing a life event is the biggest indicator of investing in a home gym,” he says, adding that milestones such as a wedding or having a baby could drive at-home equipment sales.

If capability exists, he suggests building an offering that’s diverse and can cross physical and digital boundaries – something Mirror has been working on to support its client base: “We’re continually listening to our guests and members around in-person, at-home and hybrid fitness options, and use this valuable information to create experiences and content offerings desired by our community,” according to the brand. Peloton concurs: “The future of exercise isn’t either remote or in-person, it is both remote and in-person.” For instance, the brand hosts live weekend events where members can meet one another as well as their instructors.

Dezyanian says that doubling down on communicating strengths, such as inclusivity, accessibility, and community, while avoiding messaging that may be counterintuitive such as building a routine, getting out of the house, and extrinsic motivation, can remind customers of the benefits of working out at home.

Peloton’s newest campaign, part of a larger brand refresh and an introduction to its first-ever tagline, “Motivation That Moves You,” ups the ante by combining community and encouragement in the creative. “We’re leaning into storytelling around the content and experience members get on our platform,” says Treseder of the campaign that features Peloton instructors delivering motivational sayings across a variety of scenarios, such as in the boardroom.

Finally, Dezyanian points to study findings that suggest household income is a poor indicator of purchase behaviour. “Instead, use perceived disposable income (how your target feels about their finances) to predict behaviour,” he says.

Whether consumers are looking to get back into the gym or have become accustomed to the flexibility in-home gyms can offer, a place for at-home equipment has been solidified and will keep evolving. “We’ll continue to evolve through new content, product experiences, member benefits and experiences that contribute to community connection,” according to a statement from Mirror.

“The value of Peloton is how we make fitness both accessible and motivating so that people want to stick with it,” says Treseder. “Part of being the leader in motivation is continuing to innovate by bringing together the most charismatic expert instructors, entertainment, iconic music partnerships, innovative hardware, software, and brand collabs.”