News | BRG press release

To Survive in the COVID-for-Longer Landscape, Gym Operators Must Look to Hybrid Models

September 1, 2021

In the face of substantial membership declines in 2020, a vast consumer shift to at-home options and the spread of the Delta variant, traditional gym and fitness operators must look to hybrid solutions, according to a new white paper by Mark Laber, a managing director at global consulting firm Berkeley Research Group (BRG).

The white paper, which analyzes insights and data from leading industry groups and CEOs, focuses on COVID-19’s long-term impacts on consumer behavior, the industry and investor outlook, and key challenges and strategic issues stakeholders will have to navigate in 2021 and beyond. Laber, a managing director in BRG’s Corporate Finance team, has two decades of experience providing restructuring advisory services to constituents across several industries, helping steering committees, lender groups and official creditor committees of distressed companies develop solutions to their most critical problems with the goal of maximizing recoveries.

In the white paper, Laber shows that, despite the closure of roughly 22% of the nation’s health clubs in 2020—and an overwhelming shift to at-home options and digital solutions—there are reasons for optimism: gym visits rose in March 2021 by 45% year over year, 95% of all club customers miss at least one aspect of physically being at the gym and even leading tech providers estimate that 40% of their users have gym memberships.

However, consumers are not likely to shrug off their investment in equipment, streaming workout services and other tools that allow them to exercise at home, especially as the Delta variant surges. Industry operators also have found success with digital, streaming and on-demand models. Therefore, for operators to fill the void left by brick-and-mortar gyms—while also making consumers feel safe—the paper suggests adopting a hybrid model, increasing operators’ online presences to attract and retain customers who prefer the flexibility of virtual options.

“This year will be one of ongoing uncertainty, particularly for traditional brick-and-mortar fitness operators that will have to juggle fast-evolving customer safety needs and behaviors as COVID-19 persists,” said Laber. “In this environment, being nimble is critical to retaining members as we all adapt to a “new normal” that is still very much evolving.”

A copy of the full paper can be found here. Laber will share additional insights on the future of the fitness industry in an upcoming Q&A in BRG’s digital publication, ThinkSet.

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Mark Laber

Managing Director

New York