If anyone’s a trend-setter, it’s the coronavirus! Thanks to the surge of at-home fitness programs, wearables, and machines over the last year, you can now do everything fitness-related from the comfort of your house without having to worry about how your hair looks (but we know your outfit will always be on-point 😉).
But the coronavirus has been raking up a list of frenemies along the way, and gym franchises are amongst them. As live and on-demand fitness streaming services accelerated in adoption, some gyms have been forced to shut down (*gasps*). But hey, wearables have been on the neutral side of this street battle, as you can wear your Apple (AAPL) Watches, Fitbits, and all other gimmicks that track your health on a daily basis whether you’re squatting in your living room or at a boutique studio.
The winners of at-home fitness
At the peak of the pandemic last year, fitness equipment sales shot up 55% in the US as about 40% of Americans gave training at home a try for the very first time. No wonder Peloton (PTON) soon become a household name, irrespective of Tim Ferris’s influence. Meanwhile, Technogym (TGYM)’s sales of online training programs and exercise machines now account for 30% of group revenues, twice the level of 2019. Guess it took a global series of unprecedented events to get your average American off their couch!
Many people realized that they didn’t know what they were doing, though – but who can blame them as workout noobs. But this was good news for fitness brands who took the challenge to offer online programs, adapted to at-home workouts. Beachbody (BODY) saw its new subscriber sign-ups go up more than 200%. Peloton saw live & on-demand streaming services’ annual sales double too, from $910m in 2019 to $1.8b in 2020. Some of these programs weren’t cheap – Tonal’s $3,000 home workout plan tripled its sales in early 2020 and the company is now aiming for a $100b valuation before filing for an IPO. As if selling all of those plans wasn’t enough, the company backed by Amazon’s (AMZN) Alexa Fund, signed NBA star Stephen Curry to heighten the hype.
Even companies that weren’t in the at-home equipment and programming space got FOMO over this massively accelerating area of fitness and started scrambling for a piece of the treat. Lululemon (LULU), for example, was quick on its feet last year and purchased the at-home fitness company Mirror (for $500m). In fact, Mirror machines are now being integrated into all of Lulu’s 150 brick & mortar stores and have played a significant part in helping the $50b athleisure giant recently hit a 63% increase in YoY sales. As a result, Lululemon is now on pace to reach its 2023 revenue targets by the end of the year.
Go remote or go broke
While lockdowns have been an opportunity for some gyms, they have been a nightmare for others. Over 38,000 gyms and health clubs were forced to close their shutters in the US. With nearly 700 locations worldwide, Gold’s Gym had to file for bankruptcy protection and closed 30 locations in 2020. Others like Town Sports International (CLUBQ) had to file for restructuring. In many cases, the lack of a contingency plan for a future dictated by “online workouts” has proven fatal.
Some gym franchisees whose doors were shut throughout it all last year were quick to adapt to the at-home wave. F45 (FXLV), one of the fastest-growing fitness franchises globally with over 1,750 studios in 45 different countries (for example), launched its own home workout routines. It even combined the offering with healthy meal plans through their dedicated online store – talk about upselling!
Planet Fitness (PLNT) also took the opportunity to also invest in home fitness. In early 2020, the company partnered up with iFit Unite to develop premium workout content accessible via streaming. iFit is considered a pioneer in interactive fitness technology with more than 275 patents in the books. The two companies launched an app called PF+ that offers digital-only subscriptions for $5.99 a month. The decision paid off, with over 30% of PF+ members choosing to join one of Planet Fitness’ locations after subscribing (you know, for their “new normal” living once lockdowns ease). We’re coining this phenomenon “bricks-with-clicks.”
Talking about the blend of digital and physical, Equinox Group (aka the gym of Hollywood stars) launched a streaming app called Variis that offers on-demand fitness exercises. Vaaris attempts to recreate the same in-person experience provided by SoulCycle, an indoor spinning gym owned by Equinox, through its $40-a-month premium membership. Since the arrival of Peloton’s virtual spinning classes, Soulcycle has struggled to keep pace, and Equinox is trying to revive the brand by going digital. Equinox weighing in on a potential $9b SPAC valuation could definitely help the cause.
The trendy fitness wearables market
The rise of health and fitness awareness has led many to get hooked on the fitness trackers market. But, of course, another explanation could simply be that it looks cool to walk around with an Apple Watch on your wrist. Either way, the global fitness wearables market was valued at $38.68b in 2020 and is projected to hit $124.32b in 2028. That’s a CAGR of 17.3%.
On the smartwatch front, Fitbit is making big moves. With a community of more than 29 million active users, Fitbit garnered the interest of Google (GOOGL), which acquired the company in 2021 for $7.25 per share, valuing it at $2.1b. Google took this opportunity to integrate some of Fitbit’s best features into its Wear OS devices and plans to expand the offering by signing a partnership with Samsung’s operating system, Tizen. Google is trying its best to catch up with Apple’s wearables, which set a quarterly revenue record of $7.8b in Q2 of 2021. The 25% YoY growth was driven by the strong sales numbers of the Apple Watch Series 6 and the Apple Watch SE – focused on exercise and health metrics. Apple is doing its best to cut out all the competitors as it recently announced a whole bunch of updates for its next generation of watches in a virtual event just a couple of weeks ago.
However, if you’re planning to be more original and set yourself apart from the mass, you gotta look into Whoop. Not a watch (because it’s just a strap with a sensor), the Boston-based tech company founded by Will Ahmed in 2012 and has been making strides in the fitness wearables market since. Whoop came to prominence thanks to NBA players and UFC fighters wearing the fitness strap during official competitions, not to mention them sponsoring the event that crowns the Fittest in the World – CrossFit. But the hype surrounding the product is not only given by star power. The latest Whoop 4.0 (also coincidentally announced just a couple of weeks ago) has exclusive features such as skin temperature and haptic alerts. The company has recently secured $200m in funding, bringing its valuation to $3.6b.
More on the metabolic side of things, biowearable startup Levels has chosen to focus on the impact of nutrition on blood glucose health markers. The New York-based startup founded in 2019 inserts a tiny probe underneath the skin surface to capture data that can interpret glucose levels (we are getting some Black Mirror vibes over here). Levels is still part of a Beta program, but the company already secured a $12m investment from venture capital company Andreessen Horowitz. But if you’re still uncertain about human-robot integration, it may be worth checking out the Oura ring, which tracks sleep and physical activities. Oura has recently raised $100m to expand its offering.
why it matters
The rise of at-home fitness during Covid-19 lockdowns created a tremendous opportunity for companies in the at-home fitness and wearables space. During this time, those that were primarily in the brick-and-mortar realm were forced to adapt or risk shutting down for good. As gyms have re-opened around the world, these companies will have to further innovate to keep up with their leading positions.