If you missed my conference at Club Industry in Chicago, here are a few highlights.

Artificial Intelligence

Have you had a conversation recently with a company online? You most likely were not speaking to a real person.  We’ve all heard about robotics replacing jobs. However, the latest technology that is poised to have an even bigger impact, is Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning.

How will this benefit clubs? AI Chatbots can book, confirm, and reschedule appointments along with answering basic questions via text.  Not only does this allow for more of the most precious commodity – time, but also provides efficient, near-instant customer service.

Presence AI is one of the new companies offering Intelligent Messaging.  With access to a trainer’s or instructor’s schedule, Presence AI enables their customers to book or reschedule services by TEXT MESSAGE, never speaking with a real person. What’s also interesting is this can be done over a landline.

Virtual Reality

Engage, entertain and distract has been an ongoing strategy of gyms and cardiovascular equipment manufacturer’s efforts to make working out more enjoyable.  VR has the potential to disrupt and completely change how members are burning calories in the future.  The reason why members would gravitate towards VR are just beginning to be understood.

Numerous studies are being published showing participants immersed in VR experience with reduced levels of pain, general distress and unpleasantness. What could this mean for fitness enthusiasts? How about training at an intense, near max level while only perceiving to have exercised moderately?

San Francisco State has been conducting leading-edge research into virtual reality, fitness since January 2017. A team of researchers led by Professor Marialice Kern, has been studying the metabolic energy expended while playing VR games and its potential effectiveness as a part of a regular workout routine.

SF State is also collaborating with the newly established VR Institute of Health and Exercise. The Institute is an independent industry group that collects ongoing metabolic observations to create VR exercise ratings. I had the pleasure of speaking with the founder, Silicon Valley entrepreneur Aaron Stanton, about the exciting research and findings about to be published regarding the benefits of VR exercise.

Check out a couple of the current VR games players have used to burn an estimated, over 150 million calories:  Audioshield & The Thrill of the Fight

When can we expect to see people working out with VR headsets in gyms? It’s already happening…VR Fit is a VR fitness zone located within the Wyandotte Athletic Club in Columbus, Ohio.  They’re offering a variety of options including private VR experiences, VRobics small-group experiences and one-on-one VR fitness coaching.  VR could potentially be the industry’s next membership upgrade or additional revenue source.

How about a boutique chain of gyms where you will workout exclusively in VR? It’s also on the way.  Black Box VR is advertised as, “The World’s First Full-Fitness Virtual Reality Gym Experience”, which will also include the world’s first fully automated cable resistance machine that integrates virtual reality hardware and software. Black Box VR was founded by fitness fanatics, Ryan DeLuca & Preston Lewis. The team spent years building Bodybuilding.com into the largest online supplement retailer in the world (with nearly $500m in annual sales).

Video On Demand & Streaming

If you have a group fitness/aerobics room, you should be rethinking how it is utilized.

Video on demand and streaming is providing members of any size facility access to nearly every type of workout class, along with access to celebrity/top instructors from around the world. Companies like Fitness OnDemand, WellBeats and Wexar are leading the charge to provide solutions for your members to view digital content within the club.

Do you have classes and instructors that people outside of your gym would like to experience?  Your group fitness room/facility should also be viewed as a studio to generate digital “branded” content that can be monetized and delivered 24-hours a day, anywhere in the world.

Digital Memberships

For the first time, gym owners are able to reach outside their four walls and sell memberships to fitness enthusiasts around the world. Rethink the levels and types of memberships you offer.  “Purely Brick and Mortar”, “Brick and Mortar with Digital Extension” and “Purely Digital” could quickly become the industry norm.

How do you get started? It’s easier than you think. Companies like Intelivideo have spent millions building the back-end support to help make your brand potentially look like the Netflix of fitness. Content, user experience and rapid implementation are core objectives with digital, so you’ll need to partner with a company that is experienced in launching and building subscription video businesses.

I believe we’re not far off from hearing that a large chain or franchise’s digital memberships have outpaced their brick and mortar sales ….or that a small town USA gym is streaming the hottest workout being done by millions of people throughout Europe and Asia.

Technology & digital will continue to impact the fitness industry. Being able to determine which segments and products to invest in first, will be key traits of the companies who evolve and emerge as leaders. Make sure it’s not your brand left behind.

“Things take longer to happen than you think they will, and then they happen faster than you thought they could”.

— Rudiger Dornbusch, Economist

Article by: David Shaw

David is the VP of Growth Fitness Marketing, Laguna Beach. His expertise includes: creative marketing strategies and branding services for health, fitness and wellness brands along with future casting / fitness technology consulting for fitness product manufacturers and fitness centers.

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Coming this fall – View the next generation of hospitality fitness at the Newport Beach Marriott Hotel & Spa.  Designed, Out-fitted and Branded by David Shaw & The GFM Creative Design Group.