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Business ideas for 2020: Convenient and connected fitness

The UK fitness industry is in fighting shape, but consumers are demanding more convenient ways to exercise - can you give it to them?

It’s January. Cue a surge in gym memberships as guilty Brits try to atone for a season of excess, and make good on their well-intentioned New Year’s resolutions.

But will you go…?

Our #fitnessgoals are so easily cast aside in the face of crowded gyms, dark days, and slow results.

Behavioural economists will tell you that the best way to get anyone to do anything is simply to make it easier.

And wouldn’t it be so much easier if you could just get the same results at home? No fitness fanatics making you feel bad about yourself, no need to lug a sweaty gym kit around, no membership obligations.

Growing numbers of people want to get fit on their own terms, creating business opportunities to meet these changing expectations with solutions that make exercising more connected and convenient for all.

From live spinning classes streamed directly into your living room to all-in-one workout and health apps to easy protein sources and high tech bodywear, the fitness sector is seeing a surge in innovation

In 2017, we identified alternative fitness as one of our top business ideas. In 2020, we predict connection and convenience will be the defining trends of the health and fitness sector, and there’s still plenty of space for new competitors…

Why convenient and connected fitness is a good business idea

The UK fitness industry is in fighting shape. The 2019 State of the UK Fitness Industry Report revealed that the sector grew by 4.2% to £5.1bn in the last year. Meanwhile, gym membership increased by 4.7% to reach 10.4 million.

And according to a survey of 2,800 18-65 year-olds by Myprotein, the average Brit spends 11.1 hours per week on health and fitness (24 days a year!). Those are gains a bodybuilder would be proud of.

Yet according to a survey from Fridge Raiders (yes, the snack company), only around half of those who have a gym membership actually go regularly, resulting in an estimated £4bn in wasted subscriptions every year…

It’s clear that, while Britain is more fitness-obsessed than ever, there’s a demand for more accessible alternatives.

Just look at the success of US home exercise giant Peloton, which has 1.4 million subscribers around the world, significantly outselling rival SoulCycle (whether a widely-ridiculed “sexist and dystopian” Christmas ad could damage its growth remains to be seen).

This recent Telegraph article claims that digital fitness is growing at 50% year-on-year, compared to just 4% for the traditional gym industry. But it’s not just the at-home market serving the growing demand for convenience: the article goes on to say that so-called “pick ‘n’ mix fitness has changed gyms forever”, as they increasingly offer drop in classes and flexible membership options.

Hannah Lanel is founder of King’s Cross-based fitness and wellness studio The Fore, which is regularly voted as one of London’s Top 10 fitness classes. She says: “Convenience is driving fitness decisions and the market is following suit. Millennials are looking for wellness options that fit seamlessly into the flow of their day-to-day work and personal lives, helping them to form habits and empowering them through a kind of hyper awareness/ connectivity.

“It’s caused major disruption, and forced a once rigid and arrogant industry to start dancing to its consumers’ tune by delivering experiences that make fitness easy and effortless.”

The demand for accessible fitness is clear on social media too, where the popularity of YouTube and Instagram fitness stars such as The Body Coach Joe Wicks (2.9 million Instagram followers) is booming. His free High intensity interval Training (HIIT) videos on YouTube, which can be done at home with no equipment, have received millions of views collectively.

So, what are the business opportunities for aspiring entrepreneurs in the fitness space in 2020?

Is it Brexit-proof?

To an extent. The UK’s fitness fanatics are unlikely to cast aside their #BodyGoals on account of Brexit, whichever way it goes. If your business is at a higher price-point and Brexit does result in a shrinking of pockets, the more luxurious offerings will be the hardest hit.

However, according to UK Active, the UK also benefits from being a leading voice in the European physical activity sector, which is unlikely to be lost in the event of Brexit.

Convenient and connected and fitness business opportunities

Fiit business workout

The most popular incarnation of this idea is high-tech home workout concepts. If you know who Jane Fonda is, you’ll also know there’s nothing new about this. But they’re now a lot more sophisticated.

There’s Peloton (mentioned above), which allows you to take part in live spinning classes with “world-class” instructors from your own living room. And with live leaderboards and group workouts, you don’t miss out on the competitive and communal aspect. At £1,990 for the ‘basics package’, it might be convenient, but it’s certainly not affordable.

London-based boutique fitness studio 1rebel has now partnered with TechnoGym to launch its own at-home, on-demand fitness studio (bike, £2,450 outright or £99 /month).

There’s definitely an opportunity here to offer more affordable alternatives such as “pocket-sized PT” Fiit, an app that beams 25-40 minute strength, combat, yoga, and pilates classes to your phone for £10 a month. Customers can select from four to six week plans depending on their goals, and can track stats, personal bests and progress.

You could also go down the route of developing a family-friendly concept that gamifies fitness like the Nintendo Switch Ring Fit Adventure.

If you have the means to invest in the R&D for something a bit more high-tech, then how about developing something like this concept that actually increases your body’s efficiency…

Miha bodytec’s Electro Muscle Stimulation bodywear sends electrical impulses through the user’s muscles, encouraging them to contract harder than would otherwise be possible. It’s super-efficient, reaching 98% of muscles at one time, while a normal workout reaches just 65%. The company claims a 20 minute workout using its system equates to a normal two hour session in the gym.

But convenience doesn’t have to be about high-tech solutions. Rafael Rozenson’s Vieve Protein Water gives customers a ready-to-go post-workout drink that avoids the mess and mixing of powder shakes.

And other companies are making it easier to fit a regular session in around your busy life. 9Round is the 30 minute kickbox concept with no class times, that allows you to drop in whenever. Or there’s ClassPass, which allows you to book onto as many local exercise classes as possible for one monthly fee.

But where does all this leave you? You’re going to be in an increasingly crowded market with an at-home exercise class streaming concept. The more unique it is, the better.

If you’re a fitness junky, you’ll know all too well how frequently ludicrous concepts emerge and survive on novelty factor alone for a few months before disappearing (Prancercise anyone?). So try and offer something real; something that offers a genuine benefit to people; something that can endure.

The biggest opportunity, as we see it, is to target the remaining 50-odd million people in Britain who don’t have a gym membership, who don’t think fitness is for them. Because it should be for everyone! And in the midst of an obesity crisis, we need to hear that more than ever. It’s not surprising that people are put off by the unrealistic standards used to promote the fitness industry.

A business that makes exercise easy and accessible for that underserved section of the market could make big gains in 2020.

Is it sustainable?

Certainly if your business allows people to get fit from the comfort of their homes then you're eliminating emissions from transport. However, if you’re creating a product then you have to be aware of the origin of the raw materials.

Some concepts are actually using exercise to drive sustainability. Green fitness company SportsArt has developed a treadmill and stationary bike that turns you into a human power plant. The energy you produce is turned into electricity, with approximately 74% directly powering your facility.

Insider opinion

Erica Wolfe-Murray, business expert and co-founder of The Business of Fitness alongside barreworks founder Vicki Anstey, says:

“The desire for convenience for the customer is hitting every industry – fitness and exercise is just the latest in a long line. Consumers are demanding the provision of the products/services they want, in a location convenient to them at any time of day or night.

“In our constantly ‘on’ world, looking after your health and well-being is critical. But many of us are no longer working to the old standard ‘9 to 5’ schedule, as we juggle portfolio careers, multi-country teams, caring and other responsibilities. If a company wants our money and attention it has to understand the new paradigms adapting its operation to our new ways of working.

“The explosion of fitness and exercise methodologies and brands is also allowing us to cherry-pick from an extensive, ever-growing menu. Competition for clients, participants and members is fierce. If an organization is unable to meet the needs of the increasingly demanding clientele, others will soon step in all too ready to provide a service to fulfil this need.

“And as humans we are hard-wired to look for convenience in pretty much all we do – exercise being no exception. If you can do a tough workout in 15 minutes rather than 60, and without needing to leave home – what’s not to love?”

Henry Williams
Henry Williams

Henry has been writing for Startups.co.uk since 2015, covering everything from business finance and web builders to tax and red tape. He’s also contributed to many of our industry-renowned annual indexes, including Startups 100 and Young Guns, and created a number of the site’s popular how to guides. Before joining the team, he reviewed films for a culture website, and still harbours ambitions of being a screenwriter.