One year into the pandemic, the full extent to which business suffered irreconcilable losses remains to be seen or felt. The fitness industry fell into those service slash experience-centric businesses that took significant hits; most require indoor group activity huffing and puffing with strangers, making it a Covid-19 unfriendly activity. One thing fitness had going was a relatively clear path to transition their product online. Two different businesses in the space; AARMY and SPACES by Talent Hack, experienced rapid-fire growth in 2020 despite their many challenges. Each one accelerated their service with retail components via products and partnerships in the fashion lifestyle space.
Launched in late 2019 by fitness stars Akin Akman, Angela Manuel-Davis, and creative mastermind Trey Laird. Their New York and Los Angeles locations were only open a matter of weeks before having shut down in-person training when the pandemic hit. The team training multi-disciplinary fitness experience met at the intersection of places such as SoulCycle, Equinox, and Peleton, combining these ideas into a new fitness platform that focuses just as much on inspiration and mental conditioning as physical fitness. Equally, AARMY is a multi-faceted brand that includes a lifestyle component with a line of gear, including a collection in collaboration with cult-status streetwear Fear of God by Jerry Lorenzo.
The day after the physical locations closed, the team didn’t skip a beat and rolled out virtual practice training sessions via Instagram, setting the tone for an industry. Launching a digital subscription was always a part of the business plan, but AARMY sped those plans up and quickly released an app in September 2020.
As the app was being developed, free sessions on Instagram upped their following
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from a mostly US-based following of 18k to 65k with a global reach at the time of the launch. It’s grown since then to 85k followers.
By August 2020, the mobile web and subscription service was released, expanding their customer reach over 600 percent. “Phase 2, with more features, will come out later this summer,” said co-founder Laird, adding, “We release 20 new on-demand sessions each week and offer 12-14 live sessions weekly as well.”
Having to close the physical space had some unexpected upshots, such as the rapid growth of customer reach. ‘Building a powerful community through this challenging first year has defiantly been the absolute best thing,” said Laird adding, “It’s been incredible to see so many new people joining the AARMY from all over the world.”
Like the fashion industry and many others, they predict a complimentary mix of both in-person and virtual experiences. “There is an energy, excitement, and human connection that is very special. However, we have worked very hard to create elevated content that captures the unique AARMY experience,” maintains Laird.
That content via subscriptions remains the current focus, but the method with soon launch a custom AARMY bike and equipment for sale as classes generally include the use of both of those items. The workout varies, as does the community, which provides for individuals of all ages and fitness levels. “Everyone is different, but very quickly, you realize that there is a shared positive mindset with a real sense of teamwork and community that everyone contributes to,” said Laird.
SPACES by Talent Hack
Wellness and tech entrepreneur Alexandra Bonetti had seen a different need in the fitness industry before the pandemic when she launched Talent Hack in 2019. Talent Hack aimed to equip enterprising fitness instructors with the tools and resources they needed as individuals to build their communities outside of an established studio or gym.
The service was based on the idea that those fitness brands’ real stars were the star instructors that clients flocked to religiously. Bonetti had founded Bari Studios and knew first-hand the instructors driving the success yet had little financial leverage in the game. Initially, you could say it became the LinkedIn of the fitness world with over 50K professionals using the platform.
When the pandemic upended their way of doing business, Bonetti set out to expand Talent Hack. SPACES by Talent Hack launched in 2020 as, according to Bonetti, “a full product suite where talent can sell their classes, on-demand content, memberships, build community… all while leveraging our marketing tech that grows their business while they’re creating.”
She refers to it as a digital storefront where instructors can sell private classes, class packs, and other programs. “SPACES offers the same type of tools that studios and major gyms use to manage their businesses, uniquely designed for the solopreneur.” Building and maintaining one’s website is a costly endeavor both financially and timewise, easily costing 3K, and a deterrent to creating their brand.
SPACES can also embed those who did launch a site to maintain them and add features like on-demand hosting and streaming. Additionally, they provide marketing and business support. Fees to instructors range from zero, and clients pay an 8 percent processing fee, or talents pay $35 per month, and clients pay a reduced Talent/Hack optimized fee with an algorithm based on about 1-3% of the spend.
The Spaces platform is also an attractive place for brands in the sector to meet their customer. Recently SPACES was engaged by Victoria’s Secret to create workouts for a press day and for its customers with instructors Sydney Miller and Tina Cabrera. Community-driven platforms are ideal places to launch activations promoting a product drop incentivizing the viewers to purchase products during a specific timeframe. A similar activation was done for up and coming men’s casual lifestyle brand Rhone.
“The platform lets brands use ‘merchantainment’ — entertaining consumers with an experience while simultaneously showing products for purchase, says Bonetti. “It helps to provide authentic experience and content seamlessly fitting into their communities’ day to day lives.”
The most recent community activation was with Spiritual Gangsters, a Yogi lifestyle brand founded by Ian Lopatin and Vanessa Lee. They launched “The Mat” as a permanent part of their brand offering. It was tied to the launch of Active Collection of styles designed to accommodate everything from gentle morning stretching, heated vinyasa flows, elongating Pilates sessions to sweaty boxing classes and ecstatic dance parties. This branded experience features top yoga instructors leading two complimentary classes per week to Spiritual Gangster’s community.
Like Laird, Bonetti thinks online luxury fitness is here to stay. “The pandemic made clients realize working out from home is effective and efficient, both financially and in terms of time management. So, over the next decade, I think this offline to online paradigm shift will only intensify,” says Bonetti adding, “A hybrid model, or omnichannel, is what I think will become the new normal.”