It’s no secret that the gym industry has been dealt a serious blow from the COVID-19 pandemic, while companies like Peloton have reaped the rewards, but one Canadian-based startup has pivoted in a way that might hint at the future of post-pandemic fitness: on-demand micro-gyms. Could this be the next big thing?
When Silofit CEO Wilfred Valenta launched his Montreal-based boutique gyms in 2018, he envisioned his core customers as mostly urban travelers looking for a quick workout without the need to invest in temporary gym memberships. But 2020’s pandemic brought an unexpected upside to his business, especially as Montreal began to open back up and the months grew colder. People still shunned crowded big-box gyms while booking up his on-demand fitness centers: office spaces converted into chic, sanitized, private gyms, all accessible via a digital app for bookings and scheduling personal trainer sessions.
Since the company has been rapidly scaling up. In December 2020, Silofit grew from three to eight micro-gyms, or “Silos,” in Toronto and Montreal, with plans to open 20 more in Toronto this year – and thanks to a $10 million Series A funding round, Silofit aims to reach even further with a US expansion and development of a digital platform connecting customers to personal trainers and their integrated fitness data.
But as Bloomberg reports, at-home fitness brands had been gaining traction even before the pandemic, while the out-of-home fitness industry heavily contracted in 2020 due to forced closures and a radical change in consumer habits:
In a December survey for US-based investment bank Harrison Co., 27% of respondents who exercised regularly said they’d canceled their gym membership during the pandemic, and another 12% planned to. Research firm IBISWorld expects the industry’s revenue to drop 13% in 2020.
Still, fitness customers – especially those in urban areas – will feel the pull of the gym, according to Valenta. “Gyms aren’t going away,” he says on a recent Zoom call from his home in Montreal. His view of the future is “hybrid fitness,” or people working out at home but also dropping in for sessions in micro-gyms with flexible options. He says:
With COVID, there has been an acceleration on the digital side with at-home fitness, but we believe that personal training and a human element aren’t going away, especially coming out of the pandemic when people are going to want to get back into shape and will want guidance on how to do that.
Currently his Silos function as private studios, with clients logging in and booking a session via the Silofit app. Hourly rates range from $20 to $40 CAD (roughly $16 to $31 USD), depending what city you’re in, and which studio and time slot you choose. Via the app, you receive an access code moments before your booked time, which you could share with a friend, along with options for booking a personal trainer within the app. Social engagement via Facebook and Instagram are encouraged, of course.
Last year, the Silofit team grew from four to 21, with the company looking to expand further into a major US market by the end of 2021 – either Boston, New York, or Chicago, Valenta says. Silofit is also using its funding to build out its software platform and service offering for personal trainers, with plans to offer a mix of services that enable trainers to manage all aspects of their business “and free them from the high commissions currently paid to traditional gyms,” according to a press release.
“We’re focusing on this new idea of creating an ecosystem,” Valenta says – one that connects a fitness client with their trainer, their Silo, any home equipment, with all of their personal data accessible via the app. “That’s a part of this idea where Peloton is on the rise. Why? Because they allow you to stay connected, even though you’re remote and really singular – you’re at home on your bike.”
While Valenta can’t yet offer any details, he does say that Silofit is currently negotiating terms with “a very large equipment manufacturer” to hopefully make this dream a reality, so “all the data from all the equipment is streaming into your profile, and much like a doctor, your trainer can also interpret your results and after that feed them back to you and use them for recommendations.“
“It’s now really the gym being a connected environment,” he adds. “I think that the winner of this market is not just going to be someone who can connect with the home experience or the gym experience, but someone who can connect both.”