Sat, 09 Dec 2023

Fitness fads: They have been around almost as long as the concept of fitness has. Cure-all elixirs, machines that 'shock' your abs into beach-body form, and pills that magically make you lose weight.

Those are on the extreme end. There have been fads that turned into trends, for sure. Recreational running was a fad before it was a way to keep your heart healthy. CrossFit, with its best days possibly behind it, still has ride-or-die status with its devoted masses.

This brings us to Athlo.

Athlo, a sharing economy app focused on the fitness industry, provides a digital platform that allows gyms, users, and fitness center members to share exercise classes and memberships, and even make money from sharing those assets.

Matthew Mansell founded Athlo during the pandemic and believes the company has what it takes to not just survive the post-pandemic 'return to normal,' but also benefit from what that new normal is.

Over the past three years, the pandemic helped usher in a new wave of fitness fads, some of which may be poised for trend status, and others that will likely go the way of the ThighMaster.

When gym and fitness centers around the world closed down in March 2020, a seismic shift hit the $91 billion-a-year fitness industry. People still wanted to have their workouts, but they had to be more creative in how they went about it. The environment was ripe for companies to help meet that need.

And they did. Companies like Mirror and Peloton, selling in-home digital fitness products and services, took off like rockets.

Fast-forward to the end of June 2020 and Mirror, which was acquired by fitness and athleisure apparel company Lululemon for $500 million during the pandemic, saw its revenue outlook reduced by half.

Blame it on Sex and the City's Mr. Big and his dramatic downfall or not, but Peloton missed its November revenue goals last year and reported an adjusted EBITDA of minus $260 million in the fiscal fourth quarter of 2021.

While there may be some questions around the future of brick-and-mortar businesses versus digital fitness platforms, Mansell said he isn't worried.

'I am asked this quite a lot, my personal gut feeling is twofold here,' Mansell said. 'One is, digital fitness is here to stay. The trends show that. At the same time, the data indicates people are returning to brick-and-mortar gyms, brick-and-mortar studios for the element of community and in-person training. You can't replicate that. It's irreplaceable. But I don't think digital fitness is going to disappear, and I believe anyone who is totally dismissive of that is probably burying their heads in the sand somewhat.'

Athlo, with its digital platform that leverages brick-and-mortar facilities through their members, is believed by many to be the next fitness unicorn in the post-pandemic world.

Unlike some digital fitness platforms, Athlo is built to operate in the overlap between digital fitness and traditional fitness facilities.

'We believe as a business that through our partnerships, and working alongside our gym partners we can act as an intermediary for digital clients, providing more users access to our gym partners,' Mansell said.

The relationship between digital and traditional fitness is not unlike the relationship between how many people now see their pre- and post-pandemic lives. There is the 'before,' with the familiar pros and cons, and there is the 'after,' with its uncertainty and excitement.

A big part of that 'after,' for Athlo, is to dig down into travel corridors and pick up gyms, boutique fitness facilities, and travelers as they form new habits in the new normal.

'We have highlighted some key geographies and travel corridors that we believe suits our business and vice versa,' Mansell said. 'When travelling with work or for leisure, unless your gym membership provides you global access the solution is a Google search and to us, that seems archaic.'

Mansell will certainly get his chance to prove this approach works. While international travel is still 35% below what it was in 2019, travel spending is only down 3% from pre-pandemic levels. According to the U.S. Travel Association, September was the first month since March to have levels below their 2019 mark, signaling travel is coming back.

'One of our primary goals when we built Athlo was with the gyms in mind first and foremost,' he said. 'Now we have to look at how we support them post-COVID and heading into a cost-of-living crisis'

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