Los Angeles Gym Owner Explains the Future of Fitness in a COVID-19 Era
The fitness industry changed overnight, thanks to coronavirus.
Suddenly at-home workouts became legitimized as a way to really break a sweat, and top-tier fitness studios started offering free, full-length workouts on IG Live and YouTube.
But here we are three months later, and studios are now preparing to open back up for in-person classes. This raises many questions, and certainly a few concerns—for both gym patrons and owners. To gain some insight, we reached out to Felicia Alexander, co-owner of trendy Los Angeles fitness studios, BoxUnion. While variations of their traditional classes are being offered online as part of a digital, on-demand membership, the studio is about to offer regular classes again.
Keep reading for Felicia's take on the future of fitness in a COVID-19 era, and her plan for reopening BoxUnion safely.
Sweety High: Do you envision gyms and fitness studios ever fully getting back to "normal," post-social distancing?
Felicia Alexander: Gyms and studios represent connection, community and health. We at BoxUnion believe we will return to "normal," but it may be a new normal and it may take some people more time than others to return.
SH: As a fitness studio owner, do you have plans in place for reopening? If so, what will you ensure is done differently than before?
FA: Our team has been working diligently on our reopening strategy. We are closely monitoring guidelines put forth by the CDC, WHO, as well as what other businesses are doing. In other parts of the country, gyms and studios have started to reopen. We're watching what they're doing and taking notes, and will implement best practices. At BoxUnion, we've always prided ourselves on a beautiful and clean environment. Since we opened, we invested in hospital-grade cleaning supplies and equipment and have taken the health and safety of our employees and boxers seriously.
Furthermore, we also provide our boxers with a clear space around their bag of 25 square feet for movement. At BoxUnion, we also utilize no equipment which is a real advantage as consumers will be reluctant to touch shared equipment. Therefore, when we re-open, our consumers will be physically distanced and enter a no-touch zone.
SH: Do you expect to permanently lose in-person paying clients? Or do you think over time, mostly everyone will come back?
FA: We know many of our members are desperately waiting for the day we reopen and we're beyond excited to welcome them back and see them in person. That said, there are definitely people who won't feel comfortable even with all of the safety measures in place. We respect and understand that everyone has a different situation and a different level of comfort.
For those who aren't ready to come back to the studio, they can continue to workout with us virtually on BoxUnion Digital. To this point, even when studios go back to "normal," we believe that consumers will value an omni-channel approach to fitness—physical locations and virtual.
SH: For gyms and studios that have been putting free classes up on their YouTube pages amid quarantine, do you expect them to be left up or taken down once social distancing ends?
FA: We launched BoxUnion Digital during quarantine. A digital product was always on our strategic roadmap, but was accelerated due to the circumstances. We plan to continue to invest in and grow our digital business. I would imagine many other brands will continue to do the same. However, the investment in time and money to be able to do this in a quality manner is significant and it will be a question of strategic priority and capital availability. We've been able to introduce BoxUnion to a global audience and extend our reach much faster than we could have in the physical world. We have subscribers on five continents and are adding new boxers every day.
SH: How has BoxUnion been gaining back some of the money it's lost from studio memberships canceled or put on hold?
FA: Immediately after the shelter in place, we froze all memberships. As I previously mentioned, within four weeks of being shut down, we launched BoxUnion Digital, our paid subscription service that has grown very rapidly. We also developed a virtual private training business where we do individual and small group workouts for our members and boxers through Zoom. We also regularly host paid private classes for corporations as well as birthday parties for friends and family that want to workout together. Finally, we've been approached by a number of content aggregators to license our online content, which we're investigating as a potential additional revenue stream for us.
SH: Overall, how do you envision the future of fitness once the height of this chaos ends? Do you expect people to stick more to at-home workouts now or do you think they're itching to get back into a gym or studio?
FA: I think the response is fairly divided. Based on all of the conversations we've had with our community, we know there are some people who are constantly messaging us asking if we have a re-opening date and wanting to make sure they can be the first to book their bag. Given we will be operating at a reduced capacity, we expect there to be scarcity, and we're thinking about how we can add more classes to accommodate the demand. Fitness was very late to adopt an omni-channel approach. There were people who played in the virtual-only space, but you didn't see many brands with a physical presence playing in the virtual space.
We're certain that this trend is here to stay and will generate more engagement from members. We've had members who've moved away from our physical locations, and with BoxUnion Digital they're now able to bring BoxUnion back to their everyday routine. We've also had members share their enthusiasm with being able to share their love of BoxUnion with family and friends who live all across the world. At the end of the day, it's about the product and the community and making it accessible.
SH: What's your background with fitness, and how did BoxUnion come to be?
FA: I've been passionate about fitness my entire life. I grew up doing Jane Fonda workouts on Betamax with my mom and sisters in our living room. I played competitive soccer throughout my youth and longed for the day when I would be old enough to have my own gym membership. To me, fitness was always about bringing people together and creating community and connection.
In college, I told my friends that one day I'd turn my passion for fitness into a business, but it took me over 20 years to figure out what and how. Following college, I worked in sales and marketing for a variety of large companies. I traveled a lot during my career and was always prioritizing where I stayed based on the fitness options available. In my early 20s, I was in Munich on business and made my way into a spin class at a gym. It was hilarious as I didn't understand a thing the instructor said (the class was in German), but fitness and sweating together is a universal language.
To tell you my whole journey would be a long story. I'll fast forward and let you know that my business partner, Todd Wadler, and I have been friends for over 13 years. His wife is one of my closest friends. Todd is a former investment banker and a fellow fitness enthusiast. We both wanted to do something entrepreneurial that fueled our passion. We thought there was an opportunity to do something in boxing. As an aside, I put on gloves for the first time when I was 16. It was only three months after my dad died suddenly of a heart attack. Putting on gloves and hitting the heavy bag was a transformative experience. I felt like a badass.
As Todd and I started developing what would be BoxUnion, we realized there was a hole in the market for a fitness boxing experience that was accessible and welcoming. We addressed this lack of accessibility in everything we did, from our environment and what it looks like, to who we hired, and most importantly the programming. Our programming is where we did the biggest reinvention. We created what we call "Box to the Beat" which means everything we do we do to the rhythm of the music. Our methodology creates non-stop movement in a way that is fun and delivers a great workout.
We also lean heavily into mindfulness. Our workouts are designed to leave you feeling sweaty, de-stressed and ready to take on anything life throws at you. We've created an environment where people can show up for themselves and for each other and find their inner fighter.
SH: What words of hope can you provide to the fitness community during this time?
FA: In terms of words of hope for the fitness community, we're all in this together. I think the most important thing is being there for your community and continuing to be the brand and deliver the experience they have come to love and support. I think it's also important to be vulnerable and show up authentically.
For more fitness content, click HERE to read about the 16-minute workout that challenged me more than anything else.