Mystery Shopper

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The German market leader has launched two brand new club concepts – and they’re both a far cry from the company’s low-cost roots. Kate Cracknell invites two mystery shoppers to share their thoughts on the new clubs


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The grandfather of all low-cost gyms – German operation McFIT – is, it seems, no longer content with dominating the budget segment.

Up until mid-2016, the company was still focused on its traditional budget club territory: the original McFIT brand – now hundreds of clubs strong and operating across multiple markets including Germany, Austria, Poland, Spain and Italy – had been joined in the portfolio by HIGH5, launched in 2015 as a smaller footprint, but still low-cost, model focused on functional training.

But the McFIT Global Group is now spreading its wings with two brand new club concepts that move it away from this familiar realm of low-cost and into the experiential, premium end of the market.

The two brands in question – virtual-only WORLD OF CYBEROBICS and Millennial-focused, design-led JOHN REED Fitness Music Club – are united by one key element: cinematic-quality virtual class content, into which McFIT has reportedly poured millions of Euros of investment. Shot in specially selected locations in the US and fronted by famous names such as actress Kate Hudson and trainer to the stars David Kirsch, this virtual content is branded CYBEROBICS – showcased at the World of Cyberobics, but also a key feature at the John Reed Fitness Music Clubs.

The World of Cyberobics ‘concept store’, located in the heart of Berlin, is positioned as a tourist attraction as much as a gym and is a one-off. The design of the €10m venue is highly futuristic, with one of the largest LED walls in Germany helping to deliver an immersive experience for all the senses. Cyberobics members have access to the training rooms from 8.00am–10.00pm on weekdays, and 10.00am–10.00pm at weekends – but even outside the training area, World of Cyberobics is hoping to draw the crowds and earn a place on Berlin’s tourist map.

ROLLING OUT THE NEW BRANDS
It’s logical to surmise that the store’s raison d’etre is to drive consumer demand for virtual fitness – and Cyberobics’ content in particular, which is now being rolled out across the McFIT low-cost estate. There’s also a franchise package for would-be Cyberobics studio owners, as well as on-demand Cyberobics on Sky in Germany and Austria.

But while World of Cyberobics might therefore be seen primarily as a marketing tool, the speed of roll-out of the John Reed Fitness brand suggests this has been identified as a significant growth opportunity for McFIT. Indeed, just a few months in, clubs are already open in multiple markets – Germany, Austria and Italy – with many more in the pipeline.

We’ll be speaking to the McFIT team in the next edition of Health Club Management about the opportunities they’ve identified for these two new brands, but for now, what are the clubs actually like?

We asked two impartial observers to pay a visit and share their thoughts. This is what they told us…

JOHN REED FITNESS MUSIC CLUB: A PARTY IN YOUR SWEATPANTS

John Harris, fitness club owner/operator in Europe since 1983, visits the JOHN REED Fitness Music Club in Salzburg, Austria

John Harris
John Harris

When I asked friends in Salzburg what was going on in the fitness scene, the answer was immediate: “John Reed!” It had just opened, with a major Austrian television star presiding over the ceremonies, so the club had achieved a name recognition and image that usually takes years.

So I headed off to the John Reed Fitness Music Club – a new brand developed by McFIT where, promised the website, I’d discover “a party in my sweatpants”.

The brand has already been rolled out in several markets and numerous cities. In Salzburg, John Reed is located in a 1940s cinema that’s been converted into a fitness centre, with cardio equipment replacing the seats in front of the screen. There are lots of other rooms for weights, virtual classes and ‘leisure’.

The décor of John Reed is unique for a fitness club (though I expect to see knock-offs soon): dim lighting, lots of black and a noise level suited to Millennials but intolerable for most over-40s (the website proudly declares John Reed is louder than other clubs).

Huge, overstuffed fake leather sofas sit between training areas, shelves are lined with fake leather books which are glued down, there are fake marble fireplaces, giant golden Buddhas…. Think gym meets English private members’ club meets nightclub meets Buddhist temple. But of course they aren’t trying to fool anybody: it’s all so over the top, so beyond kitsch, that the effect is not vulgar but entertaining. People smile when they take a club tour. Over the top taken up a level. Goal achieved.

HEALTHY PARTYING
John Reed, in addition to a high-powered sound system, has regularly scheduled DJs to bring the energy level up even higher; discos in Salzburg which cater to the under-25s will soon feel the competition. And it’s a healthy option, where young people can go through their mating ritual while pumping (iron) and Spinning and slugging energy drinks rather than boozing and smoking and popping. The only health threat here is to the eardrums.

The price structure diverts radically from the usual McFIT ‘one price, one programme’ approach (usually €19.90 a month on a one-year minimum contract). John Reed offers 12 membership options according to duration and club access. Single club for 24 months is €20 a month; access to all John Reed and McFIT clubs for three months is €50 a month.

And just in case anyone might be unsure about the exact location of the “party in your sweatpants” promised by the website, the two models illustrating the motto (or mission statement) make it clear: the sultry young blonde’s sweatpants are low-riding, with a long dangling drawstring. The male has his hand wrapped firmly around a dumbbell pressed to that part of his pants where a zipper would be if sweatpants had a zipper.

It might not be quite the club for me, but John Reed clearly knows its clientele, and I have no doubt they will love it.

“It’s all so over the top, so beyond kitsch, that the effect is not vulgar but entertaining. People smile when they take a club tour”

John Reed Fitness Music Club features dim lighting and loud music
John Reed Fitness Music Club features dim lighting and loud music

CYBEROBICS’ VIRTUAL WORLD

Paul Bowman, CEO of virtual group exercise provider Wexer, pays a visit to the new WORLD OF CYBEROBICS site in Berlin, Germany

Paul Bowman
Paul Bowman

I would advise anyone who’s thinking about virtual fitness to visit the World of Cyberobics in Berlin. Opened in late 2016, I believe it was the first virtual-only studio worldwide, and they’ve set the bar high.

The store (because this is a concept store and showroom for the new Cyberobics virtual class content) isn’t without live personnel: on arrival, I was welcomed by a very enthusiastic Cyberobics team, keen to get visitors active in one of the classes. But the classes themselves are all entirely virtual.

IMMERSIVE EXPERIENCE
So what are the classes like? In my opinion, Cyberobics is one of the most advanced virtual content providers on the market – it’s easy to see where the millions of Euros invested by McFIT has gone, with great detail and editing, eye-catching landscapes and unique trainers, including celebrities like actress Kate Hudson.

But content is only one of three important factors for success in virtual fitness provision. Even more important is the virtual installation itself: creating the right atmosphere in the right space is key to driving participation.

At Cyberobics, the immersive experience began in the entrance lift: with its video feed onto all four walls of the lift, it acted as a sales tool to help you instantly understand the concept. After the lift ride, I was greeted by a multimedia panorama show on one of Germany’s biggest LED screens. With sweeping light and sound effects, it created a memorable first impression.

The third factor, and often the biggest challenge for fitness operators, is making sure members know virtual exists. World of Cyberobics definitely ticks the box here: the store is positioned as a fun tourist attraction, which brings virtual fitness onto the radar of far more people. It introduces them to virtual fitness in a memorable but also unintimidating way.

Indeed, thanks to the way the ‘store’ is marketed, World of Cyberobics is able to engage with those who don’t feel a gym is for them – people who feel too intimidated to take part in a live group exercise class. Going to the gym can still be daunting for many, but World of Cyberobics’ immersive experience doesn’t feel like going to the gym at all.

Meanwhile, Millennials are already an important fitness market – and for them, digital is an expectation, not a luxury. World of Cyberobics’ futuristic feel engages this cohort, introducing them to a new way of taking part in group exercise.

EMBRACING TECH
If we as an industry want to drive change and engage the next generation of fitness consumers, we must offer more than just memberships. We have to offer personalisation, convenience, support, progress reports and ongoing interaction through the use of technology.

Cyberobics is at the forefront of this journey, bringing world-class fitness and technology together seamlessly. I was very impressed by its new concept store.

“Going to the gym can be daunting, but World of Cyberobics’ immersive experience doesn’t feel like going to the gym at all”

The store has set the bar high for virtual-only clubs
The store has set the bar high for virtual-only clubs
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