one pass every class
the rise of flexible fitness access

The marketplace is suddenly crowded with online ‘fitness passport’ providers. Does this development spell trouble or opportunity for traditional fitness facility memberships?

Recent years have seen the power of the internet harnessed to make better use of existing space and services. Airbnb connects those looking for short-term accommodation with those who have space available; Uber connects those looking for an alternative to taxis with private drivers in their area.

It was only a matter of time before similar technology was used to match up those looking for commitment-free group fitness with those offering spare spots in classes. That time has well and truly come.

In recent times Australia has seen a number of players enter the market, some based locally and others originating overseas. AnyClass, ClassPass, Classhopper, Classium, FillMyClass, FitSessions, FitUsIn and KFit are some of the names that operators of clubs and studios will soon be familiar with, if they aren’t already.

Essentially, most of these function as ‘passport memberships’, giving those who join unlimited access to a wide range of classes at all the facilities in their passport provider’s network.

So, does this spell trouble for traditional club membership sales, or present opportunites for new business?

Network spoke to several providers to get the lowdown on this ‘disruptive’ industry development.

What was the catalyst for the creation of these services?

Most providers voiced similar reasons for creating their services, namely frustrations on the part of gyms with consistently having half-empty classes, and frustrations on the part of individuals whose gyms didn’t provide them with all the classes they wanted at times that suited them. The founder of FitSessions, Natasha Prasad, says ‘I realised I was paying a monthly rate for a gym membership in the CBD, buying class packs from a specialised yoga studio and paying drop-in rates for tennis and swimming. This was expensive, clunky and simply not sustainable.’ AnyClass co-founder Elena Torriani points to the new efficiencies enabled by technology, saying: ‘There are so many markets that have historically been inefficient, because it was very hard for a small business to get the scale to operate outside its local area. The internet and smartphones have changed that forever. We’re trying to bring some of these new efficiencies to the fitness market, so consumers have more options and studios get more business.’

How does the business model work?

Most providers charge a weekly or monthly fee for memberships – generally around $100 a month – that gives members unlimited access with no extra costs for classes. As Robbie Dunphy, co-founder of Classhopper, notes, the more often members go to classes, the more value they get – just like with a regular gym membership.

Most providers, such as AnyClass, enable this by effectively ‘bulk buying’ classes from facilities at discounted rates, or, as in the case of FitUsIn, by providing partner studios with an agreed upon referral rate for each visit.

FillMyClass and Classium function a little differently. Members don’t pay a membership fee and just pay for the classes they book online. FillMyClass encourages venues in its network to offer users the first class for free, but notes that partners choose costs and can charge members whatever they like.

What is the main benefit to fitness facilities?

There are two main benefits for clubs: the immediate revenue generated from ‘selling’ otherwise empty spaces in class, and high quality lead generation.

AnyClass, for example, claims it can bring in around an extra $1,000 per month for small studios, and multiple times that for larger facilities.

Most providers, however, cite lead generation as the major benefit enabled by their service, and say that this is the aspect that facilities value most.

Robbie Dunphy from Classhopper acknowledges that by working as a connector the service will inevitably lose some of its members when they decide to take out memberships at a club that they have tried: ‘Naturally this will result in us losing members and the studios gaining them, but that’s just a by-product of the awesome service.’

Jaye Raykos, general manager of KFit in Australia and New Zealand, expresses similar sentiments, saying that if members find a studio they really like, KFit encourages them to sign-up directly with the facility: ‘Increasing revenue for a fitness partner is also important – we’re helping them grow the pie of customers in the respective city.’

Indeed, the team at FitSessions allude to the fact that similar models in the US have seen more than a 50 per cent conversion rate of those using a passport service into fully paid up members of a club.

AnyClass, on the other hand, says it specifically caters to individuals who do not intend to become members of one facility due to their unpredictable schedules or preference for attending a variety of venues and class types. To this end, it imposes a monthly limit of three visits per studio.

Vanessa Picker, CEO of FitUsIn, says that most of its members are entirely new to exercise, so studios can reach out to new customers who wouldn’t otherwise try their facilities. She also highlights the fact that being part of a network of providers doesn’t carry any cost for participating businesses.

What areas of the country are currently serviced by passport providers?

Most providers are currently operating in just one or two cities – predominantly Sydney and Melbourne – but all cite plans to go nationwide, or at least expand the cities they service, within the next few months.

All the providers offer access to classes in any of their participating clubs, although some, such as FillMyClass, offer geo-tagging to promote the most relevant classes by location to their users. FitUsIn, meanwhile, require members to select a home club at sign up, but enable them to access studios outside of their specified local area.

Does this service include personal training, or is it solely for group ex classes?

KFit offer personal training sessions and sports therapy massages, but most other providers don’t currently feature PT – though they are not ruling it out in the future. Some indicate that any such evolution of their services will be dictated by the facilities in their network. FitSessions, for example, offer small group training sessions and say that although one-on-one training isn’t currently part of the package, ‘it’s certainly on our radar.’

Is it all about last-minute availability or can members book classes at any time?

Members can book classes as soon as the facilities in the network make them available online, which for most passport services tends to be one week in advance. There are some exceptions, with FitSessions enabling members to book sessions up to one month in advance. Regardless of the length of time in advance of classes that members can book, Jaye Raykos from KFit notes that popular classes are usually booked out a couple of days in advance.

AnyClass says that studios can choose which classes they make available, as well as how many spots in each class, but notes that facilities will often reserve classes in peak hours for their own members only. FitUsIn say that, despite the freedom to be selective about which classes and how many spaces they offer, many studios offer the majority of their classes to passport site members.

Providers also say that their networks of participating clubs use the service to offer last-minute sales of empty spots (such as when spaces become available due to cancellations).

Although ‘disruptive’ technologies and services can appear threatening to existing business models, they also have a capacity to revitalise a market. Whether you run a large club, or a boutique yoga studio, it is worth investigating whether it could benefit your business to get involved with a fitness passport provider.

Hailing from a family of fitness facility operators, Elena Torriani from AnyClass is well placed to sum up the relationship between facility, passport provider and member: ‘We want more people to enjoy the benefits of boutique studios and we realise that we only succeed if studios are happy, so we devote a lot of effort to making sure that everyone wins – the studio gets to fill empty spots and members get to experience great classes.’