THE WEEKLY HOWL IS WORKING OUT IN FRONT OF THE MIRROR

Everyone loves free stuff: A couple of years ago, I overheard a conversation about a business idea. The idea was a signal on your car that indicated that you were going to perform a U-turn instead of just a turn. The 2 men discussing it were very excited about it and thought that it had enormous potential. But I could tell that they didn’t understand the difference between a product and a feature. They seemed to think that they could market this as a product when it is really just a feature that could be offered on an existing product, a car. Why am I bringing this up? Because I am seeing a rash of startups that want to pay people to work-out. I’ve written about why that doesn’t really work from a motivational perspective but I also think that it would be a struggle to base a business around that concept. The idea of giving people money or free stuff to exercise may not be a viable basis for a company. But it could be an effective marketing tactic for companies that sell something else. Nike is expanding the offerings on its mobile app in order to create a robust membership reward system. From TechCrunch:

Some of the Unlocks in partnership are quite nice and align well with the Nike performance audience. Buy a Nike Epic React Flyknit shoe in an exclusive color (Nike’s newest comfort design that many are seeing as a response to the Adidas Ultraboost) and you’ll get four months free of Apple Music. Doing workouts can earn you exclusive playlists and more.

Headspace, a guided meditation app, will ship exclusive playlists, discounts on membership and guided runs that focus on the more self-aware side of exercise.

ClassPass is giving out class credits when you make Nike purchases, which should align well with current members and boost membership via lead generation.

The biggest and most popular new Unlock will likely be the Birth Month promotion, which gives you discounts that last an entire month and gifts when you make purchases like a one-month ClassPass subscription or even tickets to a home game of your favorite team. The personalized promotions are an enormously rich vein for Nike to mine and I’ve not seen a lot of it in the apps to date, so it’s encouraging when they say that they’re explicitly tailoring this based on activity in the apps and purchase history.

                  Nike isn’t trying to solve the obesity epidemic by giving away 3 weeks of Apple Music. They’re just trying to keep consumers engaged with the Nike app and the Nike brand. And their business model isn’t based on paying people to do something. It’s a marketing expense. Some ideas aren’t a company, they’re just a marketing tactic.

Recovery: Fitness is based on three things: exercise, nutrition, and recovery. The first 2 things are what most people consider fitness. The third thing is a business opportunity in an industry that is poised to explode. From Bloomberg:

High-intensity workouts are more popular than ever, as lay people mimic the way professional athletes train. Now coaches and doctors have brought that elite approach to the recovery process, helping non-pros use high-tech tools to avoid injury and heal faster.

“We’re definitely seeing a proliferation of recovery services,” such as cryotherapy and infrared saunas, says Alexia Brue, chief executive officer of the health website Well+Good. But the benefits of these immersive procedures typically come with frequent use, something too expensive or inaccessible for people not named Tom Brady. For the average workout fiend, the most effective products to arrive on the scene are compression sleeves, which can feel as ridiculous as sitting in a massage chair at the mall. In practice, however, I’ve found them to be amazingly restorative.

Boutique gyms such as Tone House Fitness LLC, a Manhattan studio that claims to have the hardest workout in New York, offer compression technology using the NormaTec Pulse system, which aims to improve circulation and reduce soreness after intense sessions. To train for the latest Star Wars film, the cast used a product called Game Ready, whose compression sleeves are connected to a device that rapidly circulates ice water while mimicking natural muscle contractions. It also looks like a proton pack from Ghostbusters.

                  This stuff isn’t cheap. The author went to a 15 minute recovery session and paid $15. That’s after paying $34 for an exercise class. Most people won’t be able to afford this but this is clearly aimed at the high-end boutique user. How will something like this filter down though? Will we start to see the big-box, mid-markets gyms offer recovery services? I feel like this is a couple of years ahead of its time. I don’t think that most people worry too much about recovery outside of sleep. Any company that wants to break into the big time will probably have to educate consumers on why they need recovery services.

Etiquette: Jerry Seinfeld did a bit once on catcalls. The joke was that these were men who were out of ideas on how to attract a woman so they resorted to just yelling things at them. That’s all I could think about when I read this piece from GQ:

A few weeks ago I was practicing my squash serves alone at the gym. One wall of the squash court is entirely glass, and people pass by it to get to the basketball court. The layout encourages an audience, which is fine when you’re playing a match but terrible when you’re a woman, practicing alone in the horny hours (7 to 10 P.M., at my gym). At one point I looked around to see half a dozen men on the long bench by the glass, elbows on their knees, watching me. I'd have been flattered if I wasn't terrified. A few minutes later, one guy banged on the glass until I opened the door and popped my head out. He was musclebound and a little bit orange, suggestive of time spent in Jersey. He just wanted to ask me my name, he said, and tell me that I had really impressive calves. (I do.) His friend stood nearby, uncomfortable but useless. I said “okay” and shut the door. Twice more the man knocked on the glass, giving me a crazy smile and a thumbs-up when I turned around.

                  Sometimes, I feel fortunate that I am not a woman so I don’t have to deal with this crap. Not only are these men who have run out of ideas but they also have no clue that they’re being creeps. It’s the gym, mind your own business. It is inappropriate to openly leer at someone while they’re working out. And what is the point of knocking on the glass? Do they really think that a woman is going to be knocked off her feet by a thumbs-up? Maybe I need to write an etiquette guide for men that consists of all the ways that a man shouldn’t bother a woman at the gym.

Mirror, mirror: There are a lot of startups rushing into the streaming fitness space right now. The question for any entrepreneur is how can I differentiate my product/service from everyone else’s? For one startup, the answer to that question is mirrors. From Inc.:

A new fitness-technology startup wants to stream exercise classes in your living room--no TV screen or equipment required. Here's what you do need: a mirror.

The company, fittingly named Mirror, has developed a responsive device that looks like a full-length mirror and will stream a range of on-demand personalized workouts, including yoga, Pilates, cardio, strength, and boxing. The smart mirror reflects not only your own image but also shows an instructor and other workout fiends (if you're in a group class).

Mirror, which launches publicly Feb. 6 and has raised $13 million in funding, was founded by Brynn Putnam, the creator of NYC-based gym boutique Refine Method.

"To me, working out at home always meant compromising--your workout is going to be less fun and less effective and more frustrating," says Putnam, a former Inc. 30 under 30 honoree. "So for me, enabling people to work out without sacrifice is just really going to change how people live the rest of their lives."

                  I have one question: are there any capabilities in the mirror that will differentiate it from a flat-screen TV? Because Mirror won’t say. If there is something that Mirror can do like analyze your form, then this could be interesting. If there isn’t, then why do consumers need to buy another screen. We’re inundated with screens and they’re not cheap. If you can’t create a compelling argument for why someone should buy another one, then you’re in trouble. Manufacturers are under-estimating device fatigue. The lesson of the smartphone is that people want to own less devices that perform more functions. Just because you have created a beautiful product doesn’t mean that consumers will want to shell out money for it. It still has to fulfill a need.

                  It’s not a good sign that Mirror doesn’t want to get into the details or pricing of its product. They are saying that “there are also key metrics that measure your performance on screen”. That’s very vague and I am still skeptical. And I would still want to know why these capabilities couldn’t be transferred to a television. Entrepreneurs solve pain points. No one’s pain point in 2018 is that they don’t own enough screens.

Mallrats: The mall closest to my home had turned into a bit of a dump.  The owner hadn’t renovated it since the late 1970’s and it was looking very dingy. Which was a shame because it was in a great location in a coastal community in Southern California. Finally, a couple of years ago, ownership decided to invest some money in it and started renovations. They also decided to utilize the new playbook for shopping malls in this country. Step 1: replace a department store with a gym. From CNBC:

The number of gym leases in malls has doubled in the last five years, according to commercial real estate information firm CoStar.

Joe Coradino, CEO of Philadelphia-based PREIT, which owns 22 million square feet of retail space in malls across the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic, is actively recruiting fitness companies to fill his malls. Planet Fitness, Orangetheory – big names that draw big numbers back into the mall space.

"People are not just taking up time at the gym here, they're going to the gym, they're cross-shopping, they're buying clothes, they're dining out, they're doing things that are more than just working out," said Coradino.

They're working out and then walking into both retail and restaurants. All part of the mall metamorphosis from straight retail to full-on entertainment centers. Apparel used to make up 70 percent of the mall space, according to Coradino. Now it is about 40 percent.

Online shopping is causing the drop in retail traffic at malls, while fitness is growing fast, with both discount gyms and so-called boutique studios, which command higher prices. Mall gyms can take up a large footprint or a small studio space.

                  The mall added a gym (24 Hour Fitness), a multiplex (Regal), and a row of restaurants (Yardhouse, Cheesecake Factory, Dave & Busters). And business is booming. It is an entertainment center where you can also do some shopping. And the gym was the first of the 3 to go in. Who ever thought that gyms were going to save the American shopping mall?

Does anyone actually wear boots: Tough Mudder SVP Cathrin Bowtell sat down with Cheddar to talk about TM’s new franchising venture, Tough Mudder Bootcamp. Tough Mudder wants to go after Tier 2 and 3 markets (i.e. not NYC, LA, Miami) because they believe that they are underserved and they have strong populations of Tough Mudder participants. TM plans to mitigate the wealth gap by offering classes at $15 a session as opposed to the $30+ we’re seeing from a lot of boutiques right now. Oh and TM doesn’t want you calling them boutiques because Tough Mudder is a gritty brand. Kidding aside, I like to see that TM is actually making an effort to differentiate. Too many players in the industry fail to do so. How many companies have tried to jump into the low cost segment without any differentiation from Planet Fitness? Except for a higher price of course. TM isn’t making that mistake. They also want to be less dependent on star instructors by emphasizing teamwork and leveraging technology. If I was a potential franchisee, I would be very excited to see this. Reliance on star instructors is an understated risk for boutique operators. If you’re interested, it’s a $50K franchise fee and $200-300K in startup costs. No one ever said that opening up a gym was going to be cheap.

The Great Outdoors: Fitness can be as cheap as you need it to be. No one needs a bunch of fancy equipment and work-out apps to get into shape. You don’t even need a roof over your head. Some communities in the U.S. are starting to catch on that and building outdoor community gyms. Seattle has built 16 gyms throughout the city. They’re nothing fancy. Looks like a chest press, an elliptical, pull-up and dip bar, and a few more pieces of equipment. But it provides a free option for people in that community. More cities should be taking note of this.

TidBits:

-It’s 90% mental, the other half is physical

-Local man abuses gym equipment in order to attract attention towards himself

-It’s not you, it’s me

-Activist investor is pressuring Brunswick Corp to spin off its fitness equipment business (Life Fitness, Hammer Strength)

-The DOD is reviewing its fitness standards

-The Rock is creating his own fitness reality show, the Titan Games

-PopSugar reviews the Fly Anywhere bike