THE WEEKLY HOWL IS BUILDING A GYM OUT OF GARBAGE

Privacy: There are 2 things that have been going up in this country: obesity rates and health care costs. Reigning them in is of great concern to employers who would benefit from increased productivity and lower health insurance costs. Some employers are looking into using fitness trackers to monitor their employees’ activity levels. From Business Insider:

A proposed change to West Virginia's public worker health plan would have asked teachers to download a mobile fitness app called Go365 and earn points on it by wearing a Fitbit, a wristband that logs the wearer's heart rate, steps taken, quality of sleep, and other metrics. Those who declined, or who complied but failed to earn enough points, would face a penalty of $500 each year. 

The state scrapped the proposal, but it remains a sign of the times: As employers aim to trim costs and boost productivity, workers face increasing encouragement to purchase and use mobile devices, don wearables, and even accept electronic implants, all while being assured that the new tools are serving their best interests. The growing adoption of technology that some see as invasive raises questions of what exactly constitutes voluntary behavior in a wage economy. 

"Very few things in the workplace are voluntary," says attorney Paula Brantner, a senior advisor at Workplace Fairness, a nonprofit in Silver Spring, Md., that promotes employee rights. "You have an incentive to keep your job, to make your employer happy, to be on track for raises and promotions. There's every incentive to cooperate with your employer and there's a real disincentive to be viewed as uncooperative."

              You would be hard-pressed to find someone who is as concerned about the obesity epidemic as I am and even I think that this is a bad idea. I am all for anything that encourages people to exercise but I don’t believe that employees should have to surrender all their privacy to their employers. I understand why an employer would want to implement a policy like this but the thought of an employer having access to so much of our personal data gives me the heebies -jeebies. There are so many potential issues here. Imagine getting counseled by your boss about how much sleep you’ve been getting. That’s a bit creepy even if you have a boss who is genuinely concerned about how sleep is affecting your performance. Now imagine a scenario in which this data is used to justify a punitive action against you. Or one in which you are being sexually harassed. Combining the existing power that employers have over employees with this trove of personal data is inviting abuse.

Currently just 8% of employer-sponsored wellness plans provide fitness-tracking bands, but they can be used for more than just ensuring workers stay active. And other potentially intrusive devices have started to pop up as well. 

These trackers contribute data to what human resource managers call "people analytics," an approach that big data and analytics bring to bear on decisions involving hiring, firing, and productivity. 

It's this sort of fine-grained analytics that Amazon was pursuing in 2016 when it filed two patents for wristbands that use ultrasonic pulses and radio transmissions to monitor the locations of employees' hands relative to inventory bins, so that employers can "monitor performance of assigned tasks."

              This sounds awful. It’s as if they were trying to create the most unpleasant, alienating experience possible. It’s also a reminder that handing over your personal data to your employer is not a good idea. We are in desperate need of some good ideas on how to battle the obesity epidemic but this is not the answer.

Under the blue sky: I believe that fitness should follow a three-tier model. The third tier is high-end fitness. This is studios that charge $20+ per class, CrossFit, personal training, and luxury gyms like Equinox. You spend a lot but you get a lot (usually a lot of personal attention and guidance). The second tier is big-box gyms like LA Fitness and Town Sports, non-profit facilities like the YMCA as well as corporate and school gyms. For a reasonable fee, you get access to a robust facility but you’re pretty much on your own. The first tier is low to no cost. This is having access to walkable (and runnable) neighborhoods, public parks, and outdoor gyms. The third tier is where we’re failing. There are millions of people who don’t live in walkable neighborhoods and the U.S. has never embraced the free, outdoor gyms that you see in other countries. That’s why I get excited when I see a community installing an outdoor gym. It’s even better when it’s on the beach. From the San Diego Union-Tribune:

Now Imperial Beach is trying to be the first city in San Diego County to have a futuristic outdoor gym that lets people track their workouts online and see how they stack up with people from all over the country.

The National Fitness Campaign, a nonprofit that designed the gyms, plans to install 100 throughout the U.S. in 2018 and 100 more in 2019. When choosing where in San Diego to have one, Imperial Beach was a natural spot.

“They are a gorgeous beachfront community with lots going on so it was a really appealing community for us,” said Bianca De La Paz, Campaign Manager for the National Fitness Campaign. “They have a lot of active residents so this would be right up our alley.”

The gyms are free to the public and don’t require any personal equipment. Each gym has seven stations designed to exercise a specific part of the body. Completing the cycle gives people a full-body workout.

              You can see what this will look like at the National Fitness Campaign website. It’s a bodyweight gym utilizing pull-up bars, gymnastics rings, and suspension trainers. Fitness doesn’t need to be fancy or expensive. We need many more of these throughout the country. Beefing up the first tier is crucial if we want to curb the obesity rate and outdoor gyms are probably the best way to do that.

              And while it may be great to have a pre-planned and picture-ready gym, no one needs that either. A painter in Cape Verde built a beach gym out of garbage. Seriously. From Mens XP:

Another problem in the small town of Santa Maria was that there were no 'affordable' gyms. Only the rich could afford whatever gym did exist. He wanted to create a gym that can be afforded by common people of the island too. Soares was a painter by profession but was also interested in bodybuilding. He knew others like him who wanted to train themselves in the gym but couldn't do so due to lack of facilities around them. After all you need some form of equipment to properly train yourself.

Soares found a common solution for both the problems and decided to build a gym using the garbage on the beach. As strange as it may sound but he succeeded in building his own version of 'The Muscle Beach Gym' on the shores of the island. All the equipment in this gym has been built by Soares himself.  The open air gym has dumbbells, pull up bars, benches and barbells. It's an open beach gym and is absolutely free for anyone who wants to workout. It just doesn't end.  Soares wants to make a better version of this gym by adding more equipment. Not only did Soares find a solution for his training needs, he offered the same to the community for free. Now that's what you call 'building from the scratch'. Motivational, isn't it? About time to utilize your gym membership.

              It may not be pretty but you could get it done in this gym. This man built a gym out of garbage. This is how you develop the first tier.

Retail: There is a theory that in order to succeed companies need to identify their core competencies and focus on them. This would be Nike or Apple identifying its core competencies as design and marketing and then outsourcing the manufacturing process. You focus on what you’re good at. The theory also holds that companies can usually only have 1 or 2 core competencies. Deciding that you’re good at everything is a cop-out. How does this apply to the fitness industry? There are 3 major streams of revenue in the gym business: membership, training, and retail. Which one do you think probably isn’t a core competency of most gyms? From PYMNTS.COM:

Fitness centers are all about working out. However, when it comes to retail in those spaces, it doesn’t always work out.

Everybody knows time is money. For businesses, space is money too, and if they don’t allocate it strategically, it can hurt rather than help their bottom line. Retail at the gym may look like a smart business move from the outside, but it often ends up eating more space and effort than it’s worth.

Not every gym can be a boutique-style fitness center selling high-end yoga attire on the side. Many struggle even to keep up with a small selection of essentials behind the check-in desk. Running a business is tough, and adding challenges like inventory, reordering, shrinkage and payments can be a lot to ask of business owners whose real skill set is to provide excellent fitness services to members.

              Retail management is a whole thing by itself. It may seem like you just setting out a bunch of stuff to sell but there is a lot more to it than that. So what is a gym to do? Just forego the revenue opportunity of retail because it’s too hard? Not necessarily.

Shimmerlik explained that Vengo builds automated retail kiosks that take up little to no space within the gym, since they’re affixed to a wall in the locker room. The machines accept credit and debit cards as well as contactless payment methods — but not cash, which Shimmerlik said most people don’t carry with them at the gym.

Following the success of an early pilot partnership with Blink Fitness in New York City, Vengo recently announced that it will be installing its machines at 50 additional Blink Fitness gyms nationwide, as well as incorporating them into all new locations established by this fast-growing fitness center.

The company monitors its own kiosks and takes on all of the operational burden, Shimmerlik said. Thus, no time, space or effort are required from the business owner. Indeed, there is not even a cost component, as Vengo makes its money off retail activity on installed kiosks rather than on installation and setup fees.

The value-add for the gym is primarily from an amenity standpoint: The business provides the convenience of locker room retail to members. It also picks up a share of the revenue from kiosks — roughly comparable to net gains the gym could be making by powering its own retail experience, but without the expenses and stress.

              I realize that this article is practically an advertisement for Vengo but they do make a good point here. Outsource retail so that you can focus on membership and training. Space is at a premium in a gym. Devoting a lot of space to retail may not pay off. Forcing your front desk to handle check-ins and retail can lead to backups. Vending machines are an attractive solution to these problems and they allow gym operators to focus on their core competencies.

The treadmills have eyes: If you ever set foot in a Wal-Mart, then the retail giant has tried to track you. And that is far from the norm amongst large retailers. They want to know as much as possible about your in-store behavior so that they can customize promotions, optimize their layout and even sell your information to third parties. Your opinion on this practice may vary but it is important to note that gym operators are far behind the retail industry in understanding what its members do once they check-in. Now that we live in the age of fitness trackers and Wifi-enabled gym equipment, that might be ready to change. From ZD Net:

Life Fitness, best known for gym equipment, is getting into the software business via a cloud facility management system called the Halo Fitness Cloud.

The effort comes as fitness players are increasingly connecting gym experiences to virtual training and integrating with wearables such as the Apple Watch. Gym management software can provide a health club with more touch points to compete with virtual rivals such as Peloton.

Life Fitness' cloud venture also highlights digital transformation as well as industry-specific cloud offerings from companies that traditionally aren't software providers. In this new world, Life Fitness becomes a cloud ERP system and an office furniture player like Steelcase becomes a facility productivity IoT vendor.

Halo Fitness Cloud has a variety of plans, but the overall aim for Life Fitness is to provide more touch points and personalized digital experiences to gym members. Life Fitness noted that gym members cancel memberships at a rate of 30 percent a year. That churn is brutal and the bet is better fitness management tools can improve retention.

              Knowing what its members are doing inside its gyms could make a huge difference for operators. Right now, for the most part it’s a mystery. This is a huge blind spot and a great opportunity for someone. I am interested to see how Life Fitness tackles this because there is an obvious connection with their equipment but what about the rest of the gym? It seems like a fitness tracker manufacturer would be in a better spot to tackle this problem but I’m not sure who that would be. This might be too small of a market to interest Apple, who is swallowing up the fitness tracker space right now. It could be a great opportunity for FitBit but who knows how much longer they will be in the hardware game.

              If the fitness industry wasn’t so fragmented, then I would suggest that a gym operator design their own much as Disney designed the Magic Band. I can’t picture anyone doing something similar although a partnership could be possible. In the meantime, I’ll keep an eye on what Life Fitness is doing.

 

Yoga: Bloomberg Businessweek had a wild feature this week on one of the fastest-growing companies in India and the yoga guru who serves as its de-facto CEO. The issue is that Baba Ramdev is an ascetic, one who has renounced materialism.

But today he can be found in the most material of places. Turn on an Indian TV, and there’s Ramdev, a supple yoga megastar in saffron robes, demonstrating poses on one of the two stations he oversees. Flip the channel, and there’s Ramdev in commercials selling shampoo and dish soap. Walk any city on the subcontinent, and there’s his face in stores selling the wares of Patanjali Ayurved Ltd., the multibillion-dollar corporation he controls.

Ramdev has said his goal is to sell an ayurvedic item, based on India’s ancient medical traditions, for every household need: toothpaste made from cloves, neem, and turmeric; hand soap made from almonds, saffron, and tea tree oil; floor cleaner made from the “natural disinfectant” cow urine. Since 2012, Patanjali’s revenue has climbed twentyfold, from $69 million to $1.6 billion. It’s the fastest-growing company in Indian consumer goods, and Ramdev predicts he will overtake the subsidiaries of multinational giants such as Nestlé SA and Unilever NV as soon as next year. “The ‘gate’ in Colgate will shut,” he once gloated. “Pantene will wet its pants, the lever of Unilever will break down, and the little Nestlé bird will fly away.”

It might seem like an impossible arrangement—observing an oath of poverty while also being one of India’s top entrepreneurs. But Ramdev is a master of contortion. Patanjali is an omnipresent brand in India, and though everyone refers to it as Ramdev’s company, he’s not technically its owner or chief executive officer. It would be scandalous for a sanyasi to profit from a corporation, and Ramdev neither owns shares nor takes a salary. He says his net worth is zero. The company calls him merely its “brand ambassador,” a title that belies his power.

 

              I highly recommend that you read this article. This guy is a yogi and an ascetic but he also runs a multi-billion dollar company, dabbles in nationalist politics, and every now and then someone close to him dies under mysterious circumstances. Yoga seems to have a disproportionate share of scandalous figures. Bikram Choudhury, the founder of Bikram Yoga, has fled the U.S. amidst allegations of sexual assault and his company has now filed bankruptcy. There’s also John Friend and Kausthub Desikachar and this and you get the idea.

              I wonder why yoga sees so many scandals. Sure, there are a lot of “gurus” who use their power and influence to take advantage of people and yoga lends itself to a great deal of physical contact. But you could say similar things about several other fitness disciplines. My guess would be that the spiritual/religious aspect provides a cover for morally bankrupt people to operate under and disguise their bad intentions. That’s really unfortunate because these scumbags are a black eye on a great form of exercise. To be clear, there is nothing in the article that indicates that Ramdev has committed sexual assault but he appears to use his image as a yogi to distract from his hypocrisy and corruption.

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