The pandemic, whether officially “over” or not, managed to uproot quite a few societal norms over the last three years. People changed the way they worked, how and where they lived and even how they worked out.
As society manages to unearth itself from the pandemic’s effects, many of those changes are here, to one degree or another, to stay.
Altho, a sharing economy app focused on the fitness industry that was conceived and built during the pandemic, believes it is built to last past the aberrant circumstances of the pandemic.
And they make a good case.
Matthew Mansell is the founder of Athlo. The platform allows gyms, users, and fitness members to share exercise classes and memberships and even make money from sharing those assets.
In many places during the pandemic, gyms and their ilk were ghost towns, with many shutting down or putting memberships on “pause” until the storm was weathered.
Home workouts, free-weight procurement (ask anyone who tried to purchase a dumbbell from 2020 through 2021 how it went for them) and Peloton expanded in the gyms’ absence.
But now that people are (mostly) back in their gyms, yoga studios and Cross-Fit arenas, companies like Peloton are taking a hit and trying to reinvent themselves for the “post-COVID” world.
This post period, Mansell says, is where Athlo will find a sweet spot.
“Early post-COVID, the world that we live in now, or post-pandemic, is this hybrid model where people are still working from home a couple of days a week, and they’re traveling into major cities two-three days a week,” Mansell said. “So, it may not make sense for someone to hold a gym membership, because they’ve got another solution at home. We’ve got a really strong value proposition for users: the flexibility, variety, and that hybrid model. We allow our partnered operators’ gym members to sell the days that they aren’t using their gym membership, or package holders to sell the classes that they’re not using. So, you’re making money back when you’re not using it and users gain access to other gyms and classes on Athlo at preferential rates.”
In most major cities, those that don’t need to physically be on location for their work (think sanitation personnel, police or healthcare workers) have some sort of hybrid schedule available to them, with most companies attempting to institute a three-day in-office workweek.
While that could of course change as companies gain more leverage over their employees due to a down job market or slumping economy, for the time being, hybrid is the way.
Mansell said even with the cautionary tale of Peloton, which with its social and online components fits snugly into the “digital fitness” category, he believes the tie-ins between the physical element of exercise (gyms and facilities) and the digital elements (social media presence, fitness data tracking and fitness platforms like Altho) will only continue to merge further moving forward.
“My personal gut feeling is twofold here,” Mansell said. “One is digital fitness is here to stay. The trends show that. At the same time, the data indicates people are returning to brick-and-mortar gyms, brick-and-mortar studios for the element of community and in-person training. You can’t replicate that. It’s irreplaceable. But I don’t think digital fitness is going anywhere, and I think anyone who is totally dismissive of that is probably burying their heads in the sand with it.”
Mansell also believes that the two don’t necessarily need to conflict with one another, but rather work in synchrony for the betterment of both platforms.
“I think it [digital fitness] lowers the barrier to entry for people who are intimidated about going to the gym, or trying a new class or experience,” Mansell said. “So, personally I think that the two, brick and mortars and digital AR/VR [artificial reality/virtual reality], can come together to bring the industry forward. We are all trying to achieve the same goal here by encouraging more people to be more active. Let’s work together and make sure that this is mutually beneficial.”
Mansell said he doesn’t necessarily want Athlo to act as a “middleman” between digital and brick-and-mortar, but the lack of partnerships between the two facets of fitness offerings creates a business environment that demands exactly that.
“I think digital’s here to stay, I think brick-and-mortar is definitely here to stay,” Mansell said. “I envision Athlo being that middleman making sure that the relationship between the two of them remains beneficial. I don’t see why we all can’t coexist in the same ecosystem, and everyone benefits.”