A Fitness Industry in Flux: Four Tips for Embracing Disruption

OTF Coach

By: Blake MacDonald, President and CEO, Orangetheory Fitness Canada

When we used to think about an Orangetheory Fitness Canada (OTF) workout, you could count on a unique trifecta of science, coaching and technology, amidst a sea of our signature orange branding. But there’s no doubt that the prevailing global pandemic has disrupted the fitness industry. Being no stranger to innovation, we’ve learned – and are still learning – how to adapt our business and workout experiences to meet the changing needs of our members, especially as the idea of “community” evolves. Our goal is to get on the other side of a pandemic in a place of strength: So that members can still count on our brand promise while understanding that the world has changed, and we’ve changed with it.


Our industry is facing a reckoning. In order to survive, we need to embrace unexpected disruption and we all need to buy into a change, together. While the secret sauce to success may not be perfected quite yet, there’s a few things we consider best practices for embracing disruption.


1. Listen to your stakeholders and adapt to their needs. Be flexible and understanding.  


Your franchisees, your members and your government regulators all have different priorities. Staying connected to them is more critical than ever. 


For franchisees: Most notably, COVID-19 impacted Canadians’ comfort with group-based fitness, putting franchisees’ financial commitment to the business in question. We embraced challenging discussions with franchisees head-on regarding rent payments and timelines, as well as supported our franchisees who proactively wanted to lobby their local governments for financial support.


For members: While the in-studio experience has driven OTF’s growth historically, the pandemic introduced an opportunity for new offerings, creative fitness solutions and member feedback. We committed to enhancing our fitness offerings to ensure safe options were available to everyone and have not looked back. Financially, we immediately recognized the need to offer flexible membership policies which included membership freezes until members were 100% comfortable returning.


For government regulators: With different policies in each province, it was important to remain organized and clearly communicate regular policy updates to franchisees in each locale. We stepped forward and requested a voice at every table to protect our franchisees.

OTF Rowing
2. Be known for safety.


Put yourself in your members’ shoes: what would make you feel most comfortable working out?


Safety’s always been important to us. Now, we’re obsessed. Since the pandemic began, we’ve worked closely with provincial health units and the Orangetheory Medical Advisory Board to create an extremely thorough list of protocols to keep our staff and members safe.


Beginning in June, we required that each of our 107 studios evaluate their layout and traffic flows and develop a location-specific health and safety plan to comply with all provincial guidelines. While we wanted to re-open our doors as quickly as possible, Orangetheory made the strategic decision to open studios approximately 3-6 weeks after provincial permission – knowing we would not be one of the first studios to reopen in any market. With the health and safety of OTF members a top priority, this planned delay allowed more time to implement advanced health and safety measures, re-hire/re-train our employees on the new protocols and perfect the updated OTF experience in-studio.


It’s important to also think through any small touches that can be implemented – most of which can be done with low financial investment. For example, can you remove the covers off lockers so they can act as low-touch cubbies? Can you offer a smartphone cleaning session after entering? Can you encourage a branded mask-wearing contest to spark creativity?

OTF At Home
3. Go digital and stay


While consumer sentiment around COVID-19 changes weekly, Canadians remain intrigued by online fitness options. While we did not want to change our business model to solely offer digital solutions, our ongoing conversations with members led to the launch of a community-based online community in March. With over 9 million views to-date, Orangetheory At Home™ remains a free offering to both members and non-members. Despite the temporary closure, we also leveraged our strong communities in each local studio through group virtual or outdoor workouts, as well as online meetups to keep members connected.


Although most of our member base has returned to in-studio workouts since reopening, we know that members continue to want these more flexible fitness offerings. And we don’t see this trend slowing down. Beginning in the fall/winter of 2020/2021, we’re excited to expand our suite of online workout options to help continue to coach members out of the studio. While accelerated by the pandemic, the upcoming digital launch will include two main components accessible any time, anywhere:


  • Real-time, coach-led Orangetheory-style workouts; and
  • Guided runs with GPS tracking capability and heartrate zone tracking features to help guide members into the Orange Zone for maximum results.


And if you haven’t already, it’s important to evaluate your social media channels and website. Your members are looking for content online. Even if you’re unable to offer a digital workout, your online platforms must be engaging, informative and encouraging…or they’ll look elsewhere.


4. Nurture your community because they’re everything.


Rather than waiting for consumer sentiment to return to pre-pandemic levels, we spent our closure time proactively nurturing our competitive advantage: the OTF fitness community. Speaking to, engaging with and enhancing the community has been, and will continue to be, a key driver to our success. Since arriving on the Canadian fitness scene in 2012, community for OTF members has been fueled by their desire for coach-led workouts and the competitiveness and camaraderie of working towards their goals together – whether in or out of the studio.


It was this community of franchisees and members who supported us through 2020’s ups and downs. This is the group to remember as you make every business decision moving forward. Because we will move forward.


Where do we go from here? We’ll continue to listen and learn. We’ll gather and address member and franchisee feedback. We’ll evaluate studio safety protocols on an ongoing basis. And we’ll surprise the industry with outside-the-box thinking. For example, we’re working to pilot mask-only classes and athletic mask technology with our medical advisory board. We’ve been disrupted, and it’s time to innovate. You can do it, too.  


To learn more about OTF’s health and safety updates, you can visit www.orangetheory.ca or your local studio’s social media pages.

Blake MacDonald is the President of Orangetheory Fitness Canada and it’s corporate studio business with 17 studios in the Edmonton, Saskatoon and Toronto markets. He is also the Vice President of Business Development at Franvest Capital Partners, a private equity firm that invests in companies with a focus on fitness and franchising. Blake has been actively involved in the management of the portfolio companies including TraceAbility Solutions, Windship, Club Fit, International Fitness Holdings , XS Flooring, Fresh Fit Foods Inc., World Health Edmonton Inc., and most recently OTF Canada Inc., OTF Edmonton/Affiliates Canada Inc. He specializes in the development of sales, financial, and operating systems.


Prior to Orangetheory, Blake gained extensive experience as a partner and Chief Operating Officer of Club Fit. In his role, Blake also presided over the Personal Training program at Club Fit and was responsible for developing a “best in class” personal training service model. After leaving Club Fit/IFH, Blake has pursued several consulting roles with various fitness chains across North America to help them develop their personal training and membership sales programs.


In 2012, Blake and David Hardy (along with a group of Edmonton based investors) purchased the 10 Edmonton based World Health Clubs under World Health Edmonton Inc. and then sold them again in 2018. In 2011, Blake (along with David Hardy) helped establish OTF Canada Inc. as the Canadian Master Franchisor of Orangetheory Fitness and simultaneously established OTF Edmonton/Affiliates Canada Inc. (to develop the Edmonton, Saskatoon and Toronto markets).

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