IT

Let’s Get Digital: How Mobile Apps Can Help the Fitness Industry Survive and Thrive

It's all about the "gym-at-home" experience.

Samir Addamine

Samir Addamine is the founder of FollowAnalytics, a next generation low-code mobile app development and engagement platform. 

Survival of the fittest takes on new meaning when a novel virus forces your gyms to close. FITNESS SF quickly recognized surviving the COVID-19 shutdown required pivoting, purpose, planning, and the right partner to push through the challenges. Without these shifts, the business might not survive.

This San Francisco fitness firm offers group fitness classes, personal training, weightlifting, and a pool at eight gyms in the Bay area. As the government shutdowns began, Don Dickerson, vice president of FITNESS SF, turned to our company — FollowAnalytics — to pivot the business and support the company’s community-driven approach toward health, fitness, and well-being. 

Here’s how we helped this brick-and-mortar business thrive in a shift to digital by creating a first-class “gym at home” experience that helped FITNESS SF weather the pandemic, and position themselves for a successful reopening.

Assess the current mobile gym experience

In most cases, when a mobile application connects to a gym, it allows users to manage their membership, see gym information, and connect to a fitness tracker that counts calories, steps, or heart rate. The pre-pandemic FITNESS SF app not only provided this full set of functionalities – but also created a mobile-first experience, with additional features such as hydration data and the ability to schedule and rate personal training sessions or book a class. 

But when the pandemic hit, a mobile-first experience was no longer enough. With its physical sites now closed, FITNESS SF needed a way to shift all of its business, including personal training and fitness classes, from physical to digital. They needed a mobile app that created a “gym at home.” And they needed to do it quickly.

FITNESS SF set three goals for during the shutdown:

  1. Ensure business continuity through additional features and services
  2. Develop a mobile application that shifted a physical gym experience to a digital one
  3. Create a plan to safely reopen their business

Build new app features to ensure member engagement and business continuity

To meet FITNESS SF’s first two goals of ensuring continuity during the shutdown and moving from physical to digital, we needed to get creative. 

First, we created new features, including a ratings and review experience in the app that assigned badges to personal trainers, allowed comments and feedback, and included video workouts and chat messaging. 

Then, we shifted the gym workouts and personal training to take place within the app. FITNESS SF already produced a high-quality content library within the app, simplifying the conversion to digital workouts. But we needed to enhance these video workouts, so we added the following features:

  • Video conferencing that allows members to connect to their trainers for live, personal training
  • A streaming channel that allows members to connect to live classes
  • In-app messaging, allowing members to chat with trainers to discuss fitness goals, address any problems or concerns, schedule classes, and set up training sessions
  • BOPIS (buy online pick up in-store) for purchasing food/beverage items from the FITNESS SF café
  • A Workout Builder that allows members to create custom digital fitness programs, access dietician content, and receive meal recommendations and coaching

Because we already built the app on top of Heroku, adding these advanced features was easy. Many of the applications we build at FollowAnalytics are low-code drag-and-drop, which allows us to build apps in a few hours. 

Safely reopen the business with digital and physical plans

As California continues to provide guidance on reopening businesses, we continue to develop the app and customer experience in order to meet FITNESS SF’s third goal: safely reopen the business. 

  • Build safety and wellness checks into the app. We plan to add a health tracking and manual screening system to minimize the spread of COVID-19 among employees and members. We are also adding a new scheduler and booking system. Before entering the gym, members must answer queries about their COVID-19 status within the app to receive a QR code that allows them to check-in at the gym. The new registration process will help FITNESS SF ensure social distancing by limiting the number of members at the gym and providing a means of contact tracing if someone gets sick.
  • Notify gym members of safety protocols via CRM integrations. To keep FITNESS SF members up to date on the app’s features, we integrated the app with the Salesforce customer relationship management platform (CRM). Using the CRM allows us to trigger push notifications and in-app messages. For example, we can send a user a push notification that says: “We understand you’re practicing social distancing, but that doesn’t mean you can’t take advantage of our services. We’re offering these sessions this week via video chat.”
  • Manage and communicate onsite safety measures. More plans in the works include taking temperatures as employees and members enter, allowing users to see others’ locations within the gym, and sending push notifications explaining how the gym practices social distancing, sanitation, and expectations for members who come to work out.

Move forward faster with the right technology 

Not only did we face the challenge of creating new features because of COVID-19, we also had to develop and release those features within weeks; a job that normally takes up to six months. 

Building the Progressive web app natively on Heroku allowed us to be agile, move quickly and increase the responsiveness of our mobile applications. The app’s load speeds are significantly faster than other similar applications and we attribute that directly to the Heroku offline capabilities with caching.

For tracking member data and key performance indicators (KPIs) including DAU (daily active users), stickiness (repeated visits), app user to member ratios, satisfaction ratings, and feedback, we use other Salesforce solutions. These metrics show there’s been a large spike in app usage, though it’s hard to differentiate if the increase is due to the changes we made or gym closures that caused members to lean on mobile applications for fitness. 

The partnership between Salesforce and FollowAnalytics supports FITNESS SF going forward. We offer weekly syncs with FITNESS SF to make sure the app continues to execute against their goals, and are always looking toward the next challenge and iteration.

In the end, we ensure that the system just works, so that FITNESS SF can focus on running their business, and not worry about the technical details of how that system works.

COVID-19 presented FITNESS SF with a challenging yet unique opportunity. The fitness firm rose to that challenge by taking the gym experience digital, and they continue to evolve as California gyms reopen. The culmination of our work is an app that keeps FITNESS SF members connected and fit, while also keeping the business fit to survive.


Learn more about
low-code app development and see how you can create amazing apps fast and stay close to your customers with Heroku on the Salesforce Platform.

Samir is the founder of FollowAnalytics, a San Francisco, California, next-generation low-code mobile app development and engagement platform. The FollowAnalytics technology allows companies to build apps integrated into their back-end system and marketing stack in days, versus the months it takes their competitors.

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