At one point John Mills and his wife, Erica, were members at three different gyms, where John could lift weights and Erica could take indoor cycling classes. Still, something about the ads he kept seeing for Peloton intrigued John, a 50-year-old software architect in Bloomfield, Connecticut.
In October 2016, he took the plunge and bought Erica a Peloton bike. They converted a kids’ playroom–their children are now grown—into a makeshift home gym. Mills quickly figured out how to cast Peloton classes from the bike’s tablet to the playroom’s giant projector screen, using a native Android streaming option. When Peloton started selling an expensive treadmill in 2018, the Mills bought one of those too. And in late 2019, they splurged on a second bike.
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So when Covid-19 forced millions of people into shutdown in early March, the Mills were well ahead of the home gym trend. They canceled their gym memberships. The only logical thing to do was to keep building, Mills figured. He started looking into new flooring for the playroom, purchased weights, and preordered a $4,295 Yves Behar-designed fitness mirror and resistance system called Forme Life. It’s these kinds of all-in-one, internet-connected fitness products that people chat about in Mills’ Facebook group, Run, Lift & Live, which has more than 4,000 members.
“Back in March or April, folks would either say, ‘I’m never ever going back to a gym,’ or they’d say ‘I get that I have to work out at home for now, but I like the social aspect of the gym and want to go back,’” Mills tells me. “Now in the group, it’s ‘What’s the Tempo device like? How about Tonal? When will Carbon ship?’ No one is talking about the gym anymore.”
A New Spin
That sentiment is exactly what Peloton is hoping to capitalize on with its latest offerings. The seven-year-old fitness tech company, which has attracted more than a million paying subscribers with its blend of live-streamed and on-demand classes, was already a pandemic success story. Today it’s officially revealing its long-rumored new products: a new indoor cycling bike; a less expensive version of its old bike; a cheaper treadmill; a new series of bootcamp classes; and some software updates, including integration with Apple’s GymKit. (Much of this was previously reported by Bloomberg late last week.)
“You want to be able to excite people to work out, and we saw that formula come to life with the first Peloton Bike and Tread,” says Tom Cortese, Peloton’s chief operating officer and a cofounder of the New York City-based company. “So the idea that we could make this more accessible to more folks and more homes in more markets, just felt like, Yes. We’ve got a runner here. Let’s do that next step and make it more compact and at a lower price point.”
The new Peloton indoor cycling bike, called Bike+, has a 23.8-inch swivel touchscreen, compared to the 22-inch touchscreen that stays fixed in position on the first bike. That means riders will be able to rotate the screen and transition more easily to other kinds of workout classes, like the “Bike Bootcamp” classes Peloton will soon roll out. The new bike also has a four-speaker sound system—an improvement over the first bike, which blares sound outward from the back of the tablet rather than towards the rider. And riders can opt to have their resistance auto-adjusted throughout a workout, rather than manually turning the resistance knob.
The new Bike+ ships this month and costs $2,495, while the “old” Bike is getting a price drop, from $2,245 to $1,895. (To appease customers who may have just spent $2,245 on the first bike, Peloton will issue a credit for the difference if their purchase was made within the last 30 days.)
Peloton is also expanding its treadmill lineup, although to start that will only include a name change. The $4,295 Peloton Tread is now being called the Tread+; otherwise, it’s the same hefty slat-belt treadmill and 32-inch touchscreen as before. The new, lower-priced Tread won’t ship until early 2021. That one will cost $2,495 and will ave a traditional treadmill belt and smaller display.
The subscription cost of Peloton, where the company typically sees a healthy gross margin, is staying the same: $39 per month for “all access” to Bike and Tread content and app-based workouts, and $13 for classes streamed via mobile apps only. It’s arguably this subscription content that’s more important than any hardware updates to an exercise bike or treadmill, any swivel screen or slat-belt. It’s the Peloton instructors—their personalities, catchphrases, and playlists—that tend to win people over.
“It’s about incentives,” Peloton’s Cortese says. “I like to say that gyms are the worst in terms of having their incentives aligned to the consumer. They want you to show up in January, pay for the membership, and then never go, right? Our incentives are aligned to our members. We employ thousands of people whose jobs it is, every single day, to find out how we can cause you to want to work out more.”
Home Gym Challenges
Peloton fanatics—and company executives—might be thrilled by the idea of a Pelo-filled future, one where the home gym effectively replaces the big-box spaces we used to drive to for the chance to sweat and grunt in front of strangers. But, while our post-Covid future is still unclear, some say the death of gyms may be greatly exaggerated.
For one, home gyms require both a certain amount of space and disposable income. And some makers of home fitness products are struggling to keep up with demand.
The high costs could be justified over time. Peloton, for example, likes to point out that up to five household members can use the same machine under the same $39 per month subscription cost. And one set of weights could serve the entire family. But space could still be a barrier for some people, along with installation needs. A product like Tonal, a $2,995 all-in-one training display with an electromagnetic resistance engine, needs to be bracketed to a suitable wall; whereas something like the $1,495 Mirror home gym system can be leaned against a wall. (In another sign that the home fitness space has been heating up, Mirror was recently acquired by Lululemon for $500 million.)
Speaking of free weights for your home gym: Good luck finding them. The overwhelming majority of free weights sold in the US are made in China, and disruptions to the supply chain early on in the pandemic have created a serious backlog for dumbbells, just as demand has soared.
Stephen Owusu, the founder and chief executive of JaxJox, says business has been booming since March. JaxJox sells a nifty, Wi-Fi-connected kettlebell system for $199, and just last week announced plans to ship a modular, interactive display with weights for $2,199. But the waitlist for JaxJox kettlebells is currently 3,000 customers deep.
“If you take our situation, there’s no way we could have forecasted a 347 percent increase in sales [earlier this year],” Owusu says. “You do your best. You say, ‘We’ll place an order for X amount.’ And when the products come in, they all go. I think the whole market has experienced this.”
Carbon, an all-in-one fitness system that’s been touted as the first “AI-powered” fitness mirror, won’t ship until sometime in 2021, according to its Indiegogo fundraising page. John Mills says that he hasn’t received an update about Forme Life, the $4,295 home workout system he preordered this spring. In July he received a set of Forme Life towels as a thank-you for preordering, but his notes to the company have gone unanswered. (The company’s website says delivery is expected sometime this fall.) And the wait time for Peloton bikes is something its community members complain about regularly on the company’s official Facebook page.
Right now, the average wait time for a Peloton is around 45 days, Cortese says, though that varies based on zip code. One analyst has warned that one of the biggest challenges for the company—which reports its fiscal fourth quarter earnings on September 10—is keeping up with demand.
JaxJox’s Owusu says he believes the future of fitness looks more like a hybrid model, where people work out at home more frequently than they did before, but eventually return to the gym. “Rather than the home being a supplement to their gyms, the gyms will become a supplement to what they do at home,” he says.
That’s why JaxJox is building the upcoming JaxJox interactive system to be portable and content-agnostic, Owusu says. The display part of the system will work just like a TV, one that can serve as the entertainment hub in your living room. And Owusu says the company wants to partner with boutique fitness franchise OrangeTheory, with an eye towards the future. Some days people might want an in-person workout in an OrangeTheory studio, and other days they might want to stay home.
Owusu isn’t alone in that thought. Around the US, gyms are slowly reopening, though with lots of social distancing and sanitizing, and with little available data on the potential risk of infection. Also, some gym members are missing the sense of community that they feel in fitness centers.
Even proponents of online fitness classes say there’s a social element that’s lacking. Nt Etuk is one of those people. The founder and chief executive of FitGrid, which sells customer management software to boutique fitness studios, Etuk says he thinks “the fitness industry has moved forward five years in the space of four months” in terms of how it has embraced technology. Earlier this year FitGrid surveyed around 2,000 fitness studios; 95 percent of them said they would offer both digital and in-studio classes once they’re fully reopened. Yoga and high-intensity interval classes classes, in particular, have been popular in online formats.
“But the other side is that energy you get from being around people,” Etuk says. “And fitness studios are one of those spaces where people may come back to more of those social instincts, that ambient awareness that there are other people around you doing the same stuff.” In other words, the pandemic may have accelerated the digital fitness space, but there are still elements of in-person exercise that can’t be replaced by AI mirrors, VR workouts, and sensor-packed dumbbells.
For someone like John Mills, that social element still doesn’t feel worth the risk. He’s content to work out at home, and he posts to his Facebook group multiple times a day about all of the developments in the digital fitness world and how it might affect Peloton, which he holds stock in.
“If I did go back to a gym, it would likely be after the creation of a vaccine, and after that vaccine had been proven, validated, and the country and society in general would be comfortable that this is not a risk,” Mills says. “And my mind keeps telling me that’s three, four, five years out.”
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