In the past several years, the same period during which a record number of Americans visited gyms and boutique fitness chains boomed, numerous at-home and streaming products and services also launched. While “direct-to-consumer,” or “DTC,” is a term widely used to describe digitally-native fashion and home brands, fitness companies like Peloton, Mirror and Tonal are as “direct” as it gets, telling the exercise-minded to stay home and get the same workout.
But building a new brand exclusively online is increasingly expensive. And while the promise of free at-home trials of Peloton bikes and treadmills and Mirror’s and Tonal’s wall surfaces may relieve some concern about a purchase in the thousands of dollars, the downside of buying without trying is a lot of inconvenience when one considers scheduling equipment delivery and installation and the hassle of canceling the service and arranging for pickup.
So, like the lifestyle brands before them—including Everlane famously saying no to opening stores before saying yes—Peloton, Mirror, and Tonal are now using retail to market to and convert customers. What’s notable is the different paths they’ve taken.
Peloton has gone full-force with actual studios that sell spots in spin classes directly and via ClassPass. This is a way to experience a workout most similar to what one would have using Peloton at home. To expand distribution further, they’ve added mall shops, ranging from an entire storefront at South Coast Plaza in Orange County, California, to a lower-profile and more temporary set-up at Brookfield Place in Lower Manhattan. In spaces like these, where appointments are encouraged, enthusiastic sales reps will adjust the bike, get prospects on it, and provide water, shoes and tips.
Whether one takes a full class or just gets the feel of the bike for a few minutes, anyone walking through the mall can observe the action, which can be distracting or make someone feel rushed or self-conscious, just as apparel fitting rooms without private mirrors can. Despite the knowledge and high EQ of the rep, there was no follow-up after the appointment; the non-aggressive sales approach may be intentional, but may be a miss.
Mirror also has a flagship of its own, logically located in New York City’s Flatiron District, which is dense with boutique fitness and workout apparel concepts. It’s a large space for what actually occupies it, which is a handful of Mirror devices and a desk area resembling a point of sale. The experience is also appointment-based, but there seems to be adequate availability to accommodate walk-ins. On a particular day, representatives were less interested in making a sale than at Peloton and less encouraging of trying out a class versus just seeing what Mirror is and can do. But actually working out here would’ve been more comfortable than at Peloton’s mall shop, as even with Fifth Avenue street level presence that advertises to significant foot traffic, customers inside are set further back.
What the particular location and the large and polished space effectively does is communicate substance behind the newer Mirror brand and potentially build trust in a product that’s only a few years old. The story would be more compelling if reps were more prepared to talk, when asked, about how Mirror replaces or augments Peloton’s floor workouts instead of claiming unawareness of a competitor’s product.
Consistent with broader fashion, beauty, and general retail trends, some fitness brands are choosing to take space in other stores rather than open their own. Tonal has taken that approach with demos available in Neighborhood Goods in Chelsea and Bandier in Flatiron, both in Manhattan, and a handful of others around the U.S. Tonal occupies prominent real estate at the Chelsea Market entrance to Neighborhood Goods, which has excellent customer acquisition potential. But the store is only staffed with a Tonal rep during a portion of opening hours and no one else knows how to touch the equipment, which can be a letdown for anyone who’s curious.
An appointment at Bandier was met with a warmer welcome, but Tonal is set up only on the basement level where it’s harder to find. As at Mirror, the space was large and heavily staffed for what was there; actually taking a class wasn’t strongly encouraged; and questions about how the platform might complement Peloton were left unanswered. Follow-up was transactional, in the way of an e-mail confirming a liability waiver was signed prior to touching the equipment, and a series of promotional offers that weren’t tied to the visit.
In many ways, Peloton, Mirror and Tonal are pioneering a new retail space for competitors that are likely to follow. That they’ve grown their distribution and announced bolder product and services plans suggests it’s working. It makes sense that these and other fitness brands will want to engage with customers and prospects in retail environments, and we can expect options for doing so will continue to abound. And while the control of operating one’s own presence is appealing and can work well for marketing and control if budget allows, as Peloton’s does, it’s not critical, as Mirror’s and Tonal’s strategies also bear advantages. What’s more important than the specific channel is:
- Convenient locations that serve as billboards and spaces where people can and will demo the experiences.
- The availability of enthusiastic and market-knowledgeable representatives.
- Follow-through that acknowledges the visit and deepens the connection.
Source: Forbes – Entrepreneurs