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THE FINISH LINE

Fitness industry poised for post-Covid boom: Ritual CEO

Brad Robinson says the demand to still work out in a physical gym will skyrocket once lockdown restrictions ease

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Ritual - a boutique gym known for its HIIT (high-intensity interval training) workouts that take place every 30 minutes throughout the day - has a total of 12 gyms in Singapore, Switzerland, the US, Spain, South Africa and Brazil

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"When all our gyms closed, we stopped all of our tech development elsewhere and put the full resources into getting our Ritual Anywhere app tested and ready to go," says Mr Robinson.

CONSTRUCTION of Ritual Gym's fourth and newest branch in Singapore - a 2,800 square foot facility at the Knightsbridge mall in the heart of Orchard Road - was completed in early-April and the countdown to opening was underway.

But the announcement that Singapore would begin what would eventually be a two-month "circuit breaker" period on April 7 - which shuttered the vast majority of businesses island-wide - quickly put those plans on ice.

Ritual's co-founder and CEO Brad Robinson encountered a similarly frustrating situation for the company's expansion in Zurich. The construction of its first gym in Switzerland was also finished, but the country soon went into lockdown mode in March and the doors have stayed shut ever since.

"We have gyms on two of the most expensive pieces of real estate in the world, our teams were ready to go, but we couldn't do anything," the Singapore-based American, a former mixed martial arts fighter, said in an interview with BT Weekend. "But the situation is improving, and the good news is our Zurich gym can open next week. And hopefully we can get the green light to reopen our four gyms in Singapore in a few weeks."

Customised workout

On Thursday, the Singapore government said that Phase Two of the post-circuit breaker period - which will see more businesses including sports facilities resume operations - could start before the end of June.

Ritual - a boutique gym known for its HIIT (high-intensity interval training) workouts that take place every 30 minutes throughout the day - has a total of 12 gyms in Singapore, Switzerland, the United States, Spain, South Africa and Brazil.

The coronavirus pandemic has forced many gyms and fitness studios around the world to stay closed, which has resulted in many people turning to videos and live workout sessions streamed over the Internet to do their exercise at home.

Mr Robinson believes this trend of exercising from the comfort of one's home is here to stay for the long haul, even well after the threat of the virus has subsided.

In April, Ritual launched a new mobile app - called Ritual Anywhere - that offers a fresh 20-minute HIIT workout every day, customised to one's fitness level, physiological readiness and available equipment at home. An integrated timer, featuring videos and audio cues of the user's choice, guides him or her through the session. There's also a live-streamed session to do the same workout in the app but with a Ritual coach motivating participants in real time.

In the first week, about 5,000 members downloaded the app. Last week, Ritual announced that the app would be available for free to the general public until the end of June.

Much-needed reality check

According to Mr Robinson, the app - which will come with a US$12.99 monthly fee once the pay wall is activated - will create a new revenue stream for his company, which has been hit hard by the global lockdowns that have forced it to freeze memberships.

Having been through previous recessions in his previous jobs, he admits that the extent of the Covid-19 outbreak gave him a much-needed reality check.

"To be honest, I thought I had built a robust and resilient business with strong margins and recurring revenue. I could not imagine that we would be so vulnerable like this," he said.

"Covid-19 hit us right in the middle of a huge growth stage. We were a week away from signing a term sheet for a major funding round, but that got postponed. But I believe that we are going to bounce back. We didn't lay off anyone or put staff on no-pay leave, and we don't intend to, either."

Mr Robinson is eager to cater to the growing group of people who may never step foot into a gym or fitness centre for a long time, or perhaps even at all, due to the virus.

"They have found comfort from exercising at home, and I get that. I was never much of a workout-from-home person, I'd never done yoga at home until recently, but it's convenient and we want to be able to reach out to those who prefer to be at home," he explained.

"I've always wanted to have an app for our members, and the pandemic made us move faster. When all our gyms closed, we stopped all of our tech development elsewhere and put the full resources into getting this app tested and ready to go."

Mr Robinson, however, feels that the demand to still work out in a physical gym will skyrocket once lockdown restrictions ease.

"I spoke at a virtual fitness summit recently, and a survey found that 87 per cent of people intend to visit a gym the first day they are allowed to do so. And of those who do not have a gym membership today, 27 per cent plan to sign up for one. Those numbers alone are very encouraging, and there are opportunities for growth," he said.

He also noted that a sizeable proportion of the population will continue working from home as the default for the foreseeable future, which means they will likely have more time to do activities such as exercise.

"The new normal is working from home. When there's no need to spend one or two hours commuting to and from the office each day, and not having to attend so many face-to-face meetings, people will inevitably have more time to themselves. So I believe the overall market size for the fitness industry will increase," added Mr Robinson.

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