Apps for fitness buff — 02 Oct 2015 by Cheah Ui-Hoon
Fitness-sharing platforms are a boon to both the keep-fit crowd and the gyms and studios that cater to them.
IN line with the general swing towards more healthy living, the number of ways you can exercise has exploded exponentially in recent years. Treadmills are so last century. Now it’s everything from pre and post-natal yoga to parkour. Not to mention the niche offerings that pop up every other week – bounce fitness where you do exercises on your own trampoline, yoga on a surfboard and stand-up paddling – which makes the usual gym and spin classes sound almost archaic.
Even the conventional gym membership is being viewed in a new light as fitness buffs agonise over how to try out all the different exercise fads without burning a hole in their gym shorts pockets from paying all the membership fees.
The answer may well lie in fitness “aggregators”, or fitness-sharing platforms, that have come onstream. Think of them as the Uber of the fitness industry. Since March, at least three major players have emerged. Passport Asia, GuavaPass and KFit all offer monthly memberships providing access to hundreds of classes a month for a flat fee starting from S$59.
You could hit a gym in the morning, follow it up with a Zumba class, and then tick off another two or three activities in the afternoon like pole dancing or yoga. Or pick an activity in any part of Singapore every day of the week and even in Bangkok, Dubai or Hong Kong if you happen to be travelling there.
“It’s just really convenient because I can be anywhere on the island and find a yoga class to go to,” says Therese Chan, a financial services consultant who’s signed up with Passport Asia.
She schedules a yoga class in between appointments and goes for three classes on average a week. “I reckon that for 12 classes a month, S$99 is really value for money,” she says. “And sometimes I’ve clients who want to meet in Jurong or in Tampines – it doesn’t matter to me, as I can usually find a class nearby to go to, and I’ll do it during the off-peak hours.”
Because of the app, she’s tried pilates and an “underwater cycling thing”, but prefers yoga above all.
Magazine writer Yun Quek signed up with KFit and since then, she’s tried rock climbing and spin classes for the first time. But her mainstay is also her weekly yoga class. “I like the option of choosing different vendors, as there are limits to having just one gym or studio. The best part is that someone has gone through the effort of looking for all these activities out there and made them available to me,” she says.
Not only are the subscribers pretty pleased about someone else doing the legwork and making it easy for them to have an active lifestyle, the studios are finding that the gym-sharing platforms are directing customers to them. It’s a win-win situation all round as studios, especially the small, boutique ones tucked away in obscure corners, get to share their services with thousands on this platform, immediately raising their profile and getting a steady stream of potential members.
“We’ve had a constant flow of people coming by and the feedback has been very positive, so we might consider increasing the number of tries or activities for KFit members,” says Rie Watanabe, marketing manager for Radiance PhysioFit, which prides itself on its physiotherapy-trained instructors.
With the increased awareness and participation, Ms Watanabe is glad to see that the gym is well utilised. “Although the ultimate goal is for them to be members of our gym, we’re also glad that people are discovering our gym and the classes and expertise we offer,” she says.
Marcus Tan, one of the partners of Kulture Studios which offers the novel trampoline fitness class, also notes that Kulture has been getting a lot of bookings through the KFit platform it is signed on. “We haven’t seen ‘conversion’ numbers yet (from guests to members) but we’re getting pretty healthy numbers and all our physical fitness classes are still new as we’ve just opened,” he says of the studio at Kallang Wave Mall.
Although there are now several other fitness-sharing platforms, Kulture Studios has opted to build a relationship with one company instead of spreading itself among many.
Despite the win-win situation, not all studios are convinced that this sharing platform is good for the long term.
A small studio which uses technology-based equipment for weight loss feels that it would prefer dedicated clients as its programme is unique and works best when one is focused. Says Agnes Tay, co-founder of Active Hive: “After completing our programme, the clients can proceed to do other sports. Because if the person is overweight, they might injure their knees or ankles with certain sports so our programme is to lower their weight effectively, build up stamina and reboot their metabolism.”
Another worry, she points out, is that the gym apps vendors don’t give a high enough payment. A check showed that the vendors give between S$15 and S$20 per participant to the studios when they sign up for the activities. “As the cost of our equipment is quite high, that doesn’t really justify it,” Ms Tay adds. “And our brand building isn’t just based on short-term sales.”
For now, the end-users of the fitness-sharing services are on the winning end. All three fitness-sharing platform providers are racing to provide the best service to their members. KFit and Passport Asia both have easy-to-use mobile apps, and while GuavaPass is desktop-based (but optimised for mobile use) for now, it’s also the first to offer a multi-city platform. This means that for S$99, members in Singapore can book classes in Bangkok, Hong Kong and Dubai as well.
“We found that people in Asia travel constantly between Singapore, Hong Kong, Dubai and Bangkok, so they can book fitness classes on the fly,” says GuavaPass co-founder Rob Pachter, who was originally from New York and had been in Singapore for just a year when he saw the fragmentation of the fitness market.
“My business partner – he’s from Santa Monica, California – and I were so accustomed to high-quality workouts but when we moved to Asia, we didn’t know where to go,” he says, explaining the impetus for the start-up.
GuavaPass also has multi-city packages, with four countries now and another two in September. Mr Pachter was formerly the director of sales for Integral Ad Science Southeast Asia while his co-founder, Jeffrey Liu, was formerly the head of corporate development at BeachMint, a venture-backed social e-commerce startup in Los Angeles, before he moved to Singapore to launch a hedge fund.
To make sure they stay ahead in this race, they’ve carefully selected their team which includes two certified yoga instructors, a nutritionist and a marathon runner. “What we’re doing is curating the really high-quality fitness providers, and our team tries out every single class. We want to have the best of the best.”
It’s seen the number of active paying members across the four cities increase eight times between August and September, and the membership in Singapore is also growing significantly, says Mr Pachter, “with hundreds of classes booked on a daily basis”.
Since KFit launched in May, it’s seen about 20,000 reservations on a weekly basis for its some 400 partners, says Ng Aik Phong, KFit’s vice-president of business development.
The demographic for KFit Singapore is people aged 25 to 35 years and it’s skewed towards women, who make up about 60 per cent of the members. “Seventy to 80 per cent of them don’t have a gym membership, and are new to fitness,” Mr Ng shares.
KFit has rolled out its programme to 10 cities in seven markets (it is also in Malaysia, Hong Kong, Thailand, the Philippines, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand) and is now working on a “fitness roaming” programme for the benefit of members who travel to other cities for work.
Mr Ng is a former fencer with the Singapore national team and a Bronze medallist in the 1993 SEA Games. Heading KFit is Malaysian Joel Neoh, one of the founding members of the Groupon business in Asia.
As for Passport Asia, its services can now be found in eight cities in four countries, including India.
“With several players out there, it’s a question of who can provide a better user experience,” says Sanjey Chandran, one of the co-founders whose team has been involved in over 20 startups. He believes that the interest will be there for a while as people like variety and also the social aspect of fitness. “And now, we’re seeing a real equal playing platform for gyms and studios as well,” he adds.
It’s still early days for the fitness-sharing platforms but now that they’ve launched in Singapore, the race is on to get more traction in the Asia-Pacific region, the Middle East and Greater China.
“The roadmap is there,” points out Mr Pachter. The concept is hot now and people are jumping on the bandwagon. “It’s an interesting time now with more people concerned about health. Just a year ago, there were one or two pole dancing studios. Now we have at least 14 in Singapore alone.”
A shake-out in the industry is inevitable in a few months down the road, but for now, users will benefit from the boom in fitness offerings as well as sharing platforms like this.
LAUNCHED in May, KFit’s mobile app on iOS and android phones is easy to navigate and fast to use. For those who want to check it out, try the basic package which gives free access to one class per month for an unlimited time. But this is a waste of time as you don’t get a real feel of the service. The all-access package is S$99, and users aren’t locked into any fixed period beyond the first month (although there have been complaints that it’s not as easy to opt out as you think).
The landing page of the app shows the different categories of the sports: yoga and pilates (1,304 activities in a mid-September week), bootcamp and crossfit (202), gym (424), dance and zumba (554), martial arts (296), strength and conditioning (1,308), sports (469), leisure (590).
When you click on a class, the page has an explanation of the activity and the service provider’s address, as well as a button to reserve the activity. The location is further indicated in a Google map with directions and a quick button to call. The map isn’t all that accurate, though, as it was a task to find, say, the exercise studios at Horse City, Turf City. It might be best to call ahead for better directions.
When you click on the calendar view, the activities of the day are listed according to time, and then there are categories like facilities and gym access in addition to classes. The search function is obscurely tucked into the “map” view, and there are still occasional glitches.
The company only lets you make bookings up to a week ahead, with a minimum 24 hours’ notice so you can’t arrange classes on the spur of the moment. But it’s working on this and expects to introduce same-day booking in Singapore soon. KFit is the only platform that has guest reviews, which is a useful reference.
Soft-launched in March and officially in June, Passport Asia’s distinctive red logo is eye-catching and the app itself is a smooth search engine. It offers entry-level membership for as low as S$59 for four activities a month, and unlimited sessions of any activity per month at S$99. The subscription-based service says it provides a choice of over 20,000 classes available per month from 200 gyms and studios.
Categories include women only, martial arts, gyms, pilates and dance. Activities are listed according to the time, starting from 12am (because, surprise, there are actually 24-hour gyms in Singapore).
When you click on each link, there is a running man to indicate that the page is being processed, which is quite apt. Bookings are real time, and the page also tells you suitability level and how many slots are still available for the sport you’re eyeing.
A click on “directions” takes you to Google maps, with the service provider’s phone, e-mail and website listed on the same page. It’s also easy to share the activity you’ve booked with friends via Facebook and other apps like WhatsApp or Twitter.
On the morning I tried to book an afternoon class, it disappeared from my screen after I scrolled through a few times. In the end we managed to book that yoga class through GuavaPass instead.
The biggest drawback of GuavaPass is the lack of an app although its website is optimised for mobile viewing. The feel isn’t the same, especially if you’re constantly on the go, and would like to book a class on the fly. Just a couple more clicks to get to what you want gets pretty annoying very quickly in this age of app flexibility. That said, it’s the only platform that allows for multi-city booking, which is fantastic.
The website does look good, though, and it immediately makes you feel like a global citizen as the landing page you go to lets you choose your cities – Bangkok, Dubai, Hong Kong, Melbourne, Shanghai, Singapore, Sydney and Taipei. After logging in, the page then informs you how many workouts you’ve booked and how many days more are left in your membership.
Yoga offerings are aplenty but there are also pole dancing, crossfit, gym, dance, golf and so on. The page will list the name of the class, studio, time, category of activity or exercise, and even the name of the instructor if applicable.
GuavaPass also has a referral programme so that friends you refer get 50 per cent off their first month’s fees. If they stay on for another month, you get a credit. Get two credits and you get one month’s membership for free.