Gyms across India are still awaiting the Government's green signal while malls, restaurants, and salons are gradually resuming operations under the "Unlock" phases. Although a few wellness and fitness companies have managed to operate by providing online workout sessions during the peak lockdown period in March-April, jobs losses and permanent shutdown of gyms seem inevitable. Among the companies that managed to operate amid the pandemic is Cure.fit that that has fitness centres under its Cult.fit brand and verticles like Mind.fit, Care.fit, and Eat.fit within its app.
In an interview with Gadgets 360, Head of Engineering and Org Operations at Cure.fit, Ankit Gupta explained how the company is ensuring its survival amid the pandemic and the challenges faced by the overall fitness industry.
The Bengaluru-based fitness company has temporarily shut down Cult. fit centres owing to the novel coronavirus, but its Cure.fit app has been witnessing an increasing userbase. It's also providing online workout classes to customers under the Cult.live section within Cure.fit app.
One of the biggest challenges that are faced by gym owners across India is the perception that gyms by their very nature are hotbeds for germs. This perception also stems from the fact that many pieces of gym equipment are shared by customers, therefore, they are prone to carry communicable diseases. Add to that fixed costs like rents, salaries, and so on, and many of these fitness centres have been facing a tough time.
"Typically, they [gym owners] have two or three months [in cash], but we are already into the fourth month of lockdown. A lot of these [small scale] gyms are under immense pressure for capital, and they don't know how to survive," Gupta told Gadgets 360.
When asked about the immediate solutions that gym owners should adopt after they become operational, Gupta said that the frequency in sanitation at these centres has to increase. He added that Cult.fit centres are also planning to sanitise floors, equipment, common areas, and more on an hourly basis. "Gyms will have to put a lot good practices around hygiene so that people feel comfortable visiting these fitness centres," he noted.
Gupta added that the number of people simultaneously working out at gyms has to come down. Nearly three years ago, Cure.fit had introduced a booking mechanism where customers were required to book a slot before turning up to the Cult.fit centre. This is something all gyms will have to adopt, Gupta said, adding that for gyms that don't use any technical solutions, WhatsApp could be used to coordinate with customers.
"Not everyone has an app or tech team to power these kinds of cases. I think some kind of solution can come up that people [gym owners] can buy which will enable this [booking mechanism]... Right now, the behaviour is that people just enter the gym at any point, work out no matter how crowded it is, and then you go out. But this time, I think it is also in the customer's interest. If you see a gym full of people, it's in their bad interest to work out together," Gupta said.
He added that Cure.fit faced severe backlash when the booking mechanism was initially introduced. However, people adapted to this method, and now all the Cure.fit app users use the booking mechanism.
Cure.fit in a statement in May had said that 10 percent of the company's trainers were laid off and several projects stopped due to cost-cutting reasons. When asked about Cure.fit's future business model, Gupta claimed that the company since its inception wanted to go digital, however, consumers in India at the time, were sceptical of paying for online workout services. With the launch of physical Cult.fit centres, Cure.fit's focus further shifted away from its fitness-oriented digital services, he said.
"One thing that the lockdown has accelerated is our ambition of becoming primarily a tech player. The second thing it did was it accelerated our profitability initiatives," Gupta added.
As subscription-based models across India is getting wide attention with the emergence of players such as Netflix and Amazon Prime, the Cure.fit app is also seeing a rise in their subscription base. The company says that since Cult.fit live added a paywall in May, over 50,000 new paid customers have come on board.
The company during the lockdown was also able to refocus on its app with services such as "energy meter" and "teleconsultations." The energy meter monitors users' movements and suggests workout patterns. It further gives scores, indicating how hard they need to workout to climb the scoreboard. In other words, the feature hopes to make home workout sessions more "interactive," rather than keeping it the old-school way of following steps via a video.
The feature within the Cure.fit app requires users' phone camera access, and the company claims that the video feed does not come to their end. "All the calculations happen on users' phone," Gupta added.
In much the same way, Cure.fit's sister concern, Care.fit, has also transitioned to a more digital state, and Gupta said that in the current scenario, this was essential. He added that up to 70 percent of visits to the doctor could be done via telemedicine, avoiding unnecessary contact.
"Most of the common consultations like fever or gastric issues are being digitally looked after by the platform," Gupta said, adding that the Care.fit has seen 10x growth since the March lockdown period. Currently, the company has over 15 lakh users on the app (including free users).
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