iFIT vs Peloton: Connected Fitness | In Practise

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iFIT vs Peloton: Connected Fitness

Current SVP of Product at Clmbr and former VP of Product Development at iFIT

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Executive Bio

Current SVP of Product at Clmbr and former VP of Product Development at iFIT

This executive spent over 13 years at ICON, now iFIT, in a range of merchandising and product-focused roles. For the last four years of his 13 year career at iFIT he was VP Product Development. In this role, he was responsible for all product development across the 3 major groups of the business. He is now SVP of Product at Climbr, a contender in the connected fitness space. The executive has deep familiarity with the product development process for connected fitness devices from concept to commercialisation.Read more

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Interview Transcript

Disclaimer: This interview is for informational purposes only and should not be relied upon as a basis for investment decisions. In Practise is an independent publisher and all opinions expressed by guests are solely their own opinions and do not reflect the opinion of In Practise.

What got you interested in the fitness industry? I think you’ve been there for pretty much your entire career?

I have always been an athlete, played collegiate athletics and fitness, for me, just naturally happened. Right out of school, I spent some time at Nike and I always had wanted to be around products and be a part of products that not only are really great for people but also that I use and love. Personally, I think that makes you better at your job.

Fitness just became one of those things that personally I loved after having been a part of team athletics for the majority of my life and was then able to apply what I do personally to having a great love for it professionally. I didn't necessarily intend it that way. I wanted to definitely be around sports, but fitness was where I found my niche and I have been a part of it ever since.

Having that passion really helps in choosing your career. Nike is clearly a company that’s desirable in that space. What helped you choose Nike as your first place to go and what did you learn about the industry from Nike?

I had a goal almost from an early age, or at least an early recognition of it in high school, that I wanted to work at Nike or have that experience. To a large extent, that’s because I'm such an aficionado of the brand and of what they do, not only in creating products but telling stories. When I had the opportunity to do that I jumped because, from the outside looking in, they're a monster; they continue to evolve themselves and innovate in a number of different categories with how they tell their stories and with their marketing, but also their really, really great product and people within that organization.

At a high level, what I learned at Nike was fundamental in just processes and in how to do things the right way early on in my career and apply that moving forward. Nike, like a lot of companies in today's world that have found success, inclusive of people like Amazon and others, they're very customer centric. Learning that early on and learning how to apply data to product development and to processes, particularly around what a consumer wants and needs, those are a couple of the biggest things that I learned.

I believe after that you moved to NordicTrack. They’re interesting because I remember my parents having a NordicTrack ski machine in the house. They were obviously early movers in the branded at-home fitness experience and so I’m curious, given their background and how much heritage there is in NordicTrack, what were your key learnings from them? How did they respond to the growth in connected fitness?

NordicTrack is a brand that's owned by iFit, formerly iCON. I spent 15 years in that organization really involved in all brands and all products. NordicTrack was initially a focus but that then expanded to other brands in the portfolio inclusive of Proform and Freemotion and even Altra in some footwear and apparel that we did as a company for a while.

I never really knew the original NordicTrack because it was a brand that iFit acquired back in the 90s, post the launch of the skier and that success that they found. I remember it and the success of it but, by the time I was a part of NordicTrack, it was a very different company. There’s still unaided brand awareness that comes from the years and years that they spent creating and spending money on that D2C model and product.

By the time I was a part of NordicTrack, it was much more as a brand and now it’s obviously a leader in treadmills and in cycles and in strength and sure, they still sell skiers but it definitely has evolved. What I would say at a high level about iFit is that connected fitness, in theory, has been a part of their strategy for a long, long time. They were delivering forms of connected fitness over 20 years ago and were doing that through VHS tapes and through CDs and then, ultimately, as technology advanced, Bluetooth and Wi-Fi and the seamless two-way interactions wirelessly. Within iFit, within then in turn NordicTrack and all the other brands, there has been a focus for decades around connecting products and experiences and ultimately trying to cultivate a platform that can ensure consumers find success in their fitness journey.

I think that's the biggest reason. Ultimately, iFit as a company, developed their platform and saw connected fitness being something that would be long term and very viable. The sort of dirty little secret about fitness is that most people fail on their journey. We still live in a country where almost half of our population is obese. People are time-crunched, they're cost crunched. In turn, they rely on and eat terrible food and just get into this cycle. Most people buy products and then, unfortunately, they don't utilize them as much as they could and should. At its heart, the goal of iFit and that platform and what is utilized across NordicTrack and its products and Proforma’s products, is to drive more results for consumers and hopefully drive more usage.

The cancellation rates at traditional gyms are pretty staggering and, in terms of the lack of use, I don’t know the exact number but a typical Planet Fitness has thousands of members that are active but they only have a few hundred who can use the gym at any given time. It’s a tricky incentive structure for traditional gyms. You want as many people to join but you have limited capacity at the gym at any given time. One of the benefits of connected at-home fitness is you don’t have to worry about the traditional gym shortcomings but, at the same time, the traditional gym can be a very motivating place to be. In your experience with NordicTrack and now with CLMBR, how has that engagement changed with the at-home fitness space? The big knock-on with at-home fitness is three months later it turns into a clothes hanger, so how has that changed?

I would say that pre-Covid it was changing in large part due to Peloton and even iFit and making fitness more of a lifestyle and a behavior change culturally for people. Covid accelerated that and I think what people realized is there's huge benefits time-wise, cost-wise, success wise in being able to stand up your own home gym and being able to have products in there that can be used to get onto that pathway of a lifestyle and a behavior change.

As a whole, the industry was trending that direction and Covid cemented that behavior or, at least for the short term, flipped it to where usage is increased and the total consumer base has increased. It's obviously leveled and sort of reset itself in 2021. 2020 was always and always will be somewhat of an anomaly but it drove behavior change which is really good, so I think you'll see a steady and consistent growth rate moving forward from this year on, where people have understood the benefit and they will still augment it through things like gyms and through even outdoors and working out, but it's driven behavior change which is necessary for anyone to achieve results.

Do you believe that, increasingly, people are seeing their at-home options as their core and traditional as their supplement, or is it vice versa?

Pre-Covid it was vice versa. Post-Covid and what has happening currently, is that the main or the core piece, as it relates to someone's fitness, is coming from the home and it's being augmented through the gyms or clubs. I think that’s is going to be the tail for the next number of years until there's another reason to flip it back to what it was pre-Covid, for most people.

Do you think there will come a time where people flip back and, if so, what would be the catalyst for that?

I think it depends on two major things. One, what do home companies continue to do to not only innovate their products but to innovate their content? One of the major drivers of change is the optionality, the variety, the change necessary to stay motivated. If people like Peloton, iFit and others continue to innovate their products and, more importantly, continue to innovate their content and give you a really good reason to use your product in your home, then I think it stays the same.

The other thing is what do the clubs do? The clubs were hit really negatively by Covid and you've started to see usage rates go back up to what they were pretty close to pre-Covid for most people. However, clubs have to innovate as well and so I think the reason clubs are having success now is that people get a little tired of not having the social element and maybe not being able to have access to weights and things like that, which is still a big category driver for gyms.

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