By Jennette Holzworth
When Ed Buckley took over a rarely attended swimming class at a local health club, he stumbled upon a simple trick that increased participation and potentially changed the way health clubs do business.
The University of Florida doctoral student and co-founder of health-technology company peerFit found the apprehension of trying a new fitness class prevented members from attending classes offered by the facility.
This was problematic, since group fitness is the largest membership sales driver for health clubs, and members who fail to utilize group fitness are less likely to renew their memberships.
Buckley took the mystery out of his class by posting his workouts between classes. Along with co-founders Scott Peeples, Matt Redinger and Rex Tullius, Buckley set out to give other instructors the same opportunity, but on a much larger scale.
peerFit is a mobile application that transforms fitness into a social experience for users by incorporating it into their everyday life. The platform helps users pick the right classes for them by offering class and instructor reviews and sending encouraging text message attendance reminders.
With peerFit, health clubs are able to tap into the same peer promotion success that restaurants have seen from services like Yelp! and Urban Spoon, while collecting valuable data they can use to determine program success.
“It’s a great marketing tool to get people in the door,” says Redinger, who serves as vice president of operations.
The fundamentals upon which peerFit is built come from Buckley’s research in health behavior, which specializes in digital health and wellness. peerFit blends what it sees in the environment with data seen in research, ultimately examining how digital triggers impact health.
The startup was funded with investor seed money and funds from the co-founder’s own pockets. It has since partnered with more than 300 health clubs nationwide, providing clubs enhanced marketing opportunities by teaching them how to use peerFit to promote their classes.
“By providing real-world reviews from participants’ experiences with our group training classes like boot camp, peerFit helps remove barriers that would inhibit first-timers from trying one of our classes for the first time.” says John Carmean, the personal training marketing director at Gainesville Health & Fitness.
The peerFit Passport is the next phase of services aimed at staking revenue for the company while promoting fitness in the digital age. The Passport is a health club sampler pack individuals can purchase that will allow them the ability to compare the various offerings in the community. It is scheduled to roll out in mid-2013.
Other ventures include the ability for users to purchase gym classes directly from peerFit.com, as well as an analytics package health clubs can purchase to better understand the traffic patterns and popularity of programs it offers.
While it’s much different than what was initially planned, Buckley says the current product is one that has grown with the market and is tailored to meet current demands.
“Our goal was always to build a valuable platform and then find the revenue out of it,” he says. “If you built exactly what you saw in the beginning, then you didn’t adjust to the market. Very rarely is what you imagined the thing people will actually use.”