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Can A Pay-By-The-Minute Gym App Make Memberships History?

POPiN aims to lure fitness buffs deterred by upfront costs and stale, unused memberships back to the gym.

Can A Pay-By-The-Minute Gym App Make Memberships History?
[Photo: Flickr user Natacion_sdr_arenas]

Admit it. Your daily gym routine can get, well, boring. Same machines, same sauna, same sweaty guy who refuses to wipe down the treadmill.

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A new app called POPiN is helping fitness buffs mix it up by giving them pay-per-minute access to gyms outside their health club plans.

For POPiN CEO Dalton Han, the idea was rooted in his own passion for working out and the desire to get a piece of the sharing ecnomy.

“I said to myself, ‘What would something like that in the fitness industry look like?'” the former app consultant recalls. Consumers could already get day passes, sans the commitment, he knew. But at $30-$50 for the average 45-minute workout, they’ve never been popular.

POPiN App

“With technology, we can really make it frictionless to walk into a health club,” Han tells Fast Company. “I knew there has to be a better design, a better way to do this.”

It’s with that mind-set that Han cofounded POPiN. The Apple and Android app allows customers to access premium membership-only health clubs and pay just for the minutes spent on premises.

As the website asserts, “We work out of multiple spaces, on multiple projects, and have virtual access to everyone, everywhere. It is time for workouts to keep up with our hectic lifestyles.”

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POPiN launched in mid-July with four luxe New York City health clubs, including the 80,000-square-foot Mercedes Club and exclusive CompleteBody in the Financial District. These are bright, airy clubs with sleek retractable-roof pools, indoor basketball courts, jacuzzis, and spacious spas—the kind of places that can command $200-a-month memberships.

Han, along with cofounder and COO Austin Cohen, say their app is meant to complement and add variety to one’s workout schedule—be it strength training, cardio, or relaxation—not necessarily replace standard memberships.

Fitness aficionados already have similar apps to choose from an à la carte  menu of various boutique classes (ClassPass), and at-home training convenience (Peloton), but POPiN aims to get them back to the gym itself.

The appeal of gyms over boutique classes is the free access to equipment as well as timing—you can show up whenever you like–whereas classes are at specific times and charge penalties for cancellations.

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“We’re looking to create an environment that not only makes it more affordable, accessible, and convenient [to use gyms] but really enables people to fit fitness into their daily lives instead of having to structure their daily lives around that [fitness] schedule that they’re locked into,” explains Cohen.

Ther International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association reports that cost is the No. 1 reason non-gym members cite for not joining, while 44% of former members cite cost for why they left.

Second to cost is actual use: Only half of members go on a regular basis. The guilt of an unused gym membership—or as some call it, “the gym donation”—is what often spurs many members to throw in the towel altogether.  The Washington Post cited a study of nearly 8,000 gym members that found that the average member paid an average of more than $17 per visit if they were actually splitting their membership per use.

With POPiN, users pay between 15¢ and 26¢ per minute. A 45-minute workout comes to around $8—the “cost of a fast food meal,” says Dalton. Users simply check in at a gym’s front desk, where the concierge accounts for the time they start and the time they finish. Then, much like the Uber app, a meter reflects how many minutes are spent, followed by a charge and receipt. The gym splits the fee with POPiN, which takes 20%.

“We figured out a way to allow consumers to access and utilize beautiful workout spaces whenever they want without a membership or commitment,” Dalton says. “We’re really offering a lifestyle here and not just a treadmill, if you will.”

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In the coming year, POPiN plans on expanding to more metro areas—specifically on the West Coast—once the team receives further feedback from New York City users. The startup has an angel investor, but intends to raise more money this fall.

Of course, an app that offers a per-minute alternative to membership seems undoubtedly unappealing to most gym franchises. As Han explains, “We had to do some work to make the gyms understand what we were doing.”

He did so by pointing out that most health clubs are “virtually empty” during the day, and often even during peak hours. Why not fill them with people willing to pay?

“We’re not against membership,” Han clarifies, “we’re just catching a market that they are not targeting.”

The cost-effective solution also offers gyms the ability to potentially lure commitment phobes toward a membership should they enjoy their stay, thereby coming full circle.

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There’s also, as Cohen points out, the non-member dollars spent on campus: Most will buy a smoothie at the juice bar, a T-shirt at the shop, or a massage at the spa.

“It’s getting additional people in the door–making money off of that–with the potential to then upsell them membership,” says Cohen. “For gyms in this day and era –where you know the landscape is changing so quickly and new boutique gyms are popping up on every corner–it’s a fantastic opportunity to make themselves competitive.”