With gyms shut across the country and people stuck at home, online fitness and nutrition program 28 by Sam Wood is thriving as founder Sam Wood invites millions of Australians into his living room each morning for free workouts.
Wood — who featured in the 2015 series of Channel Ten’s The Bachelor, and also founded popular kids gym franchise Gecko Sports — has seen the business grow by almost 40% over the last six months.
This includes a 258% increase in customer sign-ups over the last six weeks to May 2020, following a decision by Wood to share free live workouts via social media about 10 weeks ago, as the coronavirus outbreak starting to take hold across the country.
More than two million people have now tuned in to watch Wood, and his family, work out in their living room each weekday morning at 9am.
“During the early days [of COVID-19] we saw a pause as everyone was waiting to see what the future would look like, and there was instability and insecurity,” Wood tells SmartCompany.
“The free 30-minute workout videos on YouTube and Facebook have been a nice way to connect with people and build a strong community.”
Wood also owns The Woodshed gym in Melbourne’s Brighton East, and he says the forced closure of the business was “challenging”. But the free online workouts helped The Woodshed’s members as well as “others working from home who couldn’t do their usual workouts”.
At the same time, the free workouts have introduced new members to the 28 by Sam Wood program, which operates on a subscription model, and includes 28-minute-long daily workouts, eating plans and access to nutritional information and a support crew. Members pay $59 per month for customisable programs, and also have access to a highly engaged Facebook group, which now has close to 50,000 members.
“There’s zero pressure to join our program, but [posting content online for free] was the right thing to do,” Wood says.
“I didn’t know if it would have a commercial impact, but it’s definitely been a contributing factor to our growth over this period.”
With reports showing 30% of Australians have tried online workout programs amid the pandemic, Wood says it has accelerated the normalisation of online and at-home training.
“People say that you won’t get that face-to-face accountability and support that you would in a gym, but I think it can be superior. It [28 by Sam Wood] is in someone’s pocket 24-7, they can reach out at the touch of a button, and we can send bespoke videos based on their behaviour and what they want,” he says.
“It’s a greater experience than what many personal trainers deliver, where — after a workout with a client — they’ll go away and say ‘see you next Tuesday’.”
The coronavirus pandemic has introduced more people to Wood’s business, and also fast-tracked a new partnership with BUPA Health Insurance, where BUPA customers can receive three months’ free access to the program.
Wood says the partnership had been over a year in the making.
“Opening up this B2B part to our business [shows] how scalable it is, how seamless that scalability can be and how exciting the future is for us,” he says.
“They’re thrilled with how many of their customers have taken up the offer, and with the feedback they’ve been receiving.”
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‘Tipped every cent I had in this business’
Wood has been in the fitness industry for about 15 years, and after selling the Gecko Sports franchise about five years ago, he was facing challenges in scaling and expanding his bricks-and-mortar fitness space at The Woodshed.
After appearing on The Bachelor, he had received a number of enquiries from people who wanted eating plans and workout ideas.
That feedback helped to grow the gym, but he wasn’t able to leverage that growth to people who didn’t live nearby, and still wanted assistance.
Wood says that he “took the plunge and went online … with workouts you could do at home in under 30 minutes, as well as family-friendly recipes and realtime support from me”.
Within 60 days, 28 by Sam Wood had over 5,000 members. From there, he says the business exploded.
“I tipped every cent that I had in the business nearly five years ago, and one way we’ve stayed ahead of the curve [is by] reinvesting almost everything back into … building the team, increasing our customer service capacity and adding state-of-the-art features,” he says.
Since 2016, the 28 by Sam Wood team has grown from three to nearly 20 people, and the business will approach the $10 million turnover mark at the end of this financial year.
Wood says that growth was driven by the customisable components embedded in the technology, and a “really good understanding of who their customers were”.
“We were a web-based platform for the first two years and, when it was time for us to take the next step up and build our app, we knew exactly what our customers wanted … and the customisations they required,” he says.
“There are lots of $10-per-month programs [that] provide a blanket approach to everyone plus a generic workout, which people tend to save, set and forget.
“But, we have experts in every area, programs that are tailored for people with different dietary requirements and I’m in able to deliver videos each day and answer questions [from members] in real-time”.
“I’m in the office every day and have watched it grow from the ground up”
Wood predicts the buzz around home workouts will continue to grow in the future.
However, he believes the growing audience will lean towards people with relevant experience and qualifications, over social media influences who have just entered the health and fitness space.
“It’s not that hard to get into shape when you are 20 with great genetics, but helping people [across] different ages, genders and emotional and psychological states is a more challenging job, so you want to make sure you have someone good helping you through that journey,” he says.
His plans for the future involve the mantra: “Head down, bum up and continue to do what [we’re] doing.”
“I’m not just the face of this — I’m in the office every day and have grown in from the ground up. The last five years have been exciting and, the more you get into the tech space, the more you feel you’re just getting started,” he says.
“We will continue to be creative, reinvest in our people and our technology and make sure our program stays at the top of the tree.”