People Are Panic-Buying Meat, Toilet Paper … and Pelotons?

Lauren Allbright, a trainer, kids’s e book creator and triathlete, was antsy from weeks of sheltering in place. So final month, she “panic bought” a $2,245 Peloton bike.

It was a “pricey decision,” she admitted. But her fitness center was closed, and it had been raining nonstop in Richardson, Texas, the place she lives. Soon the warmth would make it even tougher for her to coach exterior.

So when Texas prolonged its stay-in-place guidelines by a month, Ms. Allbright, 39, clicked “buy.” She reasoned that her husband and three kids would additionally use the internet-connected bike, which comes with streaming lessons for an additional $39 a month.

Since mid-March, Peloton’s stock has soared 86 percent, valuing the New York company at $10 billion, or twice as much as the gym chain Planet Fitness. Last month, Peloton reported a record: More than 23,000 people had joined one of its live classes.

When Peloton reports quarterly financial results on Wednesday, Wall Street expects the unprofitable company to post rising sales. Analysts pointed to spikes in the number of ratings for fitness classes on Peloton’s system and longer waits for delivery of the bikes, which signal higher-than-expected demand. The results may not reveal the full extent of Peloton’s popularity, since they cover only a few weeks of the lockdown period in March.

“Consumer habits are fundamentally changed coming out of this crisis and this pandemic,” said Ron Josey, an analyst at JMP Securities. “A device and service like Peloton comes to the forefront in that.”

Peloton declined to comment ahead of its earnings.

Other home fitness companies have reported similar surges in demand. Sales at Echelon, which makes a less expensive internet-connected bike, grew five times higher than expected in the first three months of 2020, with demand comparable to Black Friday, said Lou Lentine, the company’s chief executive. Icon Health & Fitness, which owns the NordicTrack and ProForm equipment brands, said sales last month were four times as high as a year earlier.

“It’s absolutely bigger than any other boom time we’ve had,” said Mark Watterson, president of iFit, a division of Icon Health.

New converts include Ben Carlson, a wealth manager in Grand Rapids, Mich. He wasn’t interested in a home workout setup before because he exercised on lunch breaks at a gym near his office.

But now that he’s working at home with three children under the age of 6, it’s harder to get away for a run. Last month, he bought a Peloton, which he rides after his children are in bed.

The bike is “part of my new life for the time being,” Mr. Carlson, 38, said. Even when things reopen, he said, “I don’t know that I’ll be the first one to rush back into the gym.”

Gyms and studios, which have frozen memberships while they are closed, are hurting. Some yoga and dance studios have resorted to asking for donations in exchange for free online classes. Several national gym chains have faced lawsuits and state investigations for charging fees during the shutdown.

Mindbody, a similar service, laid off or furloughed around 700 people, or 35 percent of its work force, in early April. Rick Stollmeyer, chief executive, has said he does not believe Mindbody’s business will recover for more than a year.

SoulCycle, which operates dozens of cycling studios, closed them in March, cutting employee pay by 25 percent and furloughing its instructors. The company began offering virtual workouts on SiriusXM and through an app called Variis, operated by Equinox Group, SoulCycle’s parent company.

In March, SoulCycle also began taking preorders for a $2,500 home bike that it announced last year. The bikes, available in certain U.S. cities, are expected to begin shipping this month.

“Equinox Group anticipates the consumer will want experiences both online and offline,” a spokesman said. When its studios reopen, SoulCycle said, it will make changes like placing bikes — normally packed close together — six feet apart, significantly cutting down on the number of customers per class.

Peloton initially responded to the virus by extending a 30-day free trial of its digital-only subscription to its streaming classes to 90 days. It introduced contactless delivery for its equipment and pledged to waive up to $1 million of subscription fees for customers who had lost their jobs or were unable to work because of the coronavirus. Peloton also closed 96 showrooms around the country and stopped delivering the treadmills it also makes.

Peloton and other providers of home exercise equipment are under pressure to create enough fresh digital content to keep users engaged. Among the most popular videos on Icon Health’s iFit platform are the ones that let people work out to travel montages, like a tour of Egyptian tombs.

“People use them as a mind escape,” said Colleen Logan, head of marketing at Icon Health. “In your own four walls, you don’t want to be looking at someone else’s four walls.”

Peloton stopped filming live classes in early April after an employee at its New York studio tested positive for the coronavirus. But by the end of the month, it was streaming live classes again.

The first one happened on April 22 from the apartment of Robin Arzón, Peloton’s head instructor. More than 23,000 customers logged in and rode along with her, issuing virtual high fives and climbing a digital leader board.

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