- Interest in indoor rowing — both connected machines and studio classes — is on the rise in the US.
- The global rowing machine market is expected to hit $1.8 billion by 2031.
- Investors are taking note, by pouring funding into buzzy brands like Hydrow and Ergatta.
- See more stories on Insider’s business page.
Indoor rowing companies — both the manufacturers of high-tech, connected machines and the leaders of boutique fitness chains — are reaping the benefits of a continued rowing boom.
Though indoor rowing had already been on the rise in recent years, the pandemic — and its subsequent impact on demand for at-home and virtual fitness — has propelled the sport even further.
According to Transparency Market Research, the global rowing machine market is expected to reach $1.8 billion by 2031. The sector has also become one of the fastest-growing segments of the overall fitness-equipment market, which was valued at $11.5 billion in 2019.
As rowing takes on an increasing amount of market share, the industry’s biggest players are looking to strike it big. Peloton has long been rumored to be rolling out a connected rower of its own. However the company has yet to confirm the murmurings, leaving investors on the hunt for the next fitness hit.
Last month, the connected-rowing company Ergatta raised $30 million in a Series A funding round led by Advance Ventures Partners, bringing the company’s valuation to $200 million.
“I’ve been investing in startups for a long time and I’ve rarely seen a new consumer brand gain traction this quickly,” said Ian Sigalow, co-founder and partner of Greycroft, discussing Ergatta with Insider last month. Greycroft is one of the investors who participated in the fitness company’s latest funding round.
The news came on the heels of Hydrow announcing a 500% year-over-year rise in sales in 2020, spurring an additional $25 million round of funding from venture capital firm, L Catterton.
Meanwhile, CityRow — which offers in-studio fitness classes as well as its own proprietary connected rowing machine — reported sales growth of 375% year-over-year in 2020. The brand’s most recent investor funding round came in 2018, which was allocated for digital expansion. Though the amount was undisclosed, it marked the fourth round of investments for CityRow, bringing its total funding to $510,000.
The rise of connected at-home rowing
The rise in the amount of rowing companies like Hydrow and Ergatta point to increased demand for alternative forms of at-home exercise, which has also prompted an increase in funding in categories like boxing, climbing, and weight-lifting, according to Jake Matthews, senior analyst at CB Insights.
Hydrow and Ergatta — founded in 2017 and 2018, respectively — are among the latest additions on a growing list of indoor rowing brands, which already included companies such as WaterRower and Concept2, as well as traditional equipment makers Lifecore and NordicTrack.
Consumers looking to buy a personal rowing machine have an array of pricing options to consider. For example, while a Concept2 rower retails for an average of $900, a Hydrow machine starts at $2,245 and an Ergatta rower goes for $2,199.
A spokesperson for Concept2 said the company has “seen rowing grow steadily over the years,” since it got its start in 1976. Though the company declined to share specific sales information, the spokesperson said Concept2 experienced an uptick in demand for its connected-rowing machines during the pandemic.
In recent years, Concept2 has added new integrated tech features like its performance monitor, which allows users to track various measurements and then follow them through a connected app. Today the company supplies everything from big-box gyms and fitness studios like Row House, to individual consumers.
Matthews of CB Insights said such tech features are proving increasingly valuable and attractive to both consumers and investors alike.
“The underlying opportunity in this space is less about the type of exercise offered, and more about how technology can be used to provide a more convenient, personalized, and enjoyable workout experience, and how the services embedded in these products could ultimately become mission control for data-driven health and wellness,” he said.
‘Boutique fitness is still growing like crazy’
As local economies reopen and fitness studios resume indoor classes, companies like CityRow and Row House are also seeing significant growth, in the form of increased visits and memberships.
According to Ramon Castillon, president of Row House, a boutique studio rowing franchise with more than 250 locations in the US, the company has “fully recovered” from temporary studio closures early in the pandemic.
“We have studios now that are outperforming what they were doing prior to COVID, and in a lot of those situations, they’re still not able to operate at full capacity or they’re doing some hybrid of outdoor classes or maybe even doing full-time outdoor classes,” Castillon said.
While Row House does not sell its own connected rowing machine, the company rented out equipment to customers during the pandemic, while offering a digital subscription model.
“Rowing has been around for a while and it’s been growing, but the idea of rowing in a room to music with a great instructor — we as a brand have been championing that and really I think leading from the front,” Castillon said.
Helaine Knapp, the founder and CEO of CityRow, on the other hand, has experienced the best of both worlds, offering both indoor classes at its 12 studio locations while also selling its own rowing machine.
CityRow launched its digital business in 2017, with its first machine in 2018 and its latest model in 2020. Today its app is available in 32 countries.
“When I first started, I was like, ‘Okay, we’ll just be the next SoulCycle and just keep on opening locations,” she said. “But then early numbers out of Peloton and seeing my friends participate in this at-home category that was growing like crazy made me decide to play there.”
Still, Knapp said she still fundamentally believes in the importance of in-person fitness, both for the community element and also as a means to market CityRow and its rowing products.
“In-studio and boutique fitness is still growing like crazy and boutique is growing while big boxes are slowly declining, because it’s where people fall in love with fitness, it’s where people fall in love with brands.”
The allure of rowing
Leaders on all sides of the rowing spectrum said increased access to and awareness of the sport have played significant roles in aiding the rising trend, and subsequently their businesses.
According to Hydrow CEO Bruce Smith, consumers are increasingly gravitating toward rowing because it’s an efficient, total-body workout that engages an estimated 86% of muscles compared to 44% when cycling.
“If you’re limited with how much time you have to work out, you want the most bang for your buck,” Smith told Insider in March. “Rowing is absolutely the best exercise. It uses your posterior chain, and you get core, leg, arm, and shoulder exercises all in one.”
Likewise, Castillon of Row House attributed part of the rowing boom to its accessibility across skill levels, noting it tends to be gentler on the body compared to other high-impact exercises like running and biking.
“People are looking for the most effective workout to get results, but at the same time that doesn’t destroy your body,” he said. “Rowing is the perfect answer to that because it’s extremely accessible to any type of person, whether you’re a beginner a seasoned veteran.”
According to Nicholas Sheedy — founder and CEO of Live Rowing, a connected rowing app platform — bootcamp style fitness classes that use rowing machines like CrossFit have been “a huge driver in bringing awareness and most importantly, enablement to the indoor rowing community and users.”
“We don’t grow up learning to row as a rite of passage like we grew up riding bikes,” he said.