Gyms, health clubs, and fitness facilities were among the first businesses, along with bars and restaurants, to be closed in March for the Coronavirus pandemic. As a personal trainer working in gyms and health clubs since 2008, my world flipped upside down literally overnight.
Over the past few months, home gym equipment has leaped off the shelves of big box stores and backordered for months from online retailers. Amazon delayed any shipping of fitness equipment until mid-May and into June. Companies like Peloton are now having record breaking sales with people forced into purchasing higher priced items from continued gym closures and reduced capacity once reopening begins.
National and local gyms, and personal trainers of all types have taken to offering free or reduced-price classes to keep members and clients plugged in. The health club I work at in the New Orleans area also took and is still taking part to an extent, with this model. With a set of light to medium dumbbells, gym goers can do body pump, Zumba, yoga, cardio kickboxing, etc., from the comfort of their living room any time of day.
#Reopening. Along with other businesses, gyms are now faced with decisions on how to reopen “safely” at 25-30% capacity in most states. Some states as of this blog are already up to 50%. Social distancing and sanitation/hand cleaning requirements also add into the mix for attracting members to come back. To be honest, most of the sanitation issues have been rules posted in gyms for decades. Members did not follow these rules and yet somehow aside from an occasional cold or flu, everyone miraculously survived over the decades.
While you may think people are lining up to pack the gym at its reduced capacity on day one, you are sadly mistaken. Fear still dominates members’ minds even though guidelines are in place. Realistically, it’s not possible for some of the guidelines to be implemented. What do members do with all the home gym equipment and accessories they invested in? Using their membership is great, yet a new routine has taken hold over the past 60 days and now is entrenching into a habit. Free online classes are still available. Older members are remaining at home. Childcare is still closed for a little while longer. Food services and gatherings for coffee or lunch are still off limits. Personal trainers also remain furloughed in some health clubs or are making more money traveling to clients’ homes.
Fit and healthy people have stronger immune systems, regardless of age, and are more resilient to bounce back from illness. Unfortunately, this was and is overlooked by public health, and an industry that literally can save lives, is currently in the doghouse as a den of Covid filth. Many larger health clubs will feel the economic sting more than smaller ones. Large health clubs have higher overhead, higher dues, and require more employees to operate. Small gyms like an Anytime Fitness, typically have minimal to no staff, and at primetime, are still way under the fire marshal 25-30% capacity. Could the fitness industry see a shift away from high-end, large footprint health club back to smaller boutique or franchised business plans?
A small footprint doesn’t require childcare, group classes, paid training staff, and food services. Membership costs are low and 24/7 access from a network of locations may make these now more attractive than ever for investors, and members seeking to reduce personal expenses. A market will always exist for higher incomes wanting perks and the latest in gadgets, classes, and equipment. What happens to the remaining 80% of potential gym goers who are evaluating their options? Time will tell the changes in consumer confidence and tastes for what they desire. The gym landscape has shifted indeed.