Across the US, states are slowly lifting restrictions put in place to stop the spread of coronavirus. Over the last several months everyone has experienced varying degrees of lock down with gathering places such as movie theaters, bars, and gyms being some of the very last to be able to re-open. After months of closure and COVID-19 still looming over us, will gym go-ers ditch their new at-home routines and save the gym industry?
Two major gym chains already have made known the effects of the shutdown by filing for bankruptcy. 24 Hour Fitness has permanently closed a quarter of their 400 clubs while hoping financial restructuring can save the remaining 300 facilities. CEO Tony Ueber commented, “If it were not for COVID-19 and its devastating effects, we would not be filing for Chapter 11.”
Another California based chain, Gold’s Gym, filed for bankruptcy in May. They permanently closed 30 of their 700 worldwide facilities (many are locally owned franchises). They, too, have grand plans for restructuring their remaining clubs and their business model. In a statement they said, “No single factor has caused more harm to our business than the current COVID-19 global pandemic.”
On the flip side, at-home workout tools have been booming. In-home cycling option, Peloton saw sales rise 66% in the first quarter and doubled their subscription based users for streaming content to over 800,000. Health and fitness apps surged with a 40% increase in downloads the last week of March–when nearly the entire globe had shut down.
So what do we do now?
Approximately 1 in 5 Americans own a membership to a health or fitness club. We love the gym. It is unclear how the long term effects this pandemic will alter these statistics. While many have opted for temporary at-home options, there’s something about participating in fitness in a space dedicated to that sole purpose.
Gyms that have been the most successful during quarantine have practiced continued social outreach, provided online content, and made concessions when it came to monthly dues when needed. Those members that had a positive experience with their club during the last few months are likely to return, but even when gyms did everything right, can consumers consider the gym a safe space?
As new research continues to arise concerning the spread of coronavirus, it still boils down to a few personal and professional courtesies that will make the largest impact.
As mentioned before, big box gyms like Gold’s Gym and 24 Hour Fitness have been hard hit. Boutique gyms and fitness studios like Orangetheory held the advantage over scheduled classes and smaller groups long before we were challenged to maintain social distancing guidelines. Their business model fits a post-shutdown world well; as they can meter class times and participants, and clean their limited equipment quickly between uses. Additionally, states that require group gatherings or facility capacities to stay under a certain limit will hinder larger gyms from operating at normal levels, while boutique gyms could still function easily.
What’s a big, beautiful empty gym to do? Scheduling. Class restrictions and even check-in times are the simplest tools to control capacity. The advantage for larger gyms is they may be able to permit more members to return if their floor plan permits large groups to safely social distance.
This one is obvious. If your club was not already handing out towels and spray bottles, firstly–you’re crazy. Secondly, you better start right now. Whether it’s disposable wipes or reusable towels and sprays, ensure all are readily available. Both as a patron and owner, these items are essential for basic cleaning and germ protection.
But there is so much more put on owners now. Facilities must constantly look like they are in the process of being cleaned. The ever present visual of the housekeepers is oddly comforting to us all. However, the added cost of increasing staff, hours, and materials can be a heavy load for gyms who are already struggling to rebound.
There are additional solutions. Powerzone O3 generators from Scandia are scientifically proven technology to eradicate dozens of harmful bacteria and viruses at a low cost and no manual labor required. Launched in vacant spaces, the Powerzone can sanitize all surface types and the air, leaving the room fresh and sterilized, in sixty minutes or less. Imagine the peace of mind walking into your next yoga class knowing that the studio had not been cleaned simply with harsh smelling chemicals and an employee’s best efforts, but rather sanitized with an all natural, cleaning solution guaranteed to kill 99.9% of all harmful microorganisms. It is a simple tool, guaranteed to get the job done for a fraction of the cost.
This one is up to each of us. Slowing the spread requires the individual to practice common courtesy and conscientious self-care. Hand washing, mask wearing, and social distancing are in the hands of the patron once they walk through those gym doors. Facilities may vary on mask wearing requirements, but patrons should be respectful of what is asked of them. Hand washing reminders and other signage posted about the club may be of use. Allow returning members to learn about your new policies and procedures either via email or social media, or upon re-entry. Just ensure hand washing stations are clean and stocked, and sanitizer is available at major contact points (front desk, doors, water fountains).
While there is no one way to solve life during a pandemic, there are certainly things to avoid. The fitness industry has overall proven itself to be dynamic and strong. Those fitness clubs that can adapt with these constantly changing circumstances will hopefully find the best solution for their client base.