The massive spread of COVID-19 has undoubtedly disrupted the fitness industry. As people are being asked to stay home, and at a safe distance from others, health officials around the world have mandated fitness studios and gyms close their doors.
This shift in reality has forced many fitness owners to reinvent themselves, motivating them to learn a new process and discover different ways to reach their community. While the end of this pandemic seems near, our idea of "normal" is still stuck in the distant past. A new normal will have to take its place as we navigate these uncharted waters.
We spoke with fitness studio and gym owners in the Peerfit network about their experiences during these unprecedented times. Here’s what they’ve learned.
Adapt and be flexible
It goes without saying that if you don’t change with the times, you may find yourself between a rock and a hard place. COVID-19 has presented an immense amount of challenges to the fitness industry and the biggest takeaway studios have found is to adapt and be flexible. Illuminate Sweat owner, Kristen Davis, said this perfectly upon being asked about her reaction to COVID-19 and its effects on her studio.
“From a business perspective, Illuminate Sweat had no other choice but to survive, so we had to learn to adapt very quickly. Luckily we were very in tune to what was going on in the rest of the country, and many had already closed, so we actually started the virtual option for our members before we officially closed. So during the first phase, we realized that all options were on the table, and we were willing to try anything.”
Being flexible allows your studio to ebb and flow with the world around it, and although some decisions may be difficult to make, they may be for the greater good. We don’t know what the future holds when it comes to COVID-19 and so continuing to morph and change with the times is truly the only way to handle this pandemic.
Bernadette Birne, the owner of Stamford Yoga Center, summarized how to be adaptable and flexible, “I learned that sometimes change is a marathon and sometimes it’s a sprint—this was a sprint.” The first couple of weeks of the pandemic hitting the U.S. really threw everyone for a tailspin. The adaptability that came with that sprint has allowed so many fitness owners to adjust and persevere.
Going virtual means expanding your reach
To no surprise, virtual is the new black. From large national fitness facilities to small local boutique studios, virtual fitness has taken the country (and world) by storm. While this is exciting for some, it has also shown to be quite the challenge whether you’re technologically savvy or not. Fitness facilities have found trouble with crashing WiFi connections, bad microphones, capped audiences on video platforms, less tech-savvy instructors, and struggles with finding a place in your home to film. Regardless of these speed bumps, owners have pushed through in working towards making their classes go virtual.
NYC-based fitness studio, CONBODY, has found great success in their virtual platform. Their classes are bodyweight-only which allows anyone to participate, while still providing a very difficult workout. Founder & CEO, Coss Marte, told us he felt very positive about going virtual and that they hopped on the opportunity right away. He even went on to say that “we’ve trained people from all around the world due to our new virtual fitness option, from Europe to South America”. This wasn’t something they were able to do before. Virtual fitness wasn’t part of their plan. Now that they are online, their classes can be streamed anywhere in the world, giving them more recognition and popularity.
Another Peerfit partner with a nationwide presence, Life Time. was very positive about the online options Life Time has been able to offer due to COVID-19. Chris Lichtenberger, Life Time’s Director of Business Development told us,
“In a matter of a week, we launched on-demand classes that have since surpassed one million streams through our website and YouTube. We’ve found new ways to communicate with them (members) and provide them content they want for both their physical and mental well-being.”
Whether virtual is temporary or permanent for your studio, virtual classes can offer a greater impact in many ways. A larger reach for your studio means more exposure which can easily turn into more revenue!
Community is key
In these isolating times, people are seeking community now more than ever. Community is more than accountability, it creates a sense of belonging. It’s the support we receive through these hard times and what reminds us that we’re not weathering the storm alone—we’re in it together.
It’s important to let your members know you’re there for them and committed to improving their health at home. “Our business has always been based on relationships - during this time, it’s been a beautiful example of what true commitment to integrity and relationship can lead to” said getFit615’s owner, Kate Moore. The transition hasn’t been easy, but Kate feels that maintaining honesty and transparency about the troubling times has brought her even closer to her team and community.
“A few major revenue streams have been ripped out from under us in the blink of an eye”, Kate explains, “I’ve been honest with my team and with our community about that. I feel closer to my team because of that - they’re doing everything they know how to do on their own time to keep the business alive.”
Keeping your community close virtually certainly requires out-of-the-box thinking. One of California’s leading health club groups, In-Shape, knew it would be hard not seeing their members in-person every day. Still, they sought to provide them the same great content in an online environment. Omar Rahman, In-Shape’s Senior Director of Strategic Partnerships & Insights, shared that “Our Marketing team has been amazing in reaching out to our members on a daily basis with workout content, recipe and nutrition guidance, exclusive offers from our partners, motivational content, etc.” Like many studios and gyms, In-Shape prides themselves on the strength of their member community and wouldn’t let going virtual change that. Omar went on to say,
“It feels like our members are still very committed to staying active, especially since we are all a bit stir-crazy right now – we are just helping them with new and creative ways to stay active while being at home for so long. Our member community is so strong in the clubs, and now we are seeing it with participation and engagement online.”
Creating engagement with your members doesn’t have to be through fitness alone. Heath Ward, owner of Lion Chaser Fitness in Atlanta, has been implementing a ‘Chasing the Weekend’ series online, where he and his fitness community get together for a virtual happy hour, complete with a virtual bartender and all!
Change is inevitable - embrace it
For the most part, gyms and studios have never dabbled in the online fitness realm. With the drastic change in demand, many studios and gyms have had to dive in head first. Making big, quick business decisions in these times hasn’t been easy, but many businesses have accepted the fact that change is inevitable and it’s best to welcome it with open arms.
“It seems like we were thrusted into the future” says Omar Rahman with In-Shape, “Now we’re in a world where there’s a ‘new normal’ and virtual workouts are going to be a big part of that. Even though the manner in which we came here was not great, it is a positive change, it forced us into the next wave of the industry.”
Kristen Davis, owner of Illuminate Sweat, feels this shift was a positive and needed change to the industry.
“Many of our clients work from home, have children, travel for work, etc. and coming into the studio some days will not be an option. To now be able to add this extra value to our memberships for our clients is very exciting.”
Kristen is seeing her business from a new perspective, “This is the new normal… and moving forward, studios will have to have an online / on-demand option to be competitive. It is an extra revenue source that can help us diversify.”
Meanwhile at Lion Chaser Fitness, owner Heath Ward is looking for ways to branch out and grow beyond the physical aspect of fitness. Some of the ways Heath is looking to achieve this is by,
“...setting the bar high when it comes to the quality of the workout and the technology used to showcase it, thinking through new ways to engage and grow my community online that might be outside the fitness realm, connecting with local brands and partners in the Buckhead area to sustain and integrate fitness into the "everyday" experiences my clients have, and really looking for ways to make fitness more than just working out.”
We don’t know what the future for the fitness industry holds, and whether or not virtual is here to stay. The uncertainty can be discomforting, but it is the discomfort that pushes us to change. As with any change, new opportunities and growth can only happen when we choose to fully embrace it.
There’s always a silver lining
With hardship comes silver linings. It introduces us to new opportunities we may not have considered before, providing us the chance to change our course and reinvent ourselves.
When asked what her greatest takeaway from this experience has been thus far, Kaia FIT’s Head of Franchise Support & Development, told us:
“...humans are truly amazing. In the face of extreme fear, I have seen so many friends and family members adapt, create something beautiful, embrace change and cultivate a 'new normal' that works for them. It's been a really special time in our history, to experience something like this. While it came with plenty of sadness and negativity, it has also come with plenty of grace and love.”
We don’t have to face adversity on our own and can all play a part in supporting each other through these hard times. Clients are the driving force of fitness businesses but let’s not forget our employees and team members. Chris Lichtenberger with Life Time shares,
“Never underestimate the power of your employees and coworkers, and be ready to innovate.”
The wide-spread panic of the pandemic has caused a 36% increase in American’s anxiety in a short two-month timespan. The fitness industry was thrown into fast-forward as we had to innovate together to keep people’s minds and bodies in a healthy state. Although these circumstances have been unfortunate, studios have found this change to be much-needed and even for some, wanted. While there is a silver lining in everything that happens in life, it goes to show that a positive attitude takes you a long way. Through the support of community, we will make it through these unprecedented times.
We're lucky to be partnered with some of the most dedicated and passionate gyms and studios in the industry. Here's some post-COVID advice we learned through taking the time to chat with them.
- Abide by local capacity regulations
- Take into consideration what safe social distancing looks like to you and apply it to your facilities
- Become more “touchless” while still providing a great experience
- Cleanliness should be a top priority
- Train your staff appropriately
- Continue online options
- Require reservations for all studio offerings
- Try using reservation floor indicators in your classes (place 6 feet apart to help practice social distancing)
- Lay out equipment (if needed) prior to class
- Space classes out appropriately to allow ample time to clean (and to avoid crowded lobbies and hallways)