Coronavirus: can city gyms survive? | FT

The coronavirus pandemic has led to a shift in exercising habits with more former commuters now exercising at home or with online trainers. The FT’s Daniel Garrahan examines whether traditional fitness centres – in London, New York and Hong Kong – can survive if we continue to work from home

We don’t know what the future will hold if we’re going to have a second wave of covid we’re adapting one thing we don’t want to do is stop exercising training in your local neighborhood this is the future it’s here the coronavirus pandemic has changed how we live how we work and how we keep fit but as commuters started to work from home financial centers emptied

We’re going to have a look at the gym industry in london new york and hong kong to see how it can survive at the start of the year the fitness industry was thriving but analysts say uk gym memberships have fallen by almost 20 this year according to ibis world the market capitalization of the uk’s combined health and fitness sector has plummeted by 28 revenue

Generated by the uk gym and fitness industry meanwhile could also fall by 28 nuffield health has 110 gyms across the uk i’ve been a member of its city of london branch for over a decade but like many former office workers i’ve been working from home for most of the year so i decided to freeze my membership and instead i’ve been working out from home quite a

Lot has changed since i was last here in early march infection prevention starts here at the front door the first thing you notice is the reception staff who greet you from behind your protective face visor before you can enter the building you have to sanitize your hands and confirm you don’t have any covert symptoms members are then instructed to swipe in so

The gym can provide the test and trace service equipment’s still shared but members are encouraged to disinfect as they go workout stations are clearly segregated to allow for social distancing not that it’s needed this place is dead the financial impact has been so significant and you’ve seen it globally we haven’t taken any revenue from our existing customers

For five months and also in that time not had any acquisition of new customers we had 20 percent of our membership decided it wasn’t right for them to come back when we reopened percent of nothing sites are in town centre locations and we have seen a decline in usage in those as less people have come back to work we’ve seen many members from clubs like this one

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In the city of london utilizing many of these sites out perhaps where they live and where they’re commuting from it’s been a particularly tough time for personal trainers who rely on regular clients to top up their wages some clients have opted for virtual personal training others are staying away it’s coming up for six o’clock uh on a wednesday afternoon in

Normal times it would be pretty busy in here wouldn’t it we are pretty much the only people in this space at least half of the clients cancel their services so it’s tough it’s hard for us but for those people who are coming in what’s the feedback been like i mean it must be like having your own private gym yeah that’s what i keep saying to our members enjoy while

You can for those city center gym operators that don’t have enough fields medical centers or local branches to fall back on things are even tougher the biggest issue is uncertainty will there be another full scale lockdown when gyms close the first time operators dug deep into their reserves and whilst most of the major players have survived for now i think it’s

Questionable how well they would fare if they had to close for a second time coronavirus has also wiped out the so-called sleeper members these are the people who continue to pay a monthly membership fee despite rarely using the gym people cancelled their direct debits for stuff they didn’t really need sleeper membership in 2019 was 20 of the total membership for

The fitness facility or gym industry in the uk so again it’s going to take a while to regain that market share that they once had it’s a similar story in new york city gym operators were forced to close in march and have only just been allowed to reopen with reduced capacity while members have to wear masks while working out but a crisis can present opportunity

Bikelin is an indoor cycling studio like all gyms we closed in march we wrote to our members and said stick with us help us out we’re a small business we’re going to keep our staff 70 members stayed with us but it wasn’t just one month it was six months and it was those 70 members that continued to pay their memberships all through covid that kept us alive it

Was that loyal community of local riders that enabled bikeland to pivot quickly it’s now the only outdoor spin studio in new york city we’re getting lots of new people every day probably 60 percent are new people that are coming from all over new york city we reached out to instructors from all over not just our bench of instructors but from studios all over the


City that are closed they’re coming to check it out we’re new yorkers we like to be together we like to work out together it’s what we’re used to i’ve lived through hurricane sandy i’ve lived through 9 11 i’ve seen new york come and go on several occasions and what i’ve learned is don’t ever bet against new york might take a little time it’s not going to be

Easy but we’re coming back in hong kong gyms have been forced to close twice since the start of the pandemic and have only recently reopened meanwhile people are flocking to the coast to play beach tennis beach volleyball and they’re taking to the seas on stand-up paddleboards we have a nice offer of certain products that people really needed in this crisis and

In this time of kovid just like fitness equipment for example kayak beach gear we’ve been i would say pretty successful in this crisis and it has played in our favor in in a way maximilian lie is a personal trainer who runs boot camp style outdoor training classes social distancing measures meant he had to cut the number of people in his classes from 40 to just

Three he adapted his business charging more and introducing the use of weights and resistance bands but hong kong summers are hot and humid and training outdoors isn’t for everyone working outdoor is a very niche market they don’t mind you know no shower they don’t mind the heat yes with covet people learn that okay there are substitutions but when their first

Choice become available i’m pretty sure they will go back to it it’s not the end of gyms i think we’re seeing a shift some people will not go back others will definitely gyms have to face a new challenge in how they communicate their safety standards but since the announcement of the gym reopening again we have seen a slight drop in sales so it’s definitely not

The end people will go back to it while gyms in the city of london are quiet fitness studios in more residential areas have attracted former office workers we’ve seen an uptick in people that were working in the city beforehand and are now either working two days a week in the city or working at home and are looking for something to fill the gap until they return

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People aren’t sure if they’re going to be returning to the office um full time or when that’s when that’s going to happen it’s pretty clear looking around the capacity is being cut considerably you’ve got these kind of workout zones here i imagine there were many more people training in the old world can you sustain this approach for a long period of time or do

You need the regulations to loosen to survive we’re running classes currently um with boxes with 15 boxes and prior to lockdown our classes were 27 to 36 capacity so obviously that’s a huge a huge draw it’s not ideal but it is sustainable we’ve seen about a 75 return to normal august it was actually a better month than we expected uh but we turned a small profit

Which that’s great which we weren’t we weren’t we weren’t expecting 20 seconds changed the weight we don’t know if there’s going to be another lockdown if that does happen we are able to pivot quickly so if we have to go back to the zoom sessions that’s that’s what we’ll do is the idea of training locally rather than near where you would have worked something

That you’re going to stick with oh yeah definitely yeah yeah i’m not competing back to victoria anytime soon even started taking up cycling like we don’t even have public transport anymore got a basket investors should be concerned about the gym industry coronavirus has increased the external competition you’ve got the likes of peloton and large organizations

Actually see an opportunity such as apple external competition from the likes of zoom workouts or instagram live workouts personalities online have really established a profile and gained a following we know that offering a digital product alongside a bricks and mortar membership positively influences members to return to their gym so savvy operators need to be

Offering a hybrid product combining on-demand content with physical access they want to continue to be current and relevant to their members too due to flexible working patterns and no longer doing all their exercise within the four walls of the gym it’s hard to predict whether there will be more lockdowns for how long people will be working and training from home

Or if gyms will again be forced to shut their doors some people remain reluctant to return to indoor training preferring instead to exercise in the open air those fitness businesses that adapt and pivot quickly and provide a space where people feel safe at least have a fighting chance

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Coronavirus: can city gyms survive? | FT By Financial Times

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