Looking to life after lockdown: will the gym sector recover?

Businesses of all shapes, sizes, and sectors are currently grappling with the immense challenges they face as the UK starts to very slowly emerge from lockdown. No industry has been left untouched by the coronavirus pandemic, but whilst some will start working their way back towards the models they had in place before, for others, life after lockdown will require a complete reimagining of how they do business. The gym sector is one such industry where ‘the new normal’ will need to look very different.

Of course, in a gym you have people from all walks of life coming together in an environment where they are sweating a lot and sharing changing facilities, lockers, water stations, and equipment all in close proximity to one another. It is therefore hugely difficult to overcome all the challenges posed by a normal gym environment, and particularly so for the types of businesses that have been most successful in recent years. If you look at the budget end of the market, for example, their model is based on low fees but a high volume of members, and they, therefore, have a lot of equipment packed into the space available. These gyms do tend to have large square footage – which makes social distancing theoretically more feasible – but if they have to drastically reduce member numbers to facilitate that, then that disrupts the high volume approach which is a key factor in their success. Similarly, it could also impact the flexibility of members being able to use their facilities 24/7. Communicating and ensuring members remain engaged will be an ongoing challenge for those chains.

At the other end of the spectrum are the high-end boutique facilities. These gyms rely on far less volume, but the city-centre spaces are usually small, and the class set up often involves individuals sharing and swapping equipment throughout.

No doubt operators will find some inventive ways to overcome these issues, but they will then face the challenge of informing and persuading gym goers that the environments are safe. In addition, work is undoubtedly going to need to be done to give gym-goers a compelling reason to return. One of the few industries which have benefited from the whole country going into lockdown is the at-home fitness market, as consumers have invested heavily in equipment and technology to enable them to keep up their exercise regimes at home or outside. And, whilst some people will be desperate to get back to the facilities, the motivation, the tuition and the camaraderie that only the gym environment can provide, others will undoubtedly be asking themselves whether they need to continue paying monthly membership fees or shelling out for expensive classes when they now have what they need at home.

The lure of the gym has always tempted people though – the ability to work out at home or outside isn’t new or special to life in lockdown. We’ve always had that option, and yet hundreds of thousands of us have chosen to become members of gyms and for very good reason. Reminding people of those reasons and persuading them to revive their gym-going habits is going to be the challenge.

Looking to life after lockdown

Communication with existing, paused, and potential members are going to be crucial to ensure recovery for gyms, but striking the balance between commercial needs and the health and safety of members (as well as the public at large) in all of that communication is not going to be easy. Operators simply cannot afford to get that wrong and so their messaging and tone need to be perfectly struck.

If you are a fitness chain, gym owner, or boutique studio considering how to manage your communications strategy as you navigate your way through the ongoing changes to the fitness landscape then do please get in touch with our team. For more information about our sport and fitness services click here.

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