COVID-19 phases in the fitness industry: where we are, and where we are heading

By Melania Armento

Published 15 October 2020

When COVID-19 started impacting our daily routines and challenged the fitness industry, we knew we had to select a long-term view to think strategically about how best to equip ourselves for the future.

Even Forbes wrote about the management challenge that coronavirus represents for the industry and the uncertainties that it brings with it.

As we prepare for a second-wave we know that eventually, the crisis will end. But the fact of the matter is that the waves felt by the virus and subsequent on-and-off closures is definitely going to affect the fitness sector and our industry for years to come.

So, here’s the question: how can you prepare when thinking 3, 6, 9 months down the line? How will people behave after 2-3 months staying at home when they go back to normality?

The four business stages of coronavirus

We have highlighted four phases of how the coronavirus outbreak has affected the industry and what we can expect in the near future. How is this actually going to be impacting the industry?

To try to answer this question, Virtuagym launched a series of webinar to keep the fitness community connected, share the best practice and good strategies aiming to help the industry accelerate out of the pandemic.

Phases of coronavirus crisis in fitness industry

1. Confusion

Stage one was confusion. This was the earliest stage when people were still looking for direction and guidance. The situation was suddenly occupying everybody’s mind and everyone was eager for information and news.

At this time, emotions ranged from panic to complete and utter indifference. Members needed to be reassured, encouraged and motivated to stay with you during this crisis. This is also relevant for those operating during the second-wave. Once again, members are confused and unsure when this crisis will end.

Next, we are going to discuss some tips from the fitness community on how to keep your gym members on board. Don’t be afraid to ask your community for help, even if you feel like lots of memberships are dropping out or freezing contracts.

2. Accept and Adapt

We named phase two “accept and adapt” since this is the phase in which people are  starting to accept the pandemic as the new reality, instead of a temporary situation that has been changing everyone’s habits.

Everything feels kind of normal again, although it’s not and there is still a lot of uncertainty during this time. The feeling in this phase is solidarity: that we are all going to get through this together.

In these two phases you have to keep in mind that your brand may not be the thing that’s top of mind for members. And because of that, it is important to make sure that you are being conscious of the personal and professional implications that people are experiencing. As we navigate the accepting process of the second-wave, don’t push topics that are beyond your members comfort at this time.

3. Preparing

The preparing stage is the point at which we have a decent sense of where the economy is heading. It is important to be critical: are we getting to a point where the economy is going to resurrect itself? Or are we potentially heading in the direction of a further financial crisis? Here is where companies will start strategizing the post corona era.

In this phase it’s important to make sure that you are thinking ahead and not hanging on to the COVID-19 story for too long. Many fitness businesses might feel like going back to 2019 habits as well, but be aware that it’s your opportunity to move your business forward and not look back.

4. Ramping Up

And then finally the last stage is going to be “Ramping up”. Organizations at this point are going to have a clear sense of goals and directions, they will look beyond just short-term situations and start looking towards implementing long-term solutions as well.

One of the things to be careful about is waiting too long to enter the game again. You have to be aware of the new standards in the industry and foresee where people’s minds will be.

Will there be sanitary standards within facilities? What are members going to expect in terms of how a facility should be cleaned and maintained? How many people can workout at the same time in a facility? These things are likely to change as time goes on.

Imagine the fitness club of the future

What are some of the topics that you need to think about right now in order to prepare for that eventual day?

Consider your set-up

You need to be ready to host your gym members in whatever way you can. You have probably already moved around your gym floor in order to cater to new guidelines but as government recommendations shift, try continuing to adapt. That could mean taking work outs outside again if your facility is forced to close during the second-wave.

It’s very important to really think about a new kind of gym, completely different from how it was before the COVID-19 crisis. Try to have enough space for square meters for each person.

Maybe you can put all machines like a circuit so you only go in a machine once and you are sure that is clean, there is enough space between one equipment and the other and people can move without getting too close to one another.

Cleaning measures

Since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic we have been witnessing lower numbers than average in terms of attendance because people are still increasingly worried about germs and spreading the virus.

As an owner-operator you need to make sure that you’re thinking of that strategy and make it more obvious about the cleanliness that you’re providing within your clubs.

Don’t forget to communicate that you are following exactly what has been recommended by the experts in terms of cleaning and making sure it’s a safe environment for them to work out. Make it more visible: invest in making sure this is this nice aromas around the club, things smell nice, things look nice and you can see people cleaning more.

Keep encouraging the new habits

Be a trigger for your members to keep being healthy and keep up with their workouts routines. Some of them might be new members who started working out thanks to your digital offering and now need to be motivated and encourage them to not give up on their progress.

Be that trigger to go out and do that run your member has long been preparing for. Have your 7 p.m. class for your members who are now used to workout with you on a Zoom live stream.

If you’re providing the platform for them to share their progress, that they’ve been on a run, that they have managed to workout despite not feeling like, and receive the reward of other people, you are boosting their motivation.

With Virtuagym you can easily personalize your community page and create the space for your gym members to interact and support each other and say “well done”, “keep up with the good work”.

If all those people are from the community that used to be in your gym and in your virtual classes, then they’ll be associating your community with their exercise habits and patterns.

Melania Armento

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