When the coronavirus struck, fitness studios across the globe closed their doors. In the UK, at the time of writing, they are still closed with plans to re-open potentially in a few weeks, government advice pending. So, what does the future hold for studios in a world more concerned than ever about hygiene and fitness?
From the start of the lockdown period, people were encouraged to take care of their health by exercising regularly. Many people took this advice more seriously than ever before. Some of them turned to online services to get "fitness on-demand". The rise of Peloton has made live and on-demand spin sessions available, and they are now branching out into other services such as Yoga and boot camps. Live fitness company Les Mills has seen a 900% increase in sign-ups, and thousands of new clients have been added to PT Distinction as people begin prioritising their home workouts.
Could this be a potential business model for specialist fitness studios after lockdown has been lifted?
Who's Likely to Come to Your Studio Straight AwayGiven that so many people started exercising regularly for the first time during the lockdown, there may be a new market of excited beginners looking to start something new once studios re-open. People that otherwise wouldn't have considered trying an unusual or daunting class for the first time.
People that use a specialist studio for their fitness requirements tend to have a serious commitment to their goals and also towards their preferred brand. If your facility provides martial arts, yoga, Pilates or specialised fitness services, you are likely to recover somewhat quicker than general mainstream commercial gyms. Mainly thanks to your dedicated athletes and the social network that you work so hard to create.
The type of services you offer may be hard to replicate in a home environment. Even if you were able to keep your clients engaged for these past months by providing online coaching, probably both you and your clients are looking forward to working together in person again. Firstly because of the strong social bonds, but also for the complex movements that may require "hands-on" supervision.
Despite this, it's likely that specialist studios, like commercial gyms, will be slow to recover. People who had a good routine in place before lockdown might have stopped training and have reverted to bad habits. Someone feeling like they've lost fitness may have also lost confidence to show up in an intimate environment where people are more likely to notice the change.
Financials are also an important aspect to consider. Some of your clients may have financial difficulties post-COVID that make returning to a regular gym membership difficult. While reduced price memberships could motivate people to return, it's not a long term solution for your business, nor your clients.
So let's take a look at what other opportunities you have to serve your current clients best and attract new ones that just realised they want to do something about their fitness goals.
When fitness facilities are allowed to re-open, you likely won't be able to operate at the "old" full capacity since you will be required to adhere to social distancing guidelines. What that means is you need to figure out your "new" capacity and put measures in place through the house rules, so your members understand how you will operate moving forward.
Hybrid training can be an excellent solution for your 1-2-1 clients to bridge the gap and provide a platform to your clients where they still receive your full support while seeing you regularly for exercise form checks and technical training. You will help them take ownership of their progress by encouraging them to complete their workouts at home and checking in with them every week.
Some of your clients may have just realised how much flexibility online training gives them and choose to stick to being supported fully online only. This option will be particularly appealing for people who are at higher risk of becoming very ill if contracting the novel coronavirus.
If your clinic is specialised in training older adults, people with health conditions or obese clients, they may choose to not go into crowds for a longer time to come, but they will still need interaction with other humans. If you can keep providing an excellent online option to them, they will be very grateful, and you never know, it may become a service tier that will grow considerably over time.
Live Streaming Classes:
For your group training clients, you can keep streaming your group sessions from your studio once you re-open. This way, you allow your members to join the class even when it's fully booked. You can also launch a fully online new membership option for people who are not able to commit to in-person sessions for a variety of reasons. They may have a hectic work schedule, live too far or are being classed as at risk for COVID-19 and advised not to leave their home.
It's summer in Europe, and many people have become familiar with exercising outdoors during the lockdown. Now that small groups of 6 are allowed to interact in public spaces; you might want to consider taking your services to the nearby local park.
That can include 1-2-1 personal training sessions, small group boot camp, yoga, boxing with no pad work or sparring, Pilates, Thai Chi or any other martial arts and slowly start to get accustomed to working out while socially distanced. It can be an excellent opportunity for you to test out how to design group sessions where people are at a fair distance from each other, including you. You can then take that experience back to your studio when you eventually open your doors again.
The Future of Specialist Studios and Fitness ClinicsOne of the drawbacks of a small specialist studio, when compared with large commercial gym spaces, is the floor plan. The smaller size of the facility could likely make it more difficult to maintain social distancing measures and cut the capacity significantly.
If classes fill up and hit capacity as dictated by the social distancing required and restricted by the available floor space - people may look for alternative ways to train. Some of them may be unwilling to keep paying for a membership to something that they can't use the way they used to.
Therefore, specialist fitness studios that can quickly adapt to the social distancing measures are more likely to succeed. That might include adjusting your services to a more robust and resilient method of delivery - possibly including the service options mentioned above.
It may involve serving a smaller albeit still dedicated market while people get used to training again around others, but that can mean you need to raise your prices and in line with that, provide something so unique, people will want to take that rise.
The most important aspect of using a specialist fitness facility is the outstanding level of coaching required, and the depth of relationships in your community. It's not impossible to deliver these aspects through an alternative business model, with some planning and preparation.
When your studio, at last, re-open their doors, the community that you serve will still be interested in the incredible results that you can help them achieve. The need for accountability and support you provide for them to reach their goals will remain. By being mindful of the service you provide, it will make you better instructors, coaches, senseis and yogis because it will keep your clients at the heart of re-building a fitness business which is truly fit for purpose. You may even come out of lockdown with a more robust business model for the experience.