Many Neighbourhood Gyms and Boutique Studios to Shutter Amid Second Wave

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The fitness sector in Canada is a $4-billion industry annually but Canadians are in real danger of losing many of their neighbourhood gyms and boutique studios as the country struggles through a second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic and the growing restrictions being placed on businesses.

The Fitness Industry Council of Canada, which represents more than 6,000 fitness clubs, gyms, and studios from coast-to-coast, is worried about the future of many of its members as governments continue to look at ways to stop the spread of the coronavirus in communities.

Scott Wildeman, President of the Council, said restrictions are having a huge impact on the industry.

“If you look at what’s happened in Quebec for example, they’ve totally closed fitness facilities for ongoing six weeks now. And it’s perplexing to us because we have a very good track record. We’ve had north of 20 million check-ins across the country and less than 0.001 percent of transmission of COVID in our facilities,” said Wildeman, who is also a partner with GYMVMT in Calgary and Edmonton. “So what that means is obviously everybody’s had staff or members who’ve tested positive but our cleanliness and our spacing and our systems are containing it and it’s not spreading in our facilities.

“But what we have learned is the push to close gyms and bars and restaurants really is because there’s so many people where they don’t know where they caught COVID and the largest source of COVID transmission is actually unknown so there’s jumping to conclusions. So what’s happening in Quebec is they’ve closed these facilities now for six weeks yet they still have record cases. And there’s rent support applications. The rent support is theoretically available as of September 27 but we have facilities that just don’t even know how they’re going to pay anything. It’s a lot of stress.”

Wildeman said it’s not known how many businesses in the industry have already shut down. There have been some but most are still hanging in there.

Exercise Proven to Help Those with COVID-19

“We’re down to about 50 to 60 percent of pre-COVID revenues and attendance. We are going to be in a full rebuild once this is over and that’s something we’re trying to make our case to the government is how can we be part of a national solution because we do believe our product, exercise, really helps mental health, anxiety, and depression. But it also helps, if you look at the literature, people that are impacted by COVID more so are those who have chronic conditions. Let’s try to get as many Canadians without chronic conditions as possible. We know the benefits of exercise.”

January has traditionally been a month where the industry gets a big boost with people flocking to fitness facilities to burn off the excess calories they gained during the holiday season and committing to some New Year’s resolutions.

Continued restrictions will have a huge impact on the industry then.

“January typically is a real boon in terms of new customer generation acquisition. So if we don’t have that, then next year 2021 will be even harder. The government supports will be theoretically in place and that will be helpful but it will be impactful for the industry and we will be in a rebuild for quite awhile post-COVID,” added Wildeman.

Data Estimates Roughly 25% of Gyms Could Close in First Half of 2021

Nick Rizzo, Fitness Research Director at RunRepeat, a website that reviews running shoes, said some of the data he’s seen estimates that 20 to 25 percent of gyms could close in the first six months of 2021.

“These next three to six months are going to be telling. They’re going to be incredibly important because not only has the pandemic gotten worse, people are going to feel less comfortable about returning, and they are still looking at other options when it comes to gyms and working out. They’re having to go to other options as restrictions come back into place,” said Rizzo.

“And to be away from something for an extended period of time, you’re looking more and more likely to find a solution you’re okay with, you’re happy with and you get results from. I think that’s happening simultaneously while the digital and at home fitness industry is getting funded. They know they can capitalize on this moment and take a large share of the market.”

Rizzo said he’s seen a statistic where 12 percent of most gym members sign up in January. If people don’t come this year and sign up, and cancellation of memberships continue, it will be very difficult for the industry.

“If that happens, we’re going to see lots and lots of gyms struggle. Even big corporate gyms have struggled and gone bankrupt. It’s not just local gyms going under. I think we might see a major loss of some local gyms just because it’s hard to stay afloat. But at the same time the one thing that people do want during all this is a sense of community, a sense of belonging, interaction and engagement with people.

“Gyms that have cultivated that or are able to provide a more one to one solution in a safer environment, less people, more comfortable setting, higher price tags, the ones able to do that and adapt to this will be able to survive, endure longer and hopefully be able to make it out the other end.”

The question as well for the future is what is going to happen to gyms as the digital and at-home solutions become better and better and better.

Article Author

Mario Toneguzzi
Mario Toneguzzi
Mario Toneguzzi, based in Calgary, has more than 40 years experience as a daily newspaper writer, columnist, and editor. He worked for 35 years at the Calgary Herald covering sports, crime, politics, health, faith, city and breaking news, and business. He is the Senior News Editor with Retail Insider in addition to working as a freelance writer and consultant in communications and media relations/training.

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