Sector Spotlight: The Gym Sector Gets Ready for a Post-Covid Comeback

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The Covid-19 pandemic has prompted millions of people to turn to home workouts and daily runs - so what’s the outlook for the gym sector as we start reopening the economy? Here, we’re exploring how gyms will make a comeback post-Covid. 

As fitness facilities have been shut for so long and many people have found home-based exercise incredibly convenient, the future of the gym sector is fairly uncertain. Businesses in the fitness industry have now been open for a couple of weeks, so let’s take a look at the gym sector trends shaping the way brands are evolving. 

How will gyms make a comeback post-COVID?

By now, most people are aware of the two key dates for businesses in the gym sector in England: 

  • 12th April - Indoor leisure facilities, such as gyms and swimming pools, can open, but customers can only use them on their own or with members of their own household.

  • 17th May - Businesses can run indoor group sports and exercise classes, as well as large-scale, indoor sporting events - either with a half-full audience or with under 1,000 people (whichever is lower). Companies can also organise large-scale, outdoor events - either with a half-full audience or under 4,000 people (whichever is lower).

Like most of the guidance delivered during the pandemic, restrictions for the gym sector come with a few extra conditions until lockdown rules are lifted in June: 

  • Although businesses running outdoor sports classes could reopen on the 29th March, gyms had to wait until the 12th April. And companies hosting indoor adult group classes can’t get up and running until the 17th May. So, if you own a gym providing group sessions, you can welcome customers from April but should hold off on running classes until May. 

  • Customers must wear face masks when walking through a gym or leisure centre (though can remove them to exercise).

  • Customers can’t mix indoors with anyone outside their household until the 17th May.

  • Customers and staff must adhere to social distancing rules. 

Customer demand ahead of the gym sector comeback

Over the course of the Covid-19 pandemic, the gym sector has suffered hugely. Between March and mid-July last year, fitness centre chain The Gym Group lost 178,000 members - a fifth of its total customer base (IBISWorld).

While gyms were shut, active adults turned to technology and online exercise classes to keep fit. Peloton, a leading exercise equipment company, doubled its customers and revenue last year, as more than three million people decided to use the brand.

Lots of organisations have published research trying to gauge interest in gyms among consumers, but the findings are inconsistent. One report revealed 36 percent of women and 29 percent of men are now more willing to work out at home as opposed to a gym (CIL Management Consultants). 

RunRepeat completed a comprehensive study of over 4,500 people across 122 countries, and discovered a fifth of active adults used the gym as their primary exercise outlet in January 2020. But now, just 8.2 percent say it’s their first choice - and, in the UK, the percentage sits at just 6.8. 

Not everyone can afford an exercise bike at home or has a large house or garden. Many people live in small flats and in shared accommodation, so gyms are the only place they can satisfactorily work out, especially in the cold and dark winter months.
—Humphrey Cobbold, CEO of PureGym 

Financial forecasting experts are also concerned about the gym sector’s performance this year. According to Statista, the fitness club industry reached a value of over £2 billion before the pandemic, which is expected to fall to £1.62 billion in 2021.

But, according to another study, 87 percent of former gym members say they’ll probably resume their membership, and 27 percent of non-members are hoping to join a nearby fitness club (Savanta ComRes). 

The National Post Lockdown Recovery Survey is even more optimistic, suggesting 88 percent of people are keen to use gyms as or more frequently in the future. Just eight percent of the respondents said they’ll use fitness centres less, while four percent believed they wouldn’t return.

Gym sector trends amid the UK reopening

There aren’t any official statistics about how popular businesses in the gym sector have been over the past two weeks. But there are a few factors pointing to a promising future for the industry.

Firstly, instances of coronavirus infection have been low in gyms. Data from ukactive suggests there were just 1.7 cases per 100,000 gym visits between July and December last year, so customers may be comfortable returning to fitness facilities.

Also, fitness centres are taking a proactive approach to safety as the UK starts reopening the economy. Aside from introducing a regular sanitising regime, some gym businesses are pumping fresh air into their premises, installing social distancing markers and using a booking system to monitor capacity. 

And, although some research findings are disappointing, the continuing benefits of in-person sessions and one-to-one support should support the ongoing popularity of fitness facilities. Lauren Ryan, a Mintel analyst believes there’s hope for the gym sector if businesses consider a hybrid model: 

"It would be foolish to think gyms can just go on the way they were before and not expect a loss of interest. They need to start thinking about their brands as not just location-based, but as wellbeing-focussed, that have locations but can deliver to the comfort of your own home or outdoors. And have something that differentiates them from digital fitness products." 

What government support is still available for businesses in the gym sector?

Not all businesses have been able to start welcoming customers back yet - and some are still trying to recoup significant losses. So, here are the government support packages still available: 

  • The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (open until September 2021)

  • The Coronavirus Statutory Sick Pay Rebate Scheme

  • The Vat Deferral New Payment Scheme (open until the 21st June 2021)

  • Business rates holiday for the 2020 to 2021 tax year covering retail, hospitality and leisure companies in England

  • The Recovery Loan Scheme

  • The Covid-19 Corporate Financing Facility

  • The Coronavirus Restart Grant

  • The Coronavirus Additional Restrictions Grant

  • The Local Restrictions Support Grants 

Running your own business as the UK starts reopening the economy

Point Franchise is here to support entrepreneurs and franchise owners as they navigate the challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic. Browse more lockdown-related guides in our article section or find out more about the fitness industry in 2021 Outlook: The State of Franchising in the Gym & Sport Sector.

>> Read more articles on the Gym sector

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