Ravindra Das described the end of the first lockdown in distant April as being a literal do or die situation. As an experienced personal fitness trainer, he had two choices — wait until gyms were allowed to open again or go online. Two months hence, he’s glad he chose the second option. “It was a question of survival,” he said.
Like other businesses in the city, the $ 821-mn Indian fitness industry, too, has buckled under the weight of the lockdown and with no date of resumption in sight, Mumbai’s gyms and fitness centres are unsure how long they can carry on paying crushing rents and keep employees on their rosters.
“The lockdown has wiped out our profits,” said Badal Makwana, a franchise holder of Anytime Fitness and managing director (MD) of its gym in Andheri West.
Branded gyms in upscale neighbourhoods like Lokhandwala and Khar West, where Makwana’s gyms are located, require a base investment of anywhere between Rs 2 crore and Rs 3 crore. Purchasing state-of-the-art equipment, hiring experienced trainers and maintenance staff costs extra.
Gyms, fitness centres and swimming pools were shut on March 13 with just a day’s notice. The closure has left questions of memberships fees and refunds unanswered. “Things are complicated because no revenue is coming in. We are being pressured into paying rents and are still in talks over a waiver,” Makwana said.
Vikas Jain, MD of Anytime Fitness India and general secretary of industry body India Active, said that many smaller fitness centres in Mumbai have shut shop permanently and sold equipment. India Active estimates that there are two lakh gyms, fitness centres, yoga studios and businesses selling fitness equipment and food supplements in the country, employing nearly 50 lakh people. Gyms, added Jain, comprise half of those establishments and employees.
In a recent survey of 331 gyms in Mumbai and Delhi conducted by India Active, over 55 per cent respondents said their businesses would not survive if the shutdown continued past June. Those respondents rose to 71.9 per cent and 88.52 per cent when asked to rate their chances of survival if conditions persisted in July and August, respectively.
In a letter sent on Thursday to the Ministry of Micro, Small & Medium Enterprises, India Active wrote: “Majority of these fitness centres are registered with MSME and the debt continues to rise with no sign of income returning anytime soon… which has already led to massive unemployment and business loss for the entire ecosystem.”
The unprecedented shutdown has forced cult.fit, which operates 16 centres in Mumbai and a Fitness First Centre in Oshiwara, to press pause on subscriptions paid by members and offer live workout sessions on video instead, said a company spokesperson. 48 Fitness, another chain with multiple centres in Mumbai, also plans to branch out into digital fitness, said CEO Vijay Thakkar.
Persuading clients to train on video link from their homes is easier for an experienced trainer like Das, who has spent a decade chiseling bodies. “Junior personal trainers and general trainers don’t have any clients at the moment because they do not have the contacts that seniors do. Many junior trainers have been calling me asking for clients who they can train online. But when I am struggling for clients myself, I do not know how to help someone else,” he said.
Das worked with 12 active clients at the gym prior to the lockdown. He is now down to just three.
“Many of my clients are either depressed due to the lockdown or lack the motivation to train. Many are also facing financial difficulties,” he said.
Das’ employer Makwana has retained all his employees by paying them a lumpsum package at the outset of the lockdown to make up for his inability to pay them salaries. Faced with seeing out the lockdown with just his savings, Das decided to take on addition clients – training a small group of novices remotely at a discounted rate.
Yet, if a recent survey of 12,000 gym-goers across the country conducted by India Active’s is an indicator, 59 per cent of those surveyed expressed willingness to return to the gym either immediately or within a month of them reopening.
The trade body has proposed a host of changes to workouts once restrictions are lifted – making temperature checks, masks, gloves and visors as well the Aarogya Setu app compulsory; reducing the number of members per exercise slots; ensuring greater distances between individuals; discontinuing the use of showers; mandating that members bring separate gym shoes and disinfecting equipment, surfaces and washrooms at regular intervals.
“Fitness centres help build immunity. The government needs to understand that people staying locked up in their homes need to stay healthy. If you can open up malls and places of worship, why not gyms?” asked Jain.
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