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No more pumping iron: Burdened by lockdown, fitness industry seeks a way out

Of the nearly 24,000 gyms and studios in the country, many are providing online training sessions over WhatsApp, Skype, and FaceTime to prevent business from running completely dry.

Written by Divya A , Pallavi Chattopadhyay | New Delhi | Published: May 12, 2020 2:13:16 am
Fitness industry, Fitness industry equipment, gym shut during coronavirus, fitness centres shut cornavirus, cornavirus impact on Fitness industry, coronavirus, coronavirus news, covid 19 tracker, covid 19 india tracker, There are around 24,000 gyms and studios in the country, according to an estimate by Fitternity, a web aggregator for fitness outlets. (File Photo)

Anmol Mahawar, a 19-year-old boxing trainer and HIIT coach at one of Mumbai’s Cult.fit centres, recently posted on her social media handle about being asked to resign over the phone. Hailing from Bhopal, Mahawar is the only earning member of her family — which has her father, mother and a younger sister — and was hoping to begin college this year by saving some money. She had to miss out on studies last year owing to financial constraints. Even though she was offered a compensation salary for 45 days, she says, “I didn’t oblige to the request. Over 800 employees have been laid off. It is heartbreaking to see them removing us in a second, when we gave our heart and soul to it.”

Apart from metro cities like Delhi and Mumbai, the fitness chain has a presence in cities like Indore, Amritsar, Kochi, Kota, Chandigarh, Jaipur, Surat, among others. “As many as 90% of the Cult.Fit trainers continue to be with us and have been moved to a fixed plus variable model to tide over the crisis. All employees part of the downsizing have been provided with a significant severance package to help them with the current situation, including extended health insurance for them and their families,” the company said in a statement.

Pravesh Gaur, who owns the Fast Fit chain of gyms in Delhi and Faridabad, has sent some of his staff on unpaid leave. “We are looking at a loss of more than 30 percent of annual sales; we have no other option,” says Gaur. Each of his gyms employs nearly 20 people, including trainers, cleaning staff and receptionists. While the trainers are still on board, he has let go of the rest.

As Nikhil Kakkar, COO of Gold’s Gym India, puts it, “Gyms in the country are bleeding right now.” Overseeing 150 gyms and employing 2,000 trainers, Kakkar says, “Gyms were shut much before the lockdown. In Mumbai, all our gyms closed on March 13. Rent forms a major chunk of our revenue, nearly 25 percent, and we are seeking waivers but landlords have not given any assurance yet. Payroll comprises 30 percent of our cost, while electricity takes up 10 percent. Payments are also to be made for housekeeping, vaults, security and maintenance of equipments; there’s a thin margin.”

One of the most popular chains for gyms in the world – Gold’s Gym – filed for bankruptcy on Monday, as the coronavirus pandemic hit the US economy. The 55-year old company is now looking to pursue restructuring for its 700 centres across the world. However, its India business remains safe, assures Karan Valecha, director and co-founder Gold’s Gym India. “This absolutely does not have any impact on Gold’s Gym India as a Master Franchise and we are committed to giving you the best fitness experience, as we have for the last 17 years and counting,” he says.

But according to Chirag Sethi, owner of Anytime Fitness outlets in Delhi’s Malviya Nagar and Saket, the current state of the fitness industry in India is a far cry from what it was in April last year. He reveals that the months of March-April are usually their peak months after the lull of winters, with the beginning of summer vacations in schools. Many mothers seek gym memberships owing to extra time on their hands. “The onset of the pandemic has got to a point that people are scared to even enter the gyms; we are bearing 100 percent losses,” he says, adding, “We would normally make a profit of Rs 20-28 lakh every month, but in the last two months, we have registered a loss of Rs 60-80 lakh, ever since the lockdown began.”

There are around 24,000 gyms and studios in the country, according to an estimate by Fitternity, a web aggregator for fitness outlets. To prevent their businesses from running completely dry, many have taken to providing online training sessions over WhatsApp, Skype, and FaceTime. Cultfit is now imparting online training sessions for its members on its app, with trainers doing their best to instruct in as much detail as possible.

Pratik Kalra, a personal trainer at Fitness First’s Noida branch, says, “We had to put the annual membership fee on hold, which will resume only when the gym can resume operations. In the meantime, we are offering online personal training sessions to interested customers at a nominal rate.” To retain its patrons’ interest, Fitness First is also offering online live fitness videos with celebrities like Jonty Rhodes, Mouni Roy and Mandira Bedi, for Rs 2,000 for five sessions.

Online classes are also being dished out to regular customers at Sethi’s gyms with 900 members each, over Facebook, Instagram and Zoom, free of cost “just to keep the members with them”. Mumbai’s JG’S Fitness Centre, which has got no new member registrations since the outbreak, has initiated online fitness consultations and training sessions to keep the banks rolling.

But online classes it gyms are what food delivery is for fine-diners — a patch on their actual sales. Meanwhile, some of them have come together for an online campaign to highlight what needs to be done to save the “fitness industry”. Kakkar is part of bodyandstrength.com, wherein they post requests by top fitness professionals and centre heads — including asking for a moratorium on utility bills, GST waiver for the coming months and a freeze on rental for the affected months.

Sethi, who is also the Vice-President of the Delhi Gym Association that represents over 3000 gyms in the Capital, is also participating in the online campaign, urging clients to pre-buy their memberships to help sustain the fitness centres, especially the smaller gyms, and stop them from shutting. “The smaller gyms will go bankrupt if no one comes to their aid. It’s become a fight for survival with a hand to mouth situation. There are 25-30 people we employ including the cleaners and management staff and I am paying our trainers right now from my own pocket to aid them in the time of crisis,” he says, adding how they have also been urging landlords not to take rentals until the lockdown is on and giving them alternatives of increasing rentals by 10 percent next year.

Even as the gyms open in the post-COVID world, the fitness industry the world over is set to witness a major change — with social distancing and hygiene measures becoming the prime focus. Even across the globe, where things have already started opening up, gyms are bracing for the new normal. For instance, the operators of Britain’s 4,000 gyms are in advanced plans for reopening once they are given the all-clear. When gyms do finally open, capacity is likely to be reduced by half to maintain the two-metre distancing, while personal trainers will have to offer advice from a distance. Members will be able to use an app to monitor when their gym is quieter and plan their visits accordingly.

Sethi says they have developed an app, wherein members will be assigned time slots for a limited number of days. “As opposed to having 50-60 people drop in during peak hours (morning and evening), a maximum of 15 will be allowed with two or three trainers deployed to help them,” Sethi says, adding, ”Out of the six treadmills on the floor, only two will be operational to ensure social distancing.” Sanitisation exercises with disinfectants being sprayed on exercise equipments after every hour and temperature checks will be the new norm, as was witnessed in several gym outlets before the lockdown began.

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