Kam Khan has spent the last decade going to GoodLife Fitness at least four times a week to get his workouts in.
But since gyms closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the 57-year old from Mississauga, Ont., says he has no plans to return to GoodLife— even when the chain of gyms do reopen in Stage 3.
As gyms continue to reopen across the country, some Canadians will not renew their memberships and will continue with home workouts, meaning that fitness companies will have to continue to be innovative if they want to retain their customer base as the pandemic continues, experts told Global News.
Downloading a home workout app by Peleton, a fitness company known for their bikes and online classes, is what has gotten Khan hooked on outdoor runs and at-home exercises, he says.
Paying for the app instead of paying for a gym membership is an easy choice, he explained.
“I don’t have to get my clothes on, get in the car, go to the change room, do my workout. It’s an hour and a half of investment at least. Here (at home) I do a 45-minute workout, and I’m done,” Khan said, pausing to catch his breath as Global News called him while he was in the middle of a neighbourhood power walk.
“There’s no way I’m going back, even if I didn’t have Peloton, for a least a month to see how they’re doing it,” said Khan. Since he downloaded the app, he’s now certain he will cancel his membership.
During the early days of the pandemic, the demand for at-home fitness equipment skyrocketed and now many people have invested in often pricey items at home in lieu of being at the gym.
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The personal treadmill Khan has at home has been a great companion to his app workouts, he said.
As well, Khan is concerned that even if he wanted to go to the gym when doors are open again, he’d have to sign up for a time slot or arrive at the gym to find it’s already at capacity, due to new limits on how many people can be inside.
“You have to be socially distant. Also, if someone is on the machine that you want you have to wait,” said Khan.
“Because I didn’t have another option I didn’t know any better…but now I can say, Peloton is easier.”
Members are returning, but not everyone is comfortable
With gyms continuing to open their doors as most of Canada’s provinces enter the next phase in reopening, there is uncertainty as to whether every customer is excited to return.
Gyms will be one of the toughest environments to reopen safely, as having patrons work out in an indoor environment where they will be breathing heavily makes it a tough place to safely control the spread of infection, experts previously told Global News.
Big box gyms like GoodLife, Lifetime Fitness and Planet Fitness already have strict safety protocols being implemented including physical distancing, limiting the number of patrons, enhanced cleaning practices and requiring masks between workouts.
GoodLife is continuing to reopen in Ontario, with another 42 clubs opening on July 24 in addition to 44 that were opened last week, said Jason Sheridan, senior-vice president of operations at the company, in an emailed statement to Global News.
Sheridan says the response from their customer base to their gyms opening up again has been positive, with more than 750,000 workouts and training sessions booked so far.
Of the around 4,000 members who have returned to GoodLife’s physical gyms, close to 90 per cent told the company they were “satisfied” with their response and more than 66 per cent feel “very safe” working out under their new protocols. Ninety- five percent feel somewhat to very safe returning to their gyms, said Sheridan.
“Of course, we understand that some people may not feel comfortable coming to the gym right now,” said Sheridan.
“That’s why we’re offering membership freezes free of charge. But for those who are coming into the club, we are confident that we have created an environment that exceeds all recommendations set by the various levels of government.”
Gyms need to be ‘creative’ to retain customers
Even with some returning to the gym, this remains a difficult time to make the gym an appealing environment to all members — especially while the weather is warm and outdoor workouts are an alternative, said Monica LaBarge, an assistant professor of marketing at the Smith School of Business at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont.
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LaBarge says that many customers will continue to have questions about safety protocols, no matter how many are in place, likely until there is a vaccine available.
“(People) will look at their risk level and their level of comfort,” she said.
Many may be used to online workout classes and are comfortable with them at this point a few months into the pandemic, and may not run back to a brick-and-mortar gym if their routine is working for them, said LaBarge.
Larger gyms may want to look at behaving like boutique gyms by offering customized, more personal workout options through an app or livestream that will keep their customer base engaged, she explained.
“For people who don’t want to come back, if you don’t want them to cancel their memberships, maybe you offer them a reduced value virtual-only membership,” she said.
“I think (gyms will) have to be creative. Not everyone is going to want to go back…there’s this assumption that if you open, they will come. I’m not sure that is true,” she said.
Boutique gyms may have more appeal during the pandemic
This is a period of time where consumers are highly risk-averse due to the pandemic, and it will be challenging for businesses like gyms to encourage members to return, said Gurprit Kindra, a professor emeritus in marketing at the Telfer School of Management at the University of Ottawa.
Many of the big box gyms operate under requiring members to engage in long-term commitments in order to join, by requiring year-long memberships. This is an impediment for Canadians this year, as making a financial commitment is not appealing due to the number of people laid off or working precariously due to COVID-19, said Kindra.
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“So I don’t see (consumers) flocking back to gyms,” he said. Kindra agrees with LaBarge that the appeals of smaller, boutique gyms that provide a specialization or a more flexible payment plan may attract more consumers.
“What I see happening is innovative packaging, dynamic pricing and short-term commitments. That’s what people are going to be looking for, and the small shops are geared for that kind of service,” he said.
Some will return to the gym but the “bulk” of people will stay away until a vaccine comes along, which is something gyms need to reckon with, like many businesses as the moment, he explained.
“Distancing, washing hands and providing clean equipment and checking temperatures, those kinds of things are going to help. But the consumer psychology is not going to be in their favour,” he said.
“They’re going to keep their fingers crossed the vaccine comes sooner, rather than later.”
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