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Fitness Australia says industry ‘continues to strengthen’ 12 months since COVID-19 shutdowns

Fitness Australia says industry ‘continues to strengthen’ 12 months since COVID-19 shutdowns
March 23, 2021

With this week marking a year since Coronavirus forced much of the industry to close down, Fitness Australia is reporting that operators are experiencing a resurgence that is driving jobs, memberships and demand for services.

Writing on the organisation's website, Fitness Australia Marketing Coordinator, Rachel Ely recalled "midday, 23 March 2020 will forever be etched in the memory of fitness facilities, exercise professionals and fitness industry staff as a day that more than 6,400 fitness businesses closed indefinitely, put more than 35,000 people immediately out of work and removed the option of gym-based exercise from four million Australians.

"Faced with uncertainly, instant loss of clients, revenue and income and not knowing how they would survive sent many health and fitness business owners and sole traders into a state of despair and scrabbling to go virtual within a matter of days, just to keep food on the table."

Advising that the $3 billion a year industry was hit devastatingly hard, with no warning or foresight into how long businesses would remain closed, Fitness Australia Chief Executive, Barrie Elvish stated "this time last year was a period of panic, uncertainly and fear for our industry. No one was immune from the forced shutdowns - from business owners and personal trainers to support staff and the four million gym members across Australia.

“COVID-19 was unlike anything anyone has ever experienced before, as with many other industries we were not prepared for what played out over months of various shutdowns and restrictions. We had to adapt very quickly to ensure people still had access to vital exercise options, such as virtual training and outdoor exercise, when permitted."

“This allowed some businesses to continue to operate at a minimal capacity, which was important for the livelihood of so many people and the survival of the industry.”

Data from Fitness Australia’s COVID-19 Fitness Industry Impacts Report released last year, found:

  • 81% of exercise professionals and sole traders had lost their job or main source of income
  • 70% of business cited a 100% decline in memberships
  • Revenue was down 100% for 50% of gym owners
  • Gyms that could adapt and go virtual or outdoors were able to only generate less than 10% of their usual income.

12 months on
Despite the financial the financial and emotional pain faced by many over the past 12 months, the industry is continuing to quickly rebuild strength and resilience according to Fitness Australia who is the industry’s peak member association.

Elvish noted "at an association level, we’ve implemented more robust health and hygiene frameworks for Fitness Australia members to give their business greater credibility and provide their members with the confidence and peace of mind their gym is of the highest standards and delivering service excellence. COVID-19 also saw Fitness Australia start to work more closely with governments and health authorities, and while this has been slower in some states than others, we are confident our engagement will continue to push for fitness facilities to be classified an essential service due to the benefits on our community’s long-term mental and physical health and wellbeing."

Adding that the industry was also seeing a surge in new job opportunities as businesses cater for heightened demand and start planning for the future, Elvish went on to say “job listings through the Fitness Australia Jobs Board* for the January to March quarter so far are 88% above the 2019 average. In comparison, listings in April last year were 79% below the 2019 average - that’s a big turnaround and gives us tremendous reason for hope.”

For Newcastle business owner, John Pirlo, who owns eight Genesis Health Clubs and founded the Ninja Parc franchise, the closures impacted more than 21,500 members, 174 of his staff and 32 contracted Personal Trainers from across the region and took a toll personally.

Pirlo explained “it was a real challenge coming to terms with the shutdown. Personally, I think I was in a blackhole for two to three days not knowing what to do.

“I made a critical decision to keep all staff employed, even before JobKeeper came into effect. This coupled with annual rents of more than $3 million and zero revenue coming in, meant times were very dire.

“Once we got up and running online we were able to achieve approximately 10% of our revenue through a pay-per-use system for members. It was minimal but allowed us to keep going, we knew many of our members relied on the training for their mental health and wellbeing so we didn’t want to let them down.”

Once gyms reopened in NSW his clubs were swift to go above and beyond COVIDSafe procedures to give people a high degree of confidence they could visit the gym and train safely, Pirlo stated “we had great feedback and high level of understanding from our members and the community; they were willing to do whatever they needed to ensure they could go to the gym and keep them open.

“Within 30 days of reopening we were back to approximately 60% of revenue and this increased to 95% within four months with the majority of members now back. It’s been a long road, but it taught us that we can adapt and learn no matter the circumstances.

“Our mission is to inspire movement and that keeps us going.”

For Adelaide local Tony Mennillo, founder and Chief Executive of Better Than Ever, a personal training, health and nutrition business in Findon, the snap shutdowns meant he had to completely reengineer his business model.

Mennillo explained “Better Than Ever is a one-on-one personal training business, we didn’t have an online offering. When the shutdowns happened we basically had nothing to fall back on, direct debits for our 150 plus clients stopped and we were essentially stuck in mud with no way out.

“I had to lay off staff, my wife who works in the business with me had to find a second job and I was working 80 plus hours a week. We had to get online as quickly as possible, which on the bright side has seen us design a sophisticated online platform that will future proof our business.”

Mennillo said the business has seen very positive signs in recent months, and he was now hiring more staff to keep up with growing demand as be rebuilds the business, concluding "January was a complete reset for us and most likely for many fitness businesses.

“We’ve had more than half our clients return and we’ve signed up more new members in the past two-and-a-half months than we did in whole 2020 calendar year. We are rebuilding, we’ve gone back to basics and are focusing on giving our clients a high level of personalised service.

“Realistically, I think it will take us a solid two years to really get our business back to pre-COVID times. The past 12 months have taught us a lot but we are very grateful that we are still standing and pushing forward.”

*Source: Fitness Australia Jobs Board powered by Sportspeople. 

Images: Enhanced hygiene is now a feature of all gyms (top), Fitness Australia's Barry Elvish (middle) and a Ninja Parc gym (below).

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