Clear strategy required from policy
The implementation of the Corona rules is a challenge for gym operators. We spoke to Christophe Collinet, Chief Commercial Officer of the LifeFit Group, about hygiene conditions and measures, a possible testing strategy for gyms and the time after the lockdown. The LifeFit Group includes seven successful fitness brands, such as "Fitness First" with around 60 studios throughout Germany.
How can training in the studio become an experience even under hygienic conditions?
Christophe Collinet: In order to continue to motivate our members to train during the lockdown, we are again increasingly offering online courses, online personal training, and nutrition programs over the period of the closures. However, it became apparent that after the clubs reopened in the spring of 2020, demand for online courses dropped sharply again. This reinforces our belief that, despite all the digitalization, people are still interested in training on site at the club with the support and motivation of trainers and staff and the equipment at the club - and we are delighted when this is possible again in Germany, and we can also welcome new customers to train with us again!
Even under increased hygiene regulations, our staff will be on hand to give advice and support to members - and that is exactly what is missing when training at home. This will once again make it possible to provide highly individualized support - with fewer people training on site, possibly even more individualized than before. The online and offline experience will also continue to merge: With our new training app, which can be used both when training at home and in the studio, the fitness experience with us will be raised to a new level.
Would a testing strategy for fitness studios be the solution?
Christophe Collinet: At the LifeFit Group, we have been looking into a possible testing strategy for fitness studios since the end of November 2020 in order to define a way out of the crisis. Due to the high number of visits to our studios, the challenges here are primarily of a logistical nature: It must be clarified by politics when and where people can be tested - and who bears the costs for this. Once this is settled, we can imagine a testing strategy at our gyms. The policy must ensure that the costs of testing are not borne by the gym operators or members. A comprehensive concept is needed for when, where and how people can get tested. So far, too much has been announced by the federal government and too little has been concretely, practically implemented.
However, it is also important to understand here that the hygiene conditions and measures for individual training are already very high by nature. For individual training, tests would therefore be less urgent than in other areas.
What are the biggest cost traps in the implementation and long-term realization of hygiene concepts?
Christophe Collinet: The biggest cost trap is probably the fact that investments have to be made in all areas on an ongoing basis and that we have permanently increased costs. Specifically, there are higher costs for implementing the hygiene concepts, because masks and more disinfectants and cleaning agents are used, for example, and energy costs will also rise due to the increased proportion of fresh air in the ventilation systems.
Due to the membership business model, gym operators will face major challenges as a result of the lockdowns - many will need several years to regain pre-crisis membership levels. That's because the loss of revenue affects an average of 24 months per missing member, not the closed month's revenue as in the case of restaurants, for example.
Of course, we do not want to pass on these increased costs to our customers. That's why government support services that also reach the businesses are important for the entire industry.
Will the critical phase in terms of profitability only come after the end of the lockdown?
Christophe Collinet: The period after the lockdown will certainly be a difficult one as well, because many gym operators have been losing numerous members every month for the past year and not gaining any new ones. This means that from the moment the studios reopen, 100% of the fixed costs will be incurred again, but will be met by a much lower volume of sales than before the crisis.
Furthermore, it is foreseeable that we will probably still be far away from "regular operation" in the coming months, which will be reflected in lower new registrations and visits. Also, after the time of reopening, government subsidies will fall away. We therefore appeal to politicians to launch long-term support measures for industries like ours, as already exists in other countries, because the (partial) elimination of fitness studio services also means a lack of training and exercise, which in turn has a negative impact on the general health of the population - and this is in the interest of society after all.