If scientists are correct, COVID-19 is here to stay. According to Dr. Gregory Poland, director of Mayo Clinic’s Vaccine Research Group, respiratory viruses and their accompanying hospital stays are expected to be a seasonal threat to individuals across the world. Even now, an emerging virus from China, the H1N1 influenza virus, looms in our future.
For gyms, fitness studios, and health clubs, navigating this tricky territory is job number one, as their business model relies on individuals congregating in a social, highly physical, generally closed environment. To keep members safe, gym owners must implement social distancing measures that, in and of themselves, absorb precious resources and restrict financial growth.
It’s a tough road for clubs. Some businesses estimate they’re down by more than 25 percent and as social distancing measures restrict individuals to six-foot pods, exercise class attendance is cut by as much as 50 percent.
A survey by investment bank Harrison Co. found up to 30 percent of gyms and studios may not reopen and about a third of members say they plan to cancel membership, as published in The Mercury News last month.
It’s Time to Seek Professional Help–Money Is Available Now
Investing in your business while accepting fewer clients is a rough financial pill to swallow. In order to make it through the initial hit, take a second look at federal aid and assistance from the Small Business Administration (SBA).
Most businesses are aware of the federal CARES Act created to help businesses retain employees during the national shutdown. Run through the SBA, it offers financial relief through two loan packages, the newly established Paycheck Protection Program(PPP) and the existing Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDL) program.
Within the EIDL program, though, is a little-known component called the Economic Injury Disaster Loan Emergency Advance. That mouthful boils down to one phrase: Free Money.
This part of the EIDL program gives businesses up to $10,000 in emergency relief that does not have to be repaid. Businesses must apply for an EIDL, an application that should take about two hours, and qualify as a small business according to the SBA.
Regardless of whether your EIDL is approved, though, you should receive the Advance funds within a few days of completing the application. The SBA began accepting EIDL Emergency Advance loan applications as of June 15, 2020.
While we are discussing the SBA, take another look at this federal support system for your business. The SBA offers access to trained experts should another outbreak shut down or reduce demand for your services, while providing loan resources that can give you additional access to capital.
An excellent resource to reference for federal and state assistance is the IHRSA’s “COVID-19 Relief & Information”publication released mid-June for the fitness industry. This comprehensive webpage details available federal, tax, and state relief programs for business, including employee retention credits, paid sick leave, and child care leave tax credits.
If all this feels overwhelming, consider reaching out to your landlord. Sanford D. Sigal, CEO of shopping center owner NewMark Merrill Cos., explains in the National Real Estate Investor, that smaller tenants needed assistance applying for the PPP federal loan, time to defer their rent, and the security of knowing once the federal loans came through, they could expect reduced payments until business turned around.
This dialogue is a great example of how truthfully approaching your landlord may result in a hands-on hand up while simultaneously controlling rental costs–the lifeline for many small businesses.
Expanding Your Footprint Effectively
With social distancing, it will become critical to use every inch of your gym efficiently. As it is, almost a third of space will be restricted, as the WHO recommends a distance of at least three feet or one meter, and the CDC’s guidelines counsel six feet, or two meters, between staff and members.
Currently, to keeping clients safe, many solutions limit capacity. Cordoned off equipment, closed lockers, and restricted attendance decrease foot traffic, thereby reducing a gym’s income potential.
So what are your options?
Discover the Great Outdoors
To counter these space restrictions while maintaining safety,gyms have moved equipment outside. Although shoulder-to-shoulder contact, as at bars or on some beaches, can increase the risk of transmission, proper planning can ensure clients get a great workout outside.
• Anything on wheels is game – Spin bikes, rowing machines, benches all become tools to keep clients exercising while maintaining healthy distances. Classes such as TRX and Zumba adapt easily to fresh-air venues.
• Get creative – In “Parking Lot Yoga” practitioners train intheir own space while following an instructor.
• Invest in large, outdoor tents to keep clients covered, cool, and dry while training outside.
Organize on the Inside
• Custom signage and clearly marked directions minimize confusion and maximize a client’s ability to move around the gym safely.
• Remove unnecessary furniture to comply with distancing policies. Prioritize athletic space over aesthetics. If indoor basketball is a no-go game in your state, repurpose the cavernous space as a spin class showcase.
• Physical barriers such as large plexiglass screens between cardio equipment keep all treadmills running at full capacity.
• Encourage members to avoid “sharing” equipment or working out in close proximity with each other. They also should time their retrieval of dumbbells or medicine balls to sidestep close contact with other guests. Simple changes in habit can reduce the chances of transmission and createfewer headaches for your company.
• Consider requiring members to book by appointments limited to specific time slots, such as 90-minute intervals. The extra accountability will make planning easier and ensures the club is not inadvertently left empty because clients believe it might be full. Members, as well, can attend knowing your studio is taking their health seriously.
You’re a Winner!
You did not decide to become an entrepreneur because it was easy. You chose this path because it is your passion. The COVID-19 era is just that–a moment in time we will outlast–and with strong determination, as well as the willingness to dig in and find solutions, you too will move confidently forward and beyond this crisis into a brighter future.