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​Gyms sweat it out in crunch

Published on: 06-Oct-2020

Smaller studios most hurt by Covid, but those with virtual classes & chains riding out storm.

Every evening for three hours, a buzz of excitement fills a converted showroom in Tai Seng Street as 30 climbing enthusiasts manoeuvre their way across a large slab wall.

While footfall has fallen by 30 per cent since the coronavirus outbreak, that did not stop Boulder Movement from opening its second outlet on Aug 26, over two months after Phase Two began.

Its marketing director Michael Lim told The Straits Times: "Work on our second outlet started before the circuit breaker. If we were to stop, it's more money wasted and it's better to open than keep waiting indefinitely.

"We also figured this is an opportunity to support our local sporting community and fitness enthusiasts.

"People may be bored with limited fitness options during the circuit breaker and we believe climbing has something to offer to our local sporting scene."

Despite the uncertainty brought about by the Covid-19 crisis, several gym owners are willing to take a chance.

For BePilates founder Eugena Bey, owning her own studio has been a dream since she started teaching pilates five years ago. She conducted online classes twice a week during the circuit breaker and opened the physical space in Tanjong Pagar in August.

Bey, 26, now teaches 12 to 13 classes of one to two students each a week. She said: "The circuit breaker gave me some time to reflect on what I want to do. I realised I enjoy teaching and this was something I wanted to continue.

"There's a pandemic but it's not something to stop me from pursuing my dream because eventually, life must go on."

Chen Yupeng, assistant professor of marketing and international business at Nanyang Technological University's (NTU) business school, said the demand for gyms has been strong even during the pandemic as people want to stay fit and healthy.

New studios from established brands have an advantage over independent ones as they are "more reliable in terms of the services they provide". "The chains are also likely to have a deeper pocket and likely to be less impacted by the pandemic financially," he added.


We wanted to get to know our members a bit more so the Zoom classes were to build the community and it worked really well because we opened with fully booked classes.

BARBORA HOGAN, F45 Tanjong Rhu owner, on how building a connection with her customer base virtually has translated to sales amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Popular Australian chains F45 and Body Fit Training, which run on a franchise system here, have also opened new outlets recently. Body Fit Training Outram launched its online programme on Sept 14 with its studio due to open this month, while a third franchise will open next month in Paya Lebar.

F45 Tanjong Rhu owners Barbora Hogan and Charmaine Wang opened their studio at Kallang Wave Mall on June 25 after good responses to their free online classes held during the circuit breaker. The studio was originally slated to open in April.

Each online class, held two to three times weekly, attracted between 100 and 120 participants.

"We wanted to get to know our members a bit more so the Zoom classes were to build the community and it worked really well because we opened with fully booked classes," said Hogan, adding that almost all nine classes daily, capped at 18 participants, are full.

Anisha Pillai, 23, signed up after attending the virtual classes.

She said: "The owners were professional and always updated us on when they would open. They also told us what safety measures they were going to put in place so I felt safe coming to the gym."

The fitness industry, however, remains badly impacted by Covid-19, with several gyms and studios forced to shut down.

Brazilian jiu-jitsu (BJJ) gym AlphaGeek saw its footfall reduced by 70 per cent when it reopened in Phase Two, said founder Robert Tan, 40. Each class could only accommodate three to four people, down from the usual eight. Its main BJJ programme was also halted, and high-intensity interval training and yoga classes were run instead.

"A significant portion of our programme is no-gi grappling and BJJ - sport martial arts with great emphasis on throwing, grappling and live sparring," said Tan, who opened the Bencoolen studio last February before closing it on Sept 30.

"As a small studio barely breaking even with small membership numbers in 'normal times', along with no end of Phase Two in sight, it proved impractical to continue."

Caleb Tse, assistant professor at NTU's business school, warned there are inherent risks in starting a new business during this period.

He said: "This is an aggressive counter-cyclical strategy to probably capture more market share during this downturn in hopes that they will be in a better position when things turn around eventually. However, the outlook for the consumer market on gym memberships seems to be grim in general."

Both Boulder Movement outlets - the other is in Downtown Gallery - see an average of 40 users daily, down from the 60 previously seen at its Shenton Way venue, but Lim remains confident.

"We have a plan to manage costs and the scale of things efficiently so we don't spend excessively but still can deliver on experience," he said.

Source: The Straits Times, 6 Oct 2020

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