Australian gyms and fitness studios are adapting to a ‘new normal’ post-COVID-19 environment, anticipating more snap lockdowns, more uncertainty, and ultimately, more costs.
Over the past few months, we’ve seen Adelaide, Sydney’s Northern Beaches, Brisbane and Perth hit with short-term snap lockdowns, designed to stop outbreaks of COVID-19 in their tracks.
On Friday, Premier Daniel Andrews followed suit, announcing a five-day “circuit breaker” lockdown for the entire state of Victoria.
While effective in stopping the spread of the virus, implementing such restrictions at short notice is causing headaches for small business owners, who are striving to adapt to uncertain times and a ‘COVID-normal’ way of doing business.
Selina Bridge is chief executive of Melbourne-based franchise KX Pilates, which has some 70 studios throughout Victoria.
On hearing Friday’s announcement, Bridge took “quite a calm approach”, she tells SmartCompany.
She and her team had processes in place and were able to switch to their online offering quickly.
“We knew it was going to come. We hadn’t just parked [COVID-19] as a 2020 problem,” she explains.
“We know we’ve got to be ready to respond this year until, really, the vaccine is rolled out.”
Fitness Studio chain Speedfit has 22 gyms across Victoria, New South Wales and Western Australia, where it was founded.
Just two weeks ago, all of the Perth locations were forced to close as the city went into its own five-day snap COVID-19 lockdown.
So, when co-founder Matej Varhalik heard the news about the Victorian lockdown, it was a case of déjà vu. Now, it’s something he anticipates happening again.
“It seems like a new norm. I hope I’m wrong,” he tells SmartCompany.
Varhalik has found himself conflicted and frustrated.
“I’m happy to close everything if I know in five day’s we’re going to be in a much better position and safer,” he explains.
But, on the other hand, both the Perth and Melbourne snap lockdowns were due to outbreaks originating in the hotel quarantine system.
“There’s only one way to get the virus in, and that’s not 100% bulletproof,” he says.
And it’s small business owners that bear the brunt of the impact.
“We can’t fix it by ourselves.
“We’re relying on the government and how they manage that relationship with international travellers.”
What’s the cost?
In Melbourne, Varhalik’s immediate priority was communicating with staff, who have had their fair share of long, tough lockdowns.
“It was more important for us to communicate with them and that we would support them.”
But, the financial cost is significant.
He estimates that the snap lockdown will leave each of the three Melbourne studios out of pocket by at least $5,000.
For KX Pilates, there’s the potential of a financial cost, but also a concern about the disruption to the client experience.
This week, KX Pilates will cancel about 1,500 classes in Victoria, she explains. That equates to about 17,000 client visits lost.
In terms of the financials, if everyone stopped buying this week, the business would be down 15-20%, she notes.
Whether they do or not just depends on customer confidence. If people know the studios will reopen next week, they’re happy to buy classes in advance.
“If there’s a sniff of it going on and on, that is where we will start to feel the financial impact.”
For Bridge and KX Pilates, it’s all about being able to keep clients engaged, whether that’s through in-studio classes, online materials or simply through communication.
“We want to make sure we continue to service them whether our studios are open or not.”