Area fitness industry hit hard by impacts of COVID-19

Numerous local fitness businesses have been forced to layoff employees, look for creative ways to pull in revenue

Editor’s note: This story was produced and first published by the Vancouver Business Journal, www.vbjusa.com. It is published here with full attribution to and permission of the Vancouver Business Journal and Editor Joanna Yorke.

When the first closures were mandated in the state of Washington as a result of COVID-19 back in March, two industries that felt immediate, devastating blows to their business were the restaurant industry and the fitness industry. For some restaurants this ended up forcing them to close their doors indefinitely as the money made through only take-out and delivery orders was simply not enough to sustain the business, while others have managed to stay open by offering take-out, delivery, premade cocktail mixes, gift certificates, etc.

The fitness industry has been hit with closures that leave very limited options regarding how they can continue to bring in any revenue. Photo courtesy of Precision Personal Training
The fitness industry has been hit with closures that leave very limited options regarding how they can continue to bring in any revenue. Photo courtesy of Precision Personal Training

The fitness industry, however, was hit with these closures with very limited options regarding how they would continue to bring in any revenue.

“When this came down, I feel as though (Gov. Jay) Inslee didn’t even consider fitness businesses,” said Cory Gilday, owner of Gilday Sport Conditioning in Vancouver. “Restaurants and bars had some abilities to mitigate their damages by doing take-out, cocktails delivered, online ordering, etc. I’ve been doing some training through Zoom to try and mitigate the damage (to my business) so people keep coming back, but we have no new people coming in, no new revenue. Fitness businesses get forgotten, and the fact that we rely on monthly, weekly and daily visits.”

Gilday said he was concerned not so much for himself and his business, but for all of the other small locally owned fitness businesses in the Southwest Washington area. He acknowledged that some of the Small Business Administration programs and funds coming from the state and the federal government may indeed help a bit, but as many small businesses in the area have experienced, these programs have had delays, run out of funds and more.

Trevor Thomas, who owns Precision Personal Training in Vancouver with his wife Lacy, said that much like other countless businesses in the Clark County, Precision has been hit hard by the Stay Home, Stay Healthy Order.

“While of course we respect the need to distance ourselves, this has not been easy from a business standpoint,” Trevor said. “On March 16, we were forced to close our doors. While we sought to offer virtual services, unfortunately the interest was not enough to support our team with a viable wage, forcing Precision to lay off all of our staff. For the interim, we have provided our clients with an online workout guide and videos to help give them direction, while seeking all help to keep our staff afloat.”

Trevor said they have applied for all available financial assistance, including the SBA Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL), the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and Gov. Jay Inslee’s Emergency Funding for Small Businesses Grant. He said that while they remain optimistic in waiting for approvals and further funding of the PPP, they would be “amiss” if they didn’t express their concern of what the future holds.

“With so much uncertainty of when we can open, at what capacity and if our clients are ready (from a health or financial perspective), it is certainly a trying time for all of us,” Trevor said. “It is the daily notes of support from our clients that keep us positive. With warm hearts, we look forward to welcoming all of our staff and clients back and will be ready in full force to support their health and fitness endeavors in a safe and sanitized environment.”

Amy Grabenkort, owner of Barre3 Felida, said she chose to close her small business just hours before Gov. Inslee mandated it, and said she was grateful to be able to make the decision on her own based on what was best for her community prior to being mandated to close.

“I remember I sobbed that day I told my clients by video that my small business was closing,” Grabenkort said. “The response I received from my clients was so beautiful – what they told me brought into focus what I already felt to be true … my business was as much a community center as it was an exercise studio. Many clients came to my small business because they were tired of feeling like fitness had failed them, and they were ready to fall in love with themselves as they already are. But then they realize that when a group of neighbors come together to move mindfully, do breath work and practice loving themselves together, a magical sense of community happens. I started hearing immediately that my clients missed each other as much as they missed their barre3 class.”

Grabenkort said the impact of having to close her business has been much more than just emotional. Her business is sustained by her autopay members – clients whose cards she charges automatically each month in exchange for the studio experience. She said if she doesn’t have their support, she doesn’t have a business. She said she asked all of her autopay members to stick with her, and right away she pivoted, and she and her instructor team started teaching livestream barre3 classes from their living rooms.

“Our dog might run through the scene, and we’ve had an instructor’s adorable twin toddlers come running through to steal everyone’s hearts, but we’re living our core value: Make It Happen,” Grabenkort said. “It’s been going great. We’re up to about 15 classes a week and I’m so thrilled about our attendance. We’re also selling some retail items via Instagram, and it’s been amazing to see my community excited to support us in any way they can. Where we could have gone to zero revenue, I’ve been able to hold on to over half of my members. I’m down in retail revenue and drop-in class package revenue, but I am so grateful that our livestream option is going to help us make it through.”

Grabenkort said that having so many of her members stick with her has allowed her to hold onto and pay about half of her employees. For sticking with her through this, Grabenkort is offering those members unlimited livestream classes and either a free month sometime in the next year (to distribute the financial hit across many months), or the option to gift a friend a free month when they re-open.

“I’m overjoyed to say that, because of our pivot to livestream classes, it looks like I’ll be able to keep my business afloat if this ends in the next couple of months even though my bank didn’t get my PPP loan application processed before funds ran out,” she said. “Luckily, I had saved prudently, and my emergency savings will help get us through.”

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