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fitness Spotlight

Jersey Shore local gyms and fitness centers are at a crossroad

There are so many reasons why small businesses are the backbones of local communities. From helping to drive in visitors near and far, to providing people with something to check out or do with their leisure time, it’s nearly impossible for communities to thrive without them. Small businesses give people a reason to hope, dream, and aspire.

As we’ve seen, though, it’s a fragile thing trying to juggle — evident in how the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic has tested them. Nearly four months after the start of the pandemic, small businesses around Monmouth County and the greater Jersey Shore area continue to work through the adversities. There are several precautions in place to help contain COVID-19, but when you look at what’s open and what continues to remain closed, it’s apparent that one industry is affected more than anything else.

Hitting the brakes on reopening

Gyms and fitness centers were eager to open up early this month, but the brakes were applied once it was found that the transmission rate increased, which halted the further expansions for restaurants and the reopening of gyms/fitness centers. It’s a scary situation, but one thing is certain — gyms and fitness owners are fighting harder than most other small businesses to stay afloat.

One thing’s for sure, the gym industry will never be the same again. While some are adapting for this new normal, others are struggling to figure things out. We spoke with a couple of small businesses owners regarding the hardships they’re facing, and as they continue to be closed, the window of opportunity for their survival dwindles.

“We understand the risks involved with being a boutique fitness studio and have taken every measure to ensure our clients and staff are safe upon reopening, by following the CDC guidelines and keep current with the ever changing environment,” said Melanie Colman, owner of Pure Barre in Red Bank. Just before the pandemic started, we stopped by their location for a video shoot that was part of our fitness center guide for the new year. The class was completely full of participants.

Pure Barre in Red Bank had a steady stream of classes that were attended by members prior to the pandemic.

Fast forward to today, they’ve been forced to come up with alternative plans to maintain a level of income that’s livable. It’s tough position to be in for owners of gyms and fitness centers, especially given that they’ve yet been given the green light to open and allow members to come back. Pure Barre, much like some other boutique fitness studios, have opted to offer virtual or live streaming classes — at reduced rates though. It makes sense given that it’s a different experience from in-person sessions.

In their ongoing commitment to ensuring high-quality standards once they’re given the official confirmation to open, Colman explained to us the challenges she is facing when it comes to the reopening. “I cannot speak for all gyms/fitness facilities, but I know Pure Barre Red Bank will go above and beyond the standards set,” Colman said. “Our clients and staff are number one, we would never jeopardize their well being. We are a family.”

When it comes to drawing comparisons with other industries, she said, “I wouldn’t say it’s harder for us to operate then other businesses. We are all up against the same restrictions, guidelines and challenges. We just haven’t been given the chance to reopen as of yet which is what sets us apart.”

A personal choice and decision

Another small business owners shares the same sentiment, Chris Ulbricht, owner of Garden State Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Academy just over Coopers Bridge in the Red Bank. “We are certainly in a difficult time for all businesses. Gyms, fitness centers, and martial arts academies are in a unique situation because although the close proximity carries increased risk, we are a huge part of people’s physical and mental health,” Ulbricht explained. We got a first look last year what makes this specialty fitness center different, which is one of the few mixed martial arts centers around the area.

Chris Ulbricht, much like many other small business owners, is eager to open up.

Members are naturally in close contact with one another, so they’re in a unique situation where they are proactively thinking of ways and ideas on how to operate in a COVID-19 world. One strategy they’ve implemented lately was offering outdoor classes, something that many other fitness centers and studios have practiced. However, it’s dependent on weather conditions. Summertime shouldn’t pose too much of a challenge, but as colder weather approaches, it’s going to be even more of a challenge to host these outdoor events.

Ultimately, Ulbricht believes that it comes down to personal choice and decision — when it comes to an individual making an informed decision about participation. “Because we are voluntary services, I believe people should have the choice if they want to attend these types of programs,” Ulbricht elaborated. “In my opinion people have the right to consider the risks and benefits, and to make the decision for themselves.”

The in-home gym explosion

As gyms locked down and closed during the beginning of the pandemic, people began to explore the alternatives One of them, obviously, was to invest in an at-home gym solution –whether it’s a cardio machine or fundamental weights. Interestingly enough, fitness experts believe that the in-home gym will continue to explode and thrive during this COVID-19 world. It’s already changing the landscape.

Take a look at what’s happening with many of the nationally recognized fitness gyms out there. Popular gyms like Gold’s Gym and 24 Hour Fitness have already filed for bankruptcy, which doesn’t bode well for other gyms that practice the low price, high volume strategy. We spoke with celebrity fitness expert and Bowflex spokesman, Tom Holland, who shared his thoughts around the rapidly changing fitness industry.

Bodyweight‌ ‌exercises,‌ ‌dumbbells,‌ ‌cardio‌ ‌equipment‌ ‌will‌ ‌never‌ ‌go‌ ‌away, especially‌ ‌dumbbells‌ ‌and‌ ‌free‌ ‌weights

Tom Holland, celebrity fitness expert & Bowflex spokesman

He explained how the low price, high volume strategy that many of these big name gyms follow will no longer be a sustainable business model — knowing that consumers are still hesitant of setting foot in them. For popular local gyms like Planet Fitness, Jersey Strong, and Retro Fitness, it’ll be interesting to see how they’ll survive. In addition to home gyms solutions, consumers are discovering how fitness apps and online classes are good alternatives as well. However, Holland believes that boutique fitness centers will continue to thrive — mainly due to how the ‘special experiences’ they provide and that they can’t be necessarily replicated by virtual events or fitness apps.

He gave the example of Zoomba classes, Palates, and yoga, which all benefit from in-person guidance and interactions. On the flip side, though, he mentions how home gyms are invaluable due to the conveniences they offer, such as saving time. Additionally, getting into shape doesn’t require fancy equipment.

“Bodyweight‌ ‌exercises,‌ ‌dumbbells,‌ ‌cardio‌ ‌equipment‌ ‌will‌ ‌never‌ ‌go‌ ‌away, especially‌ ‌dumbbells‌ ‌and‌ ‌free‌ ‌weights,” Holland said.‌” They‌ ‌have‌ ‌the‌ ‌most‌ ‌freedom.‌ ‌So‌ ‌in‌ ‌other‌ ‌words,‌ ‌both ‌beginners and ‌advanced‌ ‌can‌ ‌use‌ ‌them‌ ‌and‌ ‌they’re‌ ‌scale-able ‌to‌ ‌everyone.‌ ‌And‌ ‌they’ve‌ ‌been‌ ‌around‌ ‌forever‌ ‌for‌ ‌that‌ ‌reason.”‌

Specialty fitness studios are here to stay

While traditional gyms are facing bigger adversities, specialty fitness studios should be able to survive and remain sustainable. But the biggest challenge is timing, as well as getting that confirmation that they can open to some capacity. Even though the margins are significantly lower with restaurants and eateries, outdoor dining has been able to produce at least some meaningful income — albeit, not to the same degree as if they were open normally. Over on the retail side, many boutique shops run by small business owners have long been able to sell products online.

Indeed, specialty fitness centers have higher margins than restaurants, but there’s just one thing — they’re still closed. That’s without question the biggest hurdle, and as more time passes, it’s going to be tougher for them to makeup losses. For these small business owners, time is a commodity that only continues to dwindle with each passing day. They’re definitely at a crossroad.

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