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Your Gyms Need Your Support

Over the last 16 months, nothing has become more clear than the importance of community. Showing up for those in your world when they need it. Friends, family, colleagues — we all needed each other to survive. And while this pandemic continues on and variants emerge, bringing more questions and fear of the unknown, I am here to give my support — and ask for help — for my community. The fitness community. With 20 percent of fitness facilities permanently closed due to the pandemic and many others on the brink, our industry is in desperate need of targeted government support in order to rebuild and continue to support the communities in which we operate.

As the chief executive of [solidcore] — a national boutique fitness studio that offers Pilates-inspired, small group classes in 20 states, Washington D.C. and 35 cities and to 46,000 clients across the country, I experienced firsthand the impact of COVID-19 on our business. In March of 2020, we were having our best month in the company’s history: 72 brick and mortar studios were open, our profits were the largest we’d seen, and we were on track to meet our goal of operating 100 studios by year end. On March 16, we shut all our doors, and on March 19, we laid off 98 percent of our staff and coaches.

The skeleton crew of 14 who stayed on — at reduced salaries — under the leadership of our founder and then-CEO Anne Mahlum (who took no salary at all) had no clue what the future held, but we fought harder than ever to keep our business afloat. And we weren’t the only ones. Our industry has lost more than 58 percent — $20 billion — of revenue since March 2020. With 1 in 5 fitness facilities closed permanently, 1.4 million workers in the industry — 44 percent — lost their jobs.

Our team worked every day with one goal in mind — stay afloat. And our community supported us the entire time. We went virtual, and our community followed. We were able to bring back a small percentage of our coaches, who connected with clients (and their pets, children and spouses) in their living rooms, kitchens and garages.

We were lucky enough to receive funding from the first round of Paycheck Protection Program loans, which provided more than 2 months of payroll support and allowed us to bring back most of our staff that had been laid off. Operating in multiple cities and states meant we were slowly able to start reopening our brick-and-mortar studios. We went out and met with investors to prove that we had staying power, and we were lucky enough to take on a new investment partner who believed in us and our story. Our virtual offering garnered the attention of Equinox media, and we are now the premier Pilates offering on EQX+. Our studios are now fully reopened.

We know we are lucky. We know we are the exception.

Other gyms and fitness studios gave the same fight as our team, but they either lost the battle or continue to struggle. Deferred rent payments are coming due faster than anyone could have predicted, and with the uncertainty of what the delta, lambda or future variants could bring in terms of mask mandates, capacity restrictions or closures, it will become increasingly challenging to pay those back.

A recent survey of small community gyms and fitness studios found that nearly two-thirds of gyms — 64 percent — have been forced to go into additional debt due to the pandemic, with an average of $75,000 in new debt. Three-quarters reported that their revenue and active members have fallen compared to pre-pandemic. Eighty percent reported that they are still struggling with the long-term financial impact of the pandemic. Even our business has not completely rebounded — while we are in a much stronger place than we were a few months back, we are still working to get back to our pre-pandemic numbers.

These businesses — gyms and fitness studios — are essential parts of the economy and the community. The fitness industry — before COVID — was a 96 billion-dollar industry. Local gyms and studios provide a space where people can find respite from their day to day – pop on some music or a podcast and focus on themselves. They are a place where people gather and see familiar faces. In the solidcore community, we have seen new friendships form in our studios and carry on beyond the workout. We have seen that our studios bring people together — no matter their political affiliation.

It’s critical that Congress include the GYMS Act in the Democrats’ budget resolution. The bill would create a $30 billion grant program similar to those enacted for the restaurant and live entertainment industries, and would help keep our community alive.

I know that solidcore’s future is bright, and we want our peers to be with us all the way — they inspire us, they push us, and they provide spaces that we at solidcore love to frequent, just like so many others. As I said — if this last year and a half taught us anything, it’s that we need to come together and support one another. And that’s what we at solidcore are doing — supporting our industry, our community, so the millions of fitness employees and clients across the country can continue creating the strongest version of themselves.

 

Bryan Myers is the president and CEO of [solidcore] boutique fitness.

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