'You can't make the money you were making before'. Gym owners are counting the cost of Covid-19

The health and fitness sector has been severely impacted by Covid-19 and are now trying to balance the health of their patrons while still making enough money to operate
'You can't make the money you were making before'. Gym owners are counting the cost of Covid-19
Social distancing means gym owners are trying to balance the health of their patrons while still making enough money to operate. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

With gyms permitted to reopen on June 29 in a surprise easing up of lockdown restrictions, many gym owners were caught on the hop.

Some chose to open on the date, many took a few more weeks to prepare. Most had frozen their customer's memberships for the duration of lockdown and organised online personal training sessions instead.

In preparation for reopening, equipment was moved, floor markings were stuck down, and sanitisation stations were set up. 

"You can't operate at full capacity, so you can't make the money you were making before you were closed." Luke Dennehy, proprietor of Dennehy's Gym in Blackpool with personal trainer Agnieszka Deffzatt. Picture: Eddie O'Hare
"You can't operate at full capacity, so you can't make the money you were making before you were closed." Luke Dennehy, proprietor of Dennehy's Gym in Blackpool with personal trainer Agnieszka Deffzatt. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

Health and fitness had been a rapidly growing business sector in the years prior to the pandemic with numerous gyms operating in most towns across the country. However, the nature of the business means social distancing is difficult to maintain and as a result the sector is having to come up with imaginative ways to operate.

Luke Dennehy of Dennehy's gyms, which has two locations in Cork, one in Blackpool and another in Ballincollig, says the reopening phases being brought forward made it difficult for the sector to prepare.

"We were supposed to reopen in August initially. I said to the lads at the time they would bring that forward, so we needed to be ready. 

"July 20 was the date we were preparing for, we sat down with staff and went through all the Covid procedures. Then they came along and said June 29.

"If we opened June 29 we would have been rushing, we took an extra two weeks to get it right." Dennehy's gyms reopened on July 13. 

In Dennehy's, each gym member who is taking an exercise class has their own box with their own sanitiser, spray and equipment, so there is no mixing.

"Everyone is socially distant. All the pieces of equipment are spaced out and have their own sanitiser bottle on it, so you don't have to walk around looking for it."

The gyms have also retained their full staff. Mr Dennehy says staff will be priding themselves on their sanitation and cleanliness, as well as their training. 

"There is always one staff member who isn't training anybody, who is there to take members through the safety protocols."

Mr Dennehy says more members have returned than they expected. "I am happy with that, and I understand the people who want to wait a while.

"We didn't have many cancellations, a lot [of memberships] stayed frozen. I think a lot of people are waiting until September, for the kids to go back to school. We would see a lot of freezes during the summer months anyway because parents with kids at home might not be able to use the gym."

The gyms are also operating at a limited capacity. In Ballincollig, 20 people are allowed in at a time, and in Blackpool, it is 25. The lower capacity has financial implications, but Mr Dennehy says health must come first.

"You can't operate at full capacity, so you can't make the money you were making before you were closed, so people are trying to find the balance. How many can they let in while still making enough money?

"I think we struck that balance pretty well. We are not going to break the bank over the next couple of months, but as long as our members are happy and comfortable. And when things go back to normal they should be happy to renew their membership too."

"It was tough reopening but we are trying to get back to normal and back where we were." Jack Kenny, One Life Fitness. Picture: Damian Coleman.
"It was tough reopening but we are trying to get back to normal and back where we were." Jack Kenny, One Life Fitness. Picture: Damian Coleman.

He says it was strange to be closed for so long, but the staff continued to have online personal training sessions for members. 

In preparation for reopening, Mr Kenny said they consulted the HSE guidelines. 

"Every square foot of the gym has a marking where the two metres distance is, so we have put tape down on the floor to show the required spacing and the distance to be kept.

"We also have stations around the gym with virucidal spray, which kills all bacteria. We push our members to clean down any equipment they have used.

"We have also supplied latex gloves to any of our members who want to use them, we also encourage members to wear face masks."

Only a certain number of people are allowed in the gym at any one time. "We do what the supermarkets do, have a staff member monitoring how many people are in the gym, and we let one person in when another person leaves."

Mr Kenny says the members have been glad to get back to the gym. "So far, everyone has been happy, they are following the guidelines and respecting social distancing.

"It was tough reopening but we are trying to get back to normal and back where we were. It's the third week we have been open now and we are getting there slowly but surely."

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