By Patrick Craig, Special AFS Contributor

Health clubs, studios and gyms, especially the smaller, independently owned ones, have just gone through the biggest challenge to small businesses since the 1930s. With the coming of COVID-19 and the mandatory lockdowns of clubs all over the country, the fitness industry took a financial hit that many pundits predicted it would never recover from. And there were some fatalities—24 Hour Fitness announced yesterday that they were filing for bankruptcy restructuring.

Now that we seem to have come through the worst of it and clubs are opening back up, albeit slower than most owners would want, a lot of you recognize that the world you are emerging into after a long cold spring differs from the one you knew when you locked your business down. But just because it’s different doesn’t mean it is bad. This may be a great opportunity for smaller clubs to take up the slack being left by the demise of some of the larger chains since there are some additional aspects to the business that have ramped up while the industry was sleeping—developments that could be a great fit for your small independent club.

One of these innovations is the innovation of live stream personal training and classes through companies like ZOOM. Club members can sign up for a class and take part while watching their phone, desktop, or TV. Yes, some companies had been putting their toe in the water of online training before COVID, but it was only the lockdown that pushed personal trainers into taking their classes digital. And there were some gym/member management software companies that saw which way the wind was blowing and built live stream ZOOM class functionality right into their software.

High-end software lets club members see all the ZOOM classes displayed on either a public calendar on the club’s website or Facebook page or give the member an app they can use to see which training and classes are available through a member portal. The very best do both. Your trainer sets up the class inside the software and makes it available to the calendar and the member portal. The calendars and portals have a sign-up wizard that allows the members to purchase the class and book themselves into it. When they do, the software sends them a link to the ZOOM meeting and at class time, they log in and take part.

But there was one caveat. To present the class, the trainer had to be there every time to lead it. To make it profitable, they had to present several each day. It can be exhausting if you are presenting five or ten classes a day. Because ZOOM and the other live-stream companies are not set up yet to do pre-recorded videos, it took an actual live trainer leading the class to present it.

But one company I know of has developed a workaround that allows trainers to prerecord a class, schedule it, wait for everyone to show up, turn the video on and sit back while the video runs. If you are charging $15 a class and fifty people sign up, there is a great potential for profit. It also helps if the software has a CRM feature that allows you to update all your members on your new ZOOM capability. Going this direction might even push some smaller clubs and individual trainers to go all-digital, thus saving the expense of building rent and equipment maintenance.

To sum it up, I know of at least six software companies that have added ZOOM to their arsenal of features, and at least one of those that can teach you how to use prerecorded videos.  Don’t come out of the lockdown thinking your business was irreparably damaged. It wasn’t. There are some opportunities now available that can get you back up and running a lot sooner than you thought possible. So yes, there is a new day dawning For gyms, studios, and health clubs make sure you do your homework ASAP. You might see your club take a brand new direction.

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Patrick Craig has worked in the Marketing Industry for the past twenty years. He is a published author and has written extensively about the fitness industry, particularly the gym software aspect of it. He has been with Money Movers, Inc. for the last six years where he serves as the Marketing and Operations Manager, web designer and coder, and maintains the custom websites Money Movers, Inc. develops for their Online Business Manager gym software clients.

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