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How Fitness Studios Are Fighting Coronavirus: Online Classes

Tuesday, March 17, 2020
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Fitness Business

How Fitness Studios Are Fighting Coronavirus: Online Classes

Facing inevitable closures that could last weeks, gyms, boutique fitness centers, yoga and dance studios are bracing for the impact of the pandemic coronavirus. To help you stay calm, focused and in touch with your community, we’ve reached out to savvy owners across the country - from solo yoga teachers to small boutique studios, to large, national franchises - to help you get out in front of the virus and ensure clients and staff are safe and healthy, along with your bottom line. 

“The potential impact of the coronavirus on the boutique fitness and yoga industry is huge,” said Mary Badon, MD, a Yale-trained physician and owner of SOMA Movement Studio, a Pilates & Fitness center with locations in Unionville and West Hartford, Connecticut. 

COVID-19  is transmitted through bodily fluids like sweat, sneezes, and droplets from heavy respiration. In the wake of health warnings to avoid close quarters and group gatherings, fitness centers - already a hotbed for germs and bacteria – are closing their doors, upping virtual communication with customers, and offering classes online through video services like Punchpass partner, Zoom (click here to learn more about how to set up your classes using Zoom)

“Ultimately, everyone should find comfort in the fact that we're all in this together. At Jane DO we have the fastest growing community of the most powerful women and part of what makes us powerful is uniting in extreme times of discomfort, such as now,” said Jacey Lambros and Danielle DeAngelo, co-founders of Jane DO in NYC. “It is important that everyone joins a community of like minded people with shared interests so they can all hold each other accountable during this difficult period." 

Hosting Classes Online

The main way fitness businesses are combatting closures is to rapidly deploy classes online and announce the changes through email and social media.

“It’s a benefit to the business because they are showing members that they care about them even if their doors are closed. Relationships are at the heart of most businesses and, when gyms make an effort to uphold the relationship in a time like this, the member will be committed to staying,” said Dan Chojnacki, who writes about fitness and healthy living for the life insurance site, EffortlessInsurance.com. Dan has been a certified personal trainer (NETA) for nearly a decade and is currently a group fitness director in Green Bay, WI.  

“Whether you, as a gym, offer these services for free and for a small fee, you are providing mutual benefit that will pay off for the longevity of your business,” Chojnacki said. Keeping life as normal as possible is crucial in a time of crisis, and offering a service to your members is a great way to promote this.”

Here’s what a few of the fitness business owners we talked to said they’re offering:

“Legends Boxing is developing an on-demand virtual workout program for our members so they can maintain their progress and skills they've worked so hard to develop,” said Mary Malie, Director of Operations for Legends Boxing Gym.

The nationwide franchise is offering its workouts, led by its head trainer, to members through a private area on the gym’s website.

Kathryn Peterson, owner of Yoga for Intimacy, is offering her classes online through Zoom: “We have seen the proliferation of Zoom as the go-to platform for online classes,” Peterson said. “Many studios are using their normal website sign-up, and then sending class attendees a Zoom link to join in the online class.”

Peterson said the online classes are particularly helpful for elderly clients, who may not be able to go outdoors for alternative workouts. 

Punchpass just rolled out a new feature integrating Zoom classes into its software platform. You can easily change your online class schedule to a virtual one, take payment or charge passes or memberships, just as you would in person, and keep your customers updated with email links to your classes.

Here are some expert tips on hosting live video classes from Melissa Feeney, of The Barre Blog:

  • After the workout portion of the live stream ends don't turn the camera off right away. Stick around to have a chat with your audience, just like you would if you had just finished an in-person class. This gives you a chance to check-in with everyone and maintain connection from a distance.
  • Host private sessions for clients that are looking for personal one-on-one coaching.
  • It's fairly easy to set up a home studio. If you don't have access to a tripod, you can easily prop up a cellphone or laptop computer at eye level. If you are going to be using the external mic from your computer or phone, you might want to think about borrowing the microphone and speaker system from your business, so that the video is audible from a distance.
  • Don't worry too much about making your videos look polished and professional. Your clients will understand. If your backdrop consists of children running around in the background then that makes the experience that much more authentic and relatable.

Stay Connected Through Social Media

Smart fitness business owners are shifting their resources to social media too. A great way to keep student’s spirits up, maintain that sense of community and friendship while isolated at home, is to run fun, interactive contests and challenges through platforms like Facebook and Instagram, said experts. 

“We'll be continuing to maintain the tribe engagement and support through social media with daily motivation, challenges, and contests with prizes for our members,” said Maile. 

Instagram and Facebook both offer great, live feeds you can update daily to keep your content fresh, and your customers engaged and entertained. 

“Instagram Live is one of the most engaging ways to stay connected, because it allows followers and community members to participate in real-time, while a studio or instructor offers any kind of communication,” said Peterson. “What I’ve been doing is telling my community, with advance notice, what time we will be live on Instagram. So that we can all make time to get through this together.

At Jane DO, the studio is “offering tentative free instagram live workouts at 12pm everyday to ensure that people stand up and get moving because a healthy body is a healthy mind and no one has an excuse to not stand up for 10 minutes and encourage those around them to join in,” said the owners. “We are hosting live Happy Hour at 5pm on Instagram to stay connected, to find some relief during these stressful times.”

How to Price Online Classes

There’s been a proliferation of free yoga classes and at home workouts online. While the generosity is commendable, it’s tough for small gyms and studios. One way to stay relevant and connected is to offer discounted rates on your online classes, and your monthly memberships. 

“Of course, it’s not ideal as a business, but even the most discounted offers have few buyers. People are terrified to spend money, because no one knows when we will be able to have our income or investments back,” said Peterson. “Even though charging $10 for a class is tough for business, modest pricing is a way to keep fitness community members engaged, while doing any part they can to support our favorite studios.”

At Jane DO, a NYC-based cross-training studio, a range of livestream and pre-recorded workouts are offered online through an app, and the studio’s regular software program. The studio is offering 50 percent off its monthly and annual membership fees for the online classes using a promo code. Students can also purchase the classes individually. 

NOVA Fitness Studios, also in NYC is offering online classes via FaceTime and Skype, with a 15 percent discount from their normal package prices. The online offerings include personal training sessions, personal training packages, and classes with a special promo code. 

If you choose to offer your customers a discount, Punchpass makes it super easy to create discounts and to share them with your community.

Another option, if you're hosting videos on YouTube, is to use the platform’s fan funding feature, said Feeney. “Should viewers find the content valuable, there is the option to donate to the channel.”

How to Handle Membership and Class Pass Freezes, Expirations & Cancellations

Allow for more flexible membership policies, and consider not re-activating those memberships immediately when your studio reopens, but wait until your students are ready to re-join, said Badon. 

“When a reopening date is anticipated, I’ll offer a discounted pre-sale for memberships and classes for new clients interested in joining or rejoining the studio. This will help with cash flow, at least when the studio is ready to reopen” she said. “Memberships are on hold right now and will be reactivated upon reopening of the studio. Our studio does not have expiration dates on purchased class cards so we as a studio do not have to worry about that, though I believe that places with expiration dates should offer extensions.”

At Legends Boxing, the gym is waiving its $20 membership freeze fee. 

Meanwhile, make sure to keep adding value and delivering classes to your most loyal members and pass holders by serving up online classes!