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Everyone’s talking about: The bounceback

Booming membership sales, busy suburban clubs and members visiting during the working day. Operators are reporting it’s good to be back. Kath Hudson finds out what business has been like since the re-set button was pressed

Published in Health Club Management 2021 issue 8
Members are visiting the gym more since lockdowns ended / photo: pure gym
Members are visiting the gym more since lockdowns ended/ photo: pure gym

Rebecca Passmore
Pure Gym
Passmore says Pure Gym has seen an increase in news joiners / photo: pure gym

We’re very pleased with the recovery after the UK’s lockdown three, which has been stronger and faster than the reopening after lockdown one. In the UK we have almost fully recovered, and are operating at 97 per cent of the December 2019 member levels.

When gyms were allowed to reopen in April, we logged a million workouts in the first week in England alone. Across the UK we gained a net 150,000 members from the end of March to 9 May, taking the UK membership base to 1.09m.

Our city-centre clubs have been slower to bounce back than suburban areas, particularly at some of our worker-driven London clubs, where we saw 52 per cent fewer visits in May 2021 compared with May 2019.

Now restrictions have lifted and businesses can move back to their offices we expect to see the demand start to increase at these clubs.

Members are working out more often than they did before the start of the pandemic. In May 2019 members came to PureGym on average 1.21 times per week, but this increased to 1.43 times per week in May 2021. Usage has spread much more across the day and late evenings, rather than being concentrated between 5.00pm and 8.00pm.

The joiner mix is what we’d regard as being very healthy, with a diverse and well-balanced range of ages. We’ve seen slightly more joiners between the ages of 18-22 in 2021, compared with 2019, but overall the mix remains consistent.

We’ve also seen a similarly strong proportion of brand new joiners (as opposed to ex-members, rejoiners or transfers), with 51 per cent new joiners in 2021 compared with 50 per cent in 2019.

In the UK we’re operating at 97 per cent of December 2019 member levels
Sophie Lawler
Total Fitness
Lawler says there’s an emerging preference for flexible memberships / photo: Total Fitness

Recovery is promising and 40 per cent better than after the first UK lockdown. While things slowed a little in June 2021, we still recovered 5 per cent of our membership loss in that month alone. Around 10 to 20 per cent of our new joiners are coming from city clubs and with people working at home, we’re seeing more visits during the daytime.

Almost half our new joiners had a membership pre-lockdown, half of which were with low-cost clubs, so we’ve definitely seen a shift in the demographic profile of new sign-ups and a preference for flexible memberships. The fact we have swimming pools has influenced the choices of 80 per cent of new joiners.

Historically, the main reasons for joining Total Gym revolved around price and location/convenience, and while these remain a factor (28 per cent of joiners cite them), they’re now ranked behind quality and variety.

The busyness of previous gyms is also cited as a core reason to join – we think this suggests a more considered approach to purchasing and are interested to see if this trend continues or diminishes over time, as we return to a more normalised way of living.

Nine per cent of newly-active joiners exercised at home first during lockdown before taking the decision to join a club and nearly half expect to complement their membership with something else, including organised outdoor classes or equipment-led classes at home.

We’ve been surprised that 60 per cent of our joiners signed up for a reason unrelated to the pandemic and this trend was more pronounced in the older age groups. For those who were influenced by COVID-19, it was the youngest joiners who cited this as a driver.

The fact we have swimming pools has influenced the choices of 80 per cent of new joiners
Richard Darwin
The Gym Group
Member satisfaction scores are higher than they were pre-COVID, says Darwin / photo: TGG

Since reopening, trading has outperformed the company’s expectations, reflecting strong demand for the return to gyms. Our membership is now getting close to pre-pandemic levels. Total membership has increased from 547,000 at the end of February 2021 and now stands at 734,000 as of 28 June, versus 794,000 in December 2019.

All members are now paying, with the free freeze option removed in April. Our affordable pricing continues to remain firm, with the average headline price of our standard ‘Do It’ monthly membership at £19.09 as of 28 June, compared to £18.81 in December 2020.

The proportion of members taking up our premium membership, ‘Live It’, has continued to grow, with take-up at 24.7 per cent at the end of June, compared to 22.5 per cent in December 2020.

Member satisfaction scores are higher than pre-COVID levels, reflecting positive feedback from members on safety and cleanliness protocols and the enthusiasm and friendliness of gym colleagues.

Gym visits have been strong, with the average number of visits per member per week running at 1.4 since re-opening, compared with 1.2 for the comparative period in 2019. Before we reopened we polled our current and former members and 50 per cent said they planned to exercise the same amount, while 30 per cent said they planned to exercise more going forward.

Our members are delighted to be working out in the gym again, with visits per member and new joiner sign-up rates at record levels as part of the ongoing trend for people to lead healthier lifestyles.

Although some of our central London and other city-centre locations have been slower to recover, we expect this to change as people gradually return to the office.

This health crisis has demonstrated the importance of physical activity for all of the UK population.

Our membership is getting close to pre-pandemic levels
Clubs in residential areas are faring better, but The Gym Group expects its city sites to recover / photo: TGG
Neil Randall
Anytime Fitness
Randall reports a strong uptake from the active ageing community

We had a feeling there would be a lot of post-lockdown, pent-up demand and it’s been great to see this happen. April 2021 was our best month for new memberships since we’ve been in the UK. Our clubs have been working incredibly hard during the pandemic to reach out to local communities.

On average, our clubs lost around 25 per cent of their membership bases during the pandemic, but many have not just replenished these numbers, but grown them. The membership base is broadly similar, but we have noticed a strong uptake from the active ageing community.

Suburbs are currently performing better, but city trading is building gradually. As workers steadily transition back into offices, we expect to see a significant boost for our clubs in city areas.

Two trends we are noticing are changes in visiting times and the willingness to try new training methods. Working from home means people are now visiting during traditional working hours, so while the morning and early evening are still predominantly the peak periods, they are less pronounced than before.

Only being able to exercise outdoors, or at home, has pushed people to adapt to new methods of training. They’ve returned to the gym with open minds, providing us with great coaching and engagement opportunities.

We’ve seen a soar in demand from local businesses engaging with our clubs to support their employee wellbeing, which is heartening. There’s also been more collaboration between clubs, for example, three sites teamed up to provide free health assessments to more than 150 staff as part of a local hospital’s staff wellbeing event.

We’ve seen a soar in demand from businesses engaging with our clubs to support employee wellbeing
Anytime Fitness has found members more open to trying new workouts / photo: anytime fitness
Mark Sesnan
GLL

Since we reopened, customers have returned at encouraging rates, reaching 60 to 70 per cent of pre-pandemic levels. Summer can traditionally be a quieter time for gyms, with many customers on holiday, but due to restrictions this year, family staycationers can use our many facilities across the UK and we’ve seen an uptick in the use of our lidos and open water venues.

GLL manages gyms and health clubs under the Better band in city-centre locations all over the UK and trading is recovering well, although the picture in rural locations is more mixed. While our loyal customer base has been itching to get back to the local gyms or swimming pools, some have been more reticent about returning. Our marketing approach has been to encourage and reassure users that taking exercise once again is beneficial to their health and wellbeing, especially as GLL has been cited by the Cabinet Office as a COVID-safe exemplar.

We’ve always had a broad demographic of customers and as a charitable social enterprise, are proud to be at the heart of local communities’ health and wellbeing, whether rich or poor. We’ve not seen a significant change in our customer profile, but we’re consciously programming to reflect the characteristic diversity of our local communities.

Encouraged by the summer weather, business in outdoor locations is brisk. But we also have indoor venues such as Newquay Leisure World, a trampoline and playpark and Britannia Leisure Centre in Hackney – a multi-activity centre featuring a kids’ Splashzone – which come into their own when the weather turns.

Our marketing approach has been to encourage and reassure users, especially as GLL has been cited by the Cabinet Office as a COVID-safe exemplar
David Minton
The Leisure Database Company

There’s a mounting body of anecdotal evidence showing the industry is rebounding at different rates in the UK. Figures released from the low-cost brands show the predominantly younger consumers are keen to get back into the gym, with around 90 per cent returning. The mid-market, including hotels, has seen a mixed response, depending on demographics and offerings. Families have been returning, while older members have been more reticent.

Across the public sector, an average return rate of around 60 per cent is reflective of the wider audience and reduced capacity. This percentage is very similar to the official figures from the hospitality sector and the Office for National Statistics.

Variations between neighbourhoods and city centres can be stark. During lockdown, the concept of 15 minutes walk radius to home defined our exercise habits. The number of outdoor walks logged on Strava and Apple Health tripled during 2020, home workouts jumped from 8 per cent to 53 per cent, aggregators saw over 400 per cent increase in outdoor classes.

With more than three million people taking up gardening many found caring for the environment an altruistic way to burn calories.

Biodata from wearing smart devices fast-tracked the link between healthcare and fitness and now we need to understand the relationship between the exercise dose and improving personal health.

All of the above and trends data since 2019 will be published in spring 2022 in the State of the Industry Report by the Leisure Database Company. www.leisuredb.com

Younger consumers are keen to get back into the gym, with around 90 per cent returning
Ben Beevers
Everyone Active
Beevers says some attendances are beating pre-pandemic numbers as customers focus on their health / photo: everyone active

We clearly have a large section of the population wanting to reconnect with activities at local leisure facilities and membership sign-ups have been really positive in the months since reopening. We’re currently trading at between 80 and 90 per cent of pre-pandemic levels.

Over the past 17 months, we’ve evaluated every area of the business, including how we operate and sell in a new environment. We’ve also made several developments to benefit our business in the long term, including our digital operations [Everyone Active launched Everyone on Demand in partnership with Les Mills, among others].

As expected, sales have recovered quickest in the suburbs, while central city locations are running behind, with fewer people returning to their place of work. Consequently, we’ve seen a 10 per cent decrease in members at our city-centre location in London.

We’ve noticed our customers are taking more accountability for their actions to ensure their own and others safety in our centres, whether that’s cleaning down equipment or planning their visit ahead of time. Following the lifting of restrictions on 19 July customers are still attending quieter sessions at off-peak times.

Those returning to our centres are demonstrating an increased awareness of their own health, which is especially evident for the over 50s and we’ve seen an increase at several centres for swimming attendance, at higher than pre-pandemic levels.

Everyone is happy to be back, including our colleagues: a survey we conducted in May, found more than 75 per cent of colleagues felt the reopening of centres has improved their mental wellbeing.

We’re currently trading at between 80 and 90 per cent of pre-pandemic levels
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