As Sonoma gyms, yoga and pilates studios reopen this week after almost a full year of closure, they face an uphill battle to lure back members.
“Our fight is far from over,” said Sonoma Fit owner Adam Kovacs, who said he lost more than two-thirds of his membership during the pandemic, despite quickly pivoting and spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on virtual classes (SoFit TV), outdoor workout platforms, tents and weather-proof gym equipment.
The cost of owning and operating a gym varies by size, location and type of facility but across the board health club operating costs tend to be high compared to other businesses. The rent alone, for Kovacs’ three gyms in Sonoma, Novato and Petaluma, totals $95,000 a month. And whether clubs own or rent their machines, gym equipment is expensive.
Arturo Jiminez, owner of Sonoma’s Fitness Factory, said his club lost almost every one of its monthly members as the shutdown wore on, while his bills mounted.
“We been paying and paying and paying and the bills keep coming, with no income at all,” said Jiminez.
As Sonoma’s fitness facilities, large and small, prepared to reopen over the weekend, a half dozen owners and managers looked back at the past 12 months and the challenge that still lies ahead.
“We can’t just say ‘Yippee, we’re open!,’” Kovacs said. “The real fight – getting our members and our income back – is still ahead of us.”
The pitch to rejoin
Sonoma Valley’s four biggest gyms – Sonoma Fit, Parkpoint Health Club, Anytime Fitness and Fitness Factory – have all reopened in the last 48 hours.
Parkpoint reopened on March 15 and Sonoma General Manager Jennifer Anderson said she is “thrilled” to welcome back members. She doesn’t expect everyone to immediately feel comfortable working out inside so Parkpoint will continue to offer outdoor workout options for the forseeable future.
“Many of our members have enjoyed being outside for their workouts,” she said.
But it is more than just the services offered that will lure members back, said Anderson.
“They have told us how much they have missed Parkpoint because it has always been the place where they can connect,” she said, noting that’s been missing as people have tried to work out on their own for the past year.
Jiminez and Kovacs agree that sense of community, companionship and access to advice and motivation from gym trainers will likely be crucial in the attempts to re-sign members who walked away during the pandemic.
Just as important, however, will be reassuring wary customers with a variety of coronavirus safety control measures. All Sonoma fitness studios contacted by the Index-Tribune listed a litany of new safety measures from distancing of equipment to electro-static (hospital grade) disinfecting to HVAC upgrades and heavy-duty air purifiers and a greater emphasis on fresh air circulation.
Fitness Factory and Sonoma Fit have also joined Anytime Fitness in being open to members 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Jiminez hopes being open longer hours will be a draw.
“Outdoor classes weren’t an option for us because our members want to work out with equipment,” he said.
Without access to outdoor space in its location in the shopping center, Anytime Fitness has been closed for the better part of the year. It reopened on March 16 at 11 a.m.
“We aren’t going to pressure anyone to come back in who isn’t comfortable yet but we’ll do everything we can to communicate the additional safety measures that have been taken and all the good reasons to get back into a workout routine,” said Anytime Fitness GM Laura Kirley.
Small boutique studios face occupancy challenges
Sonoma’s yoga and pilates studios have resumed classes indoors but while restaurants, museums and theaters now allowed to resume indoor operations at 25 percent capacity under red tier guidelines, fitness centers must max out at 10 percent capacity indoors, which is doable for big gyms but a real challenge for boutique operations.
“Because we can have only four students in the room at a time, we’ll leave it up to the teachers whether they want to continue doing virtual classes until that number increases,” said Yoga Community owner Lisa Willet. Willett will add capacity by putting her tent back up at Sonoma Garden Park and holding outdoor classes there as soon as the weather improves. She also undertook a “pandemic pivot,” offering a community supply store in unused studio space this year; it will also stay open indefinitely.