Health and Fitness Franchises Look to Rebound in 2022 and Beyond
Businesses in every industry were impacted by the pandemic in some way over the past two years. Some faced subtle changes while others, like home service franchises, saw increased revenues due to more people choosing to do work on their home. Those in sectors such as restaurants and health and fitness suffered the most, primarily due to extended closures.
Before we forecast how business will look in the new year as we continue to recover from the pandemic, let’s assess the damage and the toll that it has taken on the health and fitness industry. Certainly, the biggest impact is on their business operation came during the outset of the pandemic with the closing of their facilities. Large, public gatherings were banned to prevent the spread of the virus and like many other public, non-essential businesses, gyms had to close. In some cases, they had to close for several months or even half a year depending on the location and local regulations.
But here’s what speaks to the power of a franchise model. Many brands made adjustments and survived. Interestingly enough, some reached out to their customers and asked if they would continue with their membership. Even though the locations were closed, some customers continued to pay their monthly fees because they wanted to help support them and keep them in business. The recurring revenue model proved to be valuable.
Some fitness centers moved their classes online allowing members to log on from the safety of their home. That worked well for some classes that didn’t require much equipment. Other locations moved classes and some equipment outside. Since people couldn’t congregate inside, the fitness centers held classes in their parking lot or a nearby park. They were temporary solutions that helped fitness centers bridge that gap. It was actually very encouraging to see the their creativity and adaptability in the face of adversity.
Looking Forward to 2022
Almost all fitness franchises increased their sanitizing practices based on CDC guidelines and took extra precautions in cleaning their materials and equipment. I suspect we will see those practices remain in place, coupled with permanent sanitation practices like touchless check-ins.
Keep in mind, gyms and fitness are part of a larger health and wellness umbrella. It is a $52 billion industry here in the U.S. that encompasses everything from spas to hair salons and medical clinics. The commonality among these businesses is that they are service related and dependent on on-site customers for survival. Which stands to reason that they would be attentive to stringent sanitation details amid a pandemic. I expect many of these newfound practices will evolve to the new normal.
However, not all types of fitness franchises may implement these changes long-term. Big box gyms have done a lot to adhere to required government sanitation practices like spraying and cleaning down the machinery. But I think with a lot of the big box gyms, which generally attract younger people, you will find less of these practices remaining in place. Over time, I think people will revert pretty quickly to their old habits.
The middle ground is the increasingly popular boutique fitness franchise, a smaller more specialized fitness establishment that is somewhat divided between male and female clientele. The average boutique fitness customer is female and I think there has always been a higher sensitivity to cleanliness and sanitization. Boutique fitness has a lot of interpersonal nature to it. People know each other and there is more of a familial relationship. Many of these centers have instituted new policies which will endure.
Status quo is that this industry has rebounded and actually into the black. More than 60 million Americans belong to gyms, and I think a lot of those who used to be involved in going to fitness facilities and had stepped away are now comfortable returning. The reality is that Covid numbers will rise and fall and industries are adjusting. Generally speaking, the fitness industry has done pretty well between trying to maintain their membership, being flexible and utilizing government recovery programs.
Moving forward, entrepreneurs interested in becoming a franchisee in the health and wellness industry, should look at least 12 months out. By the time they do their due diligence, sign a franchise agreement, find a location, negotiate a letter of intent and lease and do a build out, it is a yearlong process. At a minimum, someone will have to think about what the world will look like going into 2023. Even though we may have some bumps between now and then, it is hopefully unlikely that we go back to extended closures. We will be further removed from the worst of the pandemic as we gradually return to normal times.
As we look ahead, innovation will shape the future of health and fitness franchises. Technology is playing a larger part in the fitness world, accelerated by the demands of the pandemic. Contactless sign-ins and on-demand fitness instruction are examples of ways in which fitness centers are providing members with exclusive online training and fitness classes. Look for apps to give real time checks-ins, payment options and online class schedules along with customized workouts designed through computer analysis. Wearable technology like a smart watch will sync with smart fitness equipment to gauge user performance.
The remarkable and creative pivots made by fitness franchises in the past two years have kept them in the game and propelled the industry to the next level. For those looking into a business ownership opportunity in the new year, this may be the perfect time to flex your financial muscles.
Rick Bisio is one of the countries most respected franchise coaches and author of the Amazon best seller, The Educated Franchise – 3rd Edition. Since becoming a franchise coach in 2002, Bisio has assisted thousands of aspiring entrepreneurs nationwide explore the dream of business ownership. www.afranchisecoach.com