Fitness Sector Outlook Goes from Bleak to Bullish
A darling of retail landlords prior to COVID-19, gyms looked like a casualty of the shutdown at the height of the pandemic. “The fitness sector’s future seemed bleak as memberships were frozen and/or canceled en masse, and surveys showed that most Americans didn’t plan to renew their gym memberships after the pandemic,” Placer.ai says in a new white paper.
The story a year out is considerably more positive. You could even say gym owners are feeling pumped about the sector’s long-term prospects.
“Foot traffic data shows an ongoing and impressive recovery pattern across many major gym chains,” according to Placer.ai. “On top of a remarkable increase in unique visits, the sector also experienced a rise in the average number of monthly visits per visitor and in the reach of different target market segments prioritizing their health in light of the pandemic.”
To gauge the strength of the recovery in fitness centers, Placer.ai looked at March foot traffic metrics from the standpoint of both year-over-year levels and the metrics of two years ago, when the novel coronavirus hadn’t even emerged.
“While the impressive 45% year-over-year jump in foot traffic seems remarkable, it is also a very limited indicator as many of the analyzed gyms were already closed by mid-month in 2020, thus challenging the effectiveness of the metric,” the white paper states.
However, comparing March 2021 numbers to March 2019 levels “also reveals a clear and marked step forward,” says Placer.ai. “In this comparison, the visit gap in March was down just 21.2%, the lowest since the pandemic began. This was buoyed by a 26.8% jump in month-over-month visits between February and March, further indicating that the return to gyms is in full swing.”
Other metrics measured by Placer.ai showed both an upswing and a shift. Rising even faster than foot traffic overall is the number of visits per customer. “The return of regular visitors is critical as it shows that core audiences for gyms were quick to come back once the doors reopened,” according to the white paper.
Compared to pre-pandemic patterns, though, March 2021 metrics showed that traffic is shifting to different times of day, and also that average visits are getting shorter.
Specifically, the latest metrics show a slight rise in the proportion of gym visits between 15 and 29 minutes, and a slight drop in the incidence of gym stays of 75 minutes or longer. “Gyms that are better-positioned for more short mid-day jumps, by being located near co-working spaces, within malls, or suburban areas, will benefit more from this shift,” Placer.ai says.
Gym owners haven’t simply propped their front doors open and hoped for the best, says Placer.ai. “From adopting new hybrid models of online/in-person classes to emphasizing physical and mental health to making fitness more affordable to other socio-economic population segments, leading gym chains have been working relentlessly at staying relevant in a dramatically changing environment.”