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How Gyms Are Surviving And Property Execs Are Keeping Fit In Lockdown

Gyms and boutique fitness clubs are among the many, many types of occupiers hit hard by the post-coronavirus lockdown. Heading into a small space to sweat with other people is off the agenda for the foreseeable future. 

So how are gym and boutique fitness operators adapting to the new social norms that will be in place for many months to come? And how are commercial property pros who were keen fitness fans staying healthy now they are being forced to exercise in a different way?

Ahead of a webinar next week looking at how to stay physically and mentally well and run a business during lockdown, Bisnow spoke to a boutique fitness operator, leisure expert and several real estate execs about the new world of staying fit. 

Tristan Smith, co-owner and operator, F45 Oxford Circus and Soho

An online F45 class, with members lifting pot plants and cats instead of weights.

For many gyms and boutique fitness club owners, there is only one potential solution available to keep money coming in — try and migrate as much of their business as possible online. 

“We took action to close our sites before the government made their announcement [that gyms would have to close] because it was obvious it was going to happen anyway,” F45’s Tristan Smith told Bisnow.

Franchisees run F45 sites where members undertake high-intensity interval training sessions. The brand has grown quickly in its native Australia, the UK and the U.S.

Smith said he and his partners started off running online classes for free through his site’s Instagram page, and once F45 put the back-end technology in place, they are now running classes for paying members online through Zoom. Members pay £20 a week to access the classes, and so far more than 200 members have signed up, out of more than 500 members for the previous sites.

“If it takes off it could be a good earner, and it complements the existing sites,” he said, adding that he is looking to tap into the market for large corporates to run online sessions for staff working remotely. 

He has retained as many of his freelance trainers as possible, so that members accessing the online classes have a familiar face, and said those taking the classes have found novel ways of getting around the lack of equipment in their homes — lifting cases of cider, pets and even children.

Smith said he is planning on opening his sites up again once the lockdown is over, and that his landlords provided rent holidays or deferrals to reduce his outgoings. But he pointed out that boutique fitness clubs like the ones he runs will inevitably have to change.

“You’re not going to be able to cram 36 people into a class in that small space anymore — the fact that it is an efficient use of space is a big selling point of F45,” he said.

That will hurt margins in a sector that is already highly competitive. 

David Bell, Head of Global Leisure, Savills

Savills' David Bell

“The forced closure of gym and fitness studios facilities because of the coronavirus outbreak does not mean gym goers should stop sweating, in fact, working out might be one of the best ways to pass the time,” Savills’ David Bell said. 

F45 and other boutique fitness operators have set up online workout classes that people can join from the comfort of their own homes to help stay motivated and not fall out of their usual routines. Bell said this trend has been spearheaded by Joe Wickes, The Body Coach, who has started doing a daily 9am workout live on YouTube, which an impressive 2 million people joined on the first day. 

Bell said at-home fitness was previously dominated by companies like Peloton, but some of the key boutique operators such as Pyscle, Barry's Bootcamp, F45 Training, Kobox and Fly London are now following suit via free, live and on-demand classes on Instagram. 

“With most operators offering these services free to members (and nonmembers alike through the function of Instagram) they will be hoping that these free services will serve to build brand loyalty and ensure members don't transfer to other forms of exercise during the period the gyms are closed — effectively working hard to ensure those members, old and new, return to the physical gyms as soon as restrictions are lifted.”

Bisnow can attest to the fact that Bell keeps himself in shape, so what is he doing in these altered times?

“Being physically and mentally strong in these challenging times is of upmost importance, and I have embraced working out from home, taking a number of the free classes, and also creating my own HIIT sessions in my garden,” he said. “Also, the local boutique gym in Cheshire, Fitism, which I sometimes frequent and is owned by ex England cricketer Michael Vaughan, has kindly lent me a spin bike so I can still keep up with my indoor spin classes. This, coupled with running a couple of times a week, will hopefully mean I maintain my fitness or even enhance it during lockdown!”

Selina Dicker, Head of Corporate and Institutional Real Estate Debt, Lloyds Banking Group

Lloyds' Selina Dicker

“It’s not about getting fit for me, I love the countryside and generating a few endorphins keeps me sane,” Lloyds’ Selina Dicker, who has competed for Great Britain in sailing events worldwide, told Bisnow.  

“As a real estate lender though I am actually very busy looking after clients in these challenging times, so I need to be efficient with my exercise timetable. I started off ambitiously with different ideas — turbo trainer, online Pilates classes, walking, cycling and gardening (if that counts). I have a bad knee and so can’t run.  

“I am lucky living in the countryside in Suffolk, so outdoor road biking has now become my activity of choice and I’ve settled on a cycling routine involving a 27km loop that I can complete pre-work. Doing it at this time means I have no excuse for being stuck on phone calls, writing papers or darkness setting in.  Doing the same lap every day I suspect will get monotonous soon, and my weekend exercise allowance is going to need to be used for getting lost, seeking new routes. Ultimately though you have to do what works for you, your job and your family.”

James Goldsmith, Head of Leasing, AXA IM

AXA's James Goldsmith

“Two years ago to the day, I was standing on the start line for the Marathon Des Sables, alongside my colleague Harry Badham and our Desert RICS industry friends,” AXA IM’s James Goldsmith said. “Fast-forward to today, and in just over two weeks, I was supposed to be running the London Marathon as a fundraiser for the Royal Hospital for neuro-disability. Instead, rather than being in peak training — to the extent that it ever really started — I’m in lockdown and a household with our two youngest children and Martha, the 13-year-old puppy.

“We’re very fortunate, living within walking distance of the great outdoors which is the South Downs. So rather than physical hibernation and Saturday morning 55 laps around our home as a social media-fuelled replacement to the great Park Run community event, (we’ve measured it!) we can for now run and cycle in the isolated wilderness. It is as much — if not more — mental wellbeing as it is physical. All measured on Strava of course, holding us all to account. And walking Martha, who wonders what’s hit her.

“As for fundraising, the Just Giving account is ticking over by my ‘dry isolation’ — if you’ve seen The Lighthouse, you’ll readily appreciate the peril of alcohol and isolation! And I’m donating amounts which I would have spent otherwise.”

Jo Allen, Chief Executive, Frogmore

Frogmore's Jo Allen with trainers Jason (left) and Adam (right)

“I have two personal trainers who helped me get in shape for the London Marathon which I ran in both 2017 and '18,” Frogmore’s Jo Allen said.

“Since lockdown I continue to train with them. I have an hour with Jason via Zoom on Wednesday evenings — he left a 16kg kettlebell on my doorstep as a hint! 

“Adam would normally come into the office on Mondays and Fridays and I train with him and a collection of ‘Frogmore fitties’ in the basement meeting room where we have, over time, assembled a variety of equipment including a Wattbike, skipping ropes, TRX, etc. 

“Adam is currently with his family in Bulgaria so he trains us twice a week via Skype. He is in fact under house arrest as he flew to Bulgaria from the UK — during one of our lunchtime sessions the police turned up to check he was home! 

“I think we are probably working harder than ever as there’s nowhere to hide on screen. It is so uplifting to see my lovely colleagues joining the collective effort. It brings us all together even though we are apart.”

Keith Breslauer, Managing Director, Patron Capital

Patron Capital's Keith Breslauer

“It has been real difficult but I have been able to use my small AstroTurf garden that at least creates some type of outdoor experience,” Patron’s Keith Breslauer said. “I certainly hope that my neighbours aren’t too angry at the loud noises early in the morning!

“I was originally training to climb with my daughter in the Todgha Gorges in the Atlas Mountains in Morocco. Unfortunately this has been postponed given the virus and hopefully we will be spending some time mountaineering in Chamonix over the summer.

“Accordingly as no climbing gyms are open, I am left a combination of aerobics and some kind of active strength work, particularly focused on building climbing strength.”

To hear from experts about staying physically and mentally well and running a business in the age of coronavirus, join Bisnow London's Finding The Silver Lining Webinar on 14 April.