Gyms Abroad Face Closures Due to COVID-19, but American Affiliate Owners Remain Unconcerned

March 9, 2020 by
Photo courtesy: Carlo Strati
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The 150 clients at CrossFit Varese in Azzate, Northern Italy have been without their gym since February 23, when the Italian government mandated a closure to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

On Sunday, efforts to contain the virus in Italy took an even more drastic step: 16 million people are now quarantined in the region. Weddings and funerals have been suspended, people are asked to remain at home, and those who break the quarantine could face jail time.

Gym Owners in Italy Face Lockdown

Although his “members are complaining because they want to workout,” said CrossFit Varese owner Carlo Strati, he is taking it all very seriously.

  • “The situation is serious here. The most important thing at this time is to contain the spread of the virus….The government is taking serious actions and we must do our part,” he said.

For Strati, this has meant providing home workouts for clients to do at home, suspending memberships and ultimately taking a financial hit.

  • “They are not paying. We are losing money,” he said, adding, “but that’s the only way. It’s a real emergency…It is our responsibility to educate people to a healthier lifestyle, not only when it’s fun and easy, but also in this situation.”

According to Strati, his gym will remain closed until at least April 3.

Photo courtesy: Alex Cibiri

It’s a Different Story in the United States

On Sunday the world hit 110,000 COVID-19 cases, gym owners in the United States say they’re largely unconcerned about the potential impact on their community’s health, or on the business’ bottom line.

  • “Not worried. Got a jug of hand sanitizer before the great shortage of 2020, and am reminding people to stay home when sick, as we do every flu season,” wrote Chase Tolleson, the owner of CrossFit Algonquin in Illinois, on the CrossFit Affiliate Owner’s Only Facebook forum.
  • “Business as usual,” mimicked Steve Loeding of Top Gun CrossFit in Minneapolis, MN.
  • “Zero concern. Social media and the news have put so much info out, I find it redundant to tell my clients to wash their hands and don’t come to the gym if they are sick,” said Andrew Petrulis of CrossFit High Order in East Haddam, CT.
  • “Not worried,” said Theo Tsekouras of CrossFit H-Town in Houston, TX.
  • “Not sweating it,” added Eric Freedom of CrossFit Reason in Arcadia, CA.
  • “This is just another media hyped scare. How many gyms closed when we were all going to die from SARS, bird flu, mad cow disease, Y2K? Business as usual,” added Bryan Stoneking of CrossFit School of Sweat in Temescal Valley, CA.
  • “Not concerned. Keep the facility clean, members need to help maintain that cleanliness, stay at home if sick and keep cleaning supplies well-stocked. Nothing different from what we do the rest of the year,” added Michael Dean of TGH CrossFit in Grand Haven, MI. in the PushPress User Group forum on Facebook.

While most American gym owners said they’re unconcerned, others have admitted they have stepped up their sanitation efforts.

  • “We talk about hand washing and remind everyone to use the sanitizer on equipment. Our members have reported that, when family members or friends appear concerned about the gym, they tell people that I have them all very well-trained to spray everything down when cleaning up and keep the place clean,” said Erin Ruppert, the owner of CrossFit Rising Phoenix in Shohola, Pa.
  • “I am a little more diligent now to make sure it’s actually getting done but not overly concerned any more than any other cold and flu season and basic good hygiene,” added Angi Bowman Halvorsen of Carlisle CrossFit in Pennsylvania.

Gym Owners Across Asia Minimize Risks

But Erbaytan Murat—the owner of Reebok Crossfit Mewellness in Shanghai, China who was forced to shut his doors for five weeks—explained cleanliness of the gym isn’t going to make a difference if the situation worsens in the United States.

  • “It’s not always how clean your gym is. It’s also about where your members have been. Coronavirus is no joke,” he said.

Though Murat was forced to freeze memberships when they were closed, to mitigate financial damage, he offered home training workouts for a “small fee,” he explained.

Shavonne Wong, who owns a krav maga gym in Singapore, is also taking the virus seriously. As of Sunday, Singapore had just 150 reported cases and zero deaths.

  • “Definitely concerned. We’re cleaning the gym more and also sent out an advisory to all gym members to stay home if they aren’t feeling well. (I) will tell members who appear to be coughing or sneezing to leave the gym,” she said. She has also started advertising for more private training sessions with clients in lieu of group classes.

Some of Wong’s members have already requested membership extensions due to the virus, and Wong hasn’t hesitated to accommodate this.

  • “It’s part of life when you have a customer-facing business,” she said.
Photo courtesy: Dave Henry

The Situation can Change Quickly, Preparedness is Best

While it’s only human nature not to worry too much about a problem that you don’t directly see and feel personally—arguably the case for American gym owners—Italy is evidence of how fast things can change. At time of publishing, Italy had 7,375 COVID-19 cases and 366 deaths, but on February 29, just nine days ago, they had just 1,000 cases. Also at the time of publishing, the United States had 554 cases with 22 deaths.

This is why, in Canada, where they have only had 66 cases and zero deaths as of Sunday, Dave Henry, the owner of CrossFit London in Ontario, has come up with a plan that will allow him to continue to service his clients without losing revenue should it come to that.

Henry, who has business interruption insurance, explained his insurance doesn’t cover something like COVID-19, so he can’t expect any insurance compensation should his business start to struggle financially.

Henry’s plan—if it gets to the point where people are scared to come to the gym or if there’s a mandated lockdown—is to deliver a video each day with the workout of the day. He and his other coaches will also deliver live online classes.

  • “I’m doing a technology test run this week, and I have my program done and an outline that my coaches have, so that any one of us can deliver it if need be,” he said. Henry has already drafted a letter to his members letting them know the plan.
  • “So that they can know that we’re taking care of them and don’t send pause my membership messages,” he said. “Extra effort to deliver extra value in the form of resources in lieu of in-person training.”

Henry has also taken measures to ensure his gym is well stocked with the necessary supplies.

  • “About a month ago, I made sure to stock up on all my business supplies knowing there would be a potential delay in overseas shipments,” he said.

Regardless of whether or not the situation becomes more serious in North America, Henry said this should be a good reminder to all affiliates to be fiscally responsible.

  • “This should be a wake-up call to have a much larger rainy day fund savings in the business that can cover the unexpected,” he said.

But as Lars Ivar Hagfors of CrossFit Trondheim in Norway pointed out, should any gym owner get to the point of lockdown,  their perception of what’s important will shift away from the business’s bottom line, just like Strati’s has in northern Italy.

  • “The way I see it, if I have to close due to this virus it will be because it has already infected most of my city,” said Hagfors. “And keeping the gym open is going to be the least of my problems.”

See additional coronavirus coverage on the Morning Chalk Up:

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