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Unlock 4.0: Confusion and anxiety grips gym owners across the country

Gym owners across the country are losing money whether they open or not, as businesses get financially squeezed between high rents, no income and low footfalls

A worker wearing personal protective equipment sanitizes fitness gear inside a gym in New Delhi.
A worker wearing personal protective equipment sanitizes fitness gear inside a gym in New Delhi. (PTI)

On 5 August, the central government allowed gyms across the country to be reopened, except for those in containment zones. While a few state governments have allowed gyms to be up and running, it seems like an endless wait for others. At either end of the spectrum, things are far from ideal.

Maharashtra continues to be the state with the most number of active cases. In Mumbai, gym owners have been hoping for months to get back to business, only to see no action thus far. A few businesses already have safety plans in place, following government directives, apart from introducing their own safety procedures. They’re just waiting for the state government to give the go-ahead.

“We’ll require members and trainers to wear masks or shields at all times and measure their body temperature before they enter. We plan to discontinue the use of shower and locker facilities. The plan is to handout disposable gloves to everyone the moment they enter the gym, which can be discarded when they leave. I don’t mind spending a little more to ensure safety," says Milind Vaze, who runs Fit For Life in Mumbai.

“Life has become sedentary for a lot of people and they are conscious of their health. If we start today, it will take another few months for people to gain the confidence of entering a gym. If buses are now accessible for everybody, why not gyms," he adds.

Given the number of jobs at stake, gym owners have also moved the Bombay high court for relief this month.

“We’ve approached a lot of local representatives, but all that we’ve got so far are false assurances," says Girish Shetty, general secretary of the Amateur Bodybuilders Association of Maharashtra. “So many personal trainers have been forced to take up other jobs to survive. Even those who have assignments have had to slash their rates. There has to be some clarity on when things can resume."

Things are no different in Pune. When the lockdown was announced, Fit Beings took their sessions online, but discontinued it after a tepid response. Given the current uncertainty, they are attempting to branch out by developing an Artificial Intelligence-based fitness application which can aid workouts for individual users. However, manager Navid Sheikh has a bigger headache to deal with once operations resume.

“We pay a rent of 3 lakh each month and our landlord has been demanding 50% of it even for the lockdown months. Our electricity bill has added up to 50,000 for the basic connection, even though the gym hasn’t been operational since March. A lot will depend on how these things are handled if we are to continue functioning," Sheikh says.

The same uncertainty prevails in New Delhi where gym owners protested this week to save their industry on August 22. The lack of an income has led people like Farhan Khan, proprietor at Ripped Gym, to build his brand online. He currently conducts personal training sessions over the Internet, even as he may be forced to release half the team in the time ahead.

“I have to first tackle my pending expenses in the form of rent and electricity, while there will also be substantial costs incurred while following government guidelines once we restart. I don’t see people buying new memberships instantly, so I’ll have to figure out some money to run the gym on a monthly basis," Khan says.

In Haryana, gyms have been functional since early-August. But gym-owners here have their own set of problems. Aditya Goyal, who runs Jacked Fitness, had to first leave sufficient distance between the machines and sanitize his facility. He divided each day into 11 slots of 90 minutes each, where only 15 members could work out at the same time. This meant that only 165 members could come in each day. However, he’s recording a daily average footfall of just 30 members.

“People are still not ready to step into a gym, even though they may crowd markets. So, we have no new members but still incur a monthly expense of between 6-8 lakh. Then of course, there is the risk of infection for the staff that is here all day. I think the reopening has been a little premature," he says. Goyal had to hike up membership rates by 20-30% to manage his costs, besides retaining just eight of the 36 staff members. He’s even made three visits to the police station to handle refund complaints from members.

“It’s really depressing to just sit and wait, hoping someone will step into a space that once had 700 members coming in each day. I’ll manage to run it for a month, but things are going to get really difficult if this scenario continues," he says.

At Boss Fitness in Kolkata, Ather Shafi has slashed his rates to make his pricing competitive. Besides, he now accepts partial payment, especially from his younger clientele who cannot afford the fees.“Though we have around 20 new memberships so far, it’s evident that there is no scope of making profits at the moment. So I’ll be happy if we can simply maintain rent and pay our salaries for now," Shafi says.

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