Fitness businesses are looking for the usual growth in traffic to occur this January after COVID-19 halted normal business last year.
Fondren Fitness in Jackson opened in August of 2019 and is locally owned and operated. Terry Sullivan, the gym’s general manager, said the gym had a great fall and winter of 2019 with a great, normal start to the year before the pandemic hit. The gym closed entirely for two months causing Fondren Fitness to not yet have a normal year in operation.
“We were firing on all cylinders and then had to shut down, and we have been rebuilding ever since – facing a lot of the same challenges that other businesses are facing,” Sullivan said. “We are getting there.”
In the fitness business, it is standard that January is the busiest month of the year as people commit to New Year’s resolutions. However, the last two years have been far from normal leaving Sullivan hoping and anticipating for a normal start to 2022 for the gym business.
“No one really knows and, from my conversations with other gym managers and instructors, everyone is hoping for a good January because we just haven’t seen one in a couple years and that is industry standard,” Sullivan said. “It is when you get a lot of your new business so we are anticipating and hoping for that.”
Before COVID-19 cases rose, Fondren Fitness experienced a 40 percent traffic increase and 30 percent membership increase in December and January. Sullivan said he believes people are ready to get back to normalcy and are realizing having a healthier body gives you a healthier immune system to resist the COVID-19 outbreaks.
“Everybody has put on the COVID-19 15 (pounds), instead of the Freshman 15,” Sullivan said. “We all started not exercising as much, eating a little more and drinking a bit more to deal with things. People need to get back into their routine and start to hit that reset button in January. That is what we all use as a yearly time to buckle down and get back in shape.”
Greg Centilli, Executive Director of Madison HealthPlex, said he also believes people have become more health conscious and know the importance of their health due to the pandemic and that will show as business picks back up in the new year.
“We talk about all the time that your health is your wealth and so, if you can keep your health, it gives you the opportunity to go on and do everything else in your life,” Centilli said. “It is really about getting people in and educating them on the health and wellness and diet and getting them to make it an active part of your day. We try to get people to where it is part of their day, and not something that you skip or gets pushed to the back burner when you get busy. It is something that you have to fit into your day and schedule.”
The Madison Healthplex sees anywhere between 500 to 1,00 new members in the first quarter of the year, which includes January, February and March. The gym currently has about 3,300 members. Centelli said this is a national trend and those are the biggest growth months in fitness, especially this year due to the pandemic.
“Last year was a little unstable,” Centilli said. “This year and going forward, I think the influx of people that had died down will make our attendance go up. Especially when all the research and everything is pointing to a lot of the COVID-19 mortalities affected by fitness and how big of an advantage you have – maintain fitness and diet.”
Centilli said the first quarter of the year, which is the most profitable quarter, is when the gym gains all of their new members. From then on, it is a retention game throughout the rest of the year.
“Our retention is phenomenal here (compared to national averages),” Centilli said. “Our cancellations are three to four percent, which is really a low number, but the attendance drops off. When the time changes and it is lighter longer and the weather changes, your evening clientele starts going back outside and sports start back. You can predict your year pretty well with what is going to happen.”
Fondren Fitness is betting on a good future and purchased additional building space turning a section of the gym into studios for group classes. This January, the studio section will officially open, and Sullivan said they are excited about the expansion.
Sullivan said although most people don’t cancel their memberships, the commitment to working out fades after the new year. However, there are tips he has to keep the momentum going in your fitness routine.
“The biggest thing is, if you struggle to stick to a routine and you have a good couple weeks and then you fall off the cliff, having a workout and accountability partner – whether it be a spouse or friend or someone you meet at the gym,” Sullivan said. “If you notice you are going to struggle, it is good to have someone to keep you accountable.”
He said this accountability partner can also be a personal trainer, which is something they offer in three or six month programs.
“Hiring that trainer is going to keep you coming into the gym longer than you would otherwise,” Sullivan said. “It is a good way to invest in your future health.”
The second suggestion Sullivan said to stay consistent in the gym is to keep in mind that it is always okay to start over.
“If you fail the first time you try, don’t let that derail your whole year,” Sullivan said. “It seems to be what happens – people feel really gung ho about it and then something happens, and they get sick or go out of town and then come back and can’t get the momentum back again. So just allow yourself to start over.”
Sullivan said to just hit the reset button and get up, go to the gym and try again.