Strain of Covid-19 pandemic leaves gyms gasping for breath

Bodybuilder R. Kumareswarren is the proud owner of a reputable gym in Petaling Jaya that opened its doors in September 2013.

However, he suffered a massive blow when the 24-hour The Body Factory Gym & Fitness, came to a grinding halt with the Movement Control Order (MCO) due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

While the order seems to have been relaxed some 48 days later, Kumareswarren admits he and other gymnasium operators are uncertain of what the future holds for them and the industry.

The fitness industry has boomed over the past two decades with many Malaysians subscribing to some form of gym membership. This has led to the mushrooming of gyms nationwide, including neighbourhood gyms usually on the higher levels of shoplots.

But the new norm that requires physical distancing will be a tough act for gymnasium operators to follow, especially those who don’t have the luxury of space due to high rental.

“I’m cracking my head trying to find the right business model moving forward,” admitted Kumareswarren.

“Some people have told me to do stuff online but it has to be different from the myriad of stuff already available on the Internet.”

Kumareswarren is uncertain of what the future holds for him and the industry.

Kumareswarren added he still paid his six staff their wages and is negotiating with his landlord over the rental of his gym that occupies three floors.

“Some of these boys do personal training during their free time and they have not been enjoying that extra cash since March.

“I’m not sure how the fitness landscape is going to transform due to social distancing. Most gyms have space constraints, so if we were to limit the number of people or space out the equipment, it will be a burden to the operators.”

With gyms available at every building block, the stiff competition meant not all operators were enjoying good returns. The “new norm” will naturally see many shying away from sweating it out in such centres.

Twentytwo13, had in an article yesterday, quoted veteran sports administrator Datuk Sieh Kok Chi as saying private coaches are “victims” of Covid-19 and that they should find new ways to render their services.

Kumareswarren pointed out that with more people facing financial woes, fitness may soon be seen as a luxury instead of a necessity.

“Not everyone can afford or have the space for a basic gym set in their home. One would usually pay around RM100 a month and get to use a variety of equipment.

“I know of someone who took a loan of over RM1 million to set up a gym and now he is not earning a single sen. There are others in a similar predicament.”

While appreciating the government’s initiatives to help business owners, Kumareswarren added it only eased some 20 per cent of his cash flow woes. His bigger challenge now is to bring the gym experience online.

“If this happened 15 or 20 years ago, people wouldn’t be talking about it. Today, fitness and heading to the gym are part of our lives. People like the idea of going to the gym, whether it’s for carrying weights, cross-fit or even martial arts.

“But with the new norm, more people might ditch the idea and find new ways to work out. As a gym operator, I need to quickly find that solution as this Covid-19 battle is not going to end anytime soon,” he added.

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