Some have been pushing for weeks. Like the old lady standing in front of the door with her yellow vaccination booklet in March. “Alex,” she said, “I’ve been vaccinated twice now, you have to let me in.”
“Alex” is Alexandra Backasch. The 47-year-old runs the Elixia gym in Lichterfelde Ost. For more than a decade, people from the neighborhood have been training on fitness equipment, stretching with yoga or swimming in the 25-meter pool here in the Lio shopping center in southwest Berlin. Some people dream of the South Seas while swimming, a larger than life panorama of the Fiji Islands adorns the wall of the swimming pool. But no one has been swimming in the pool since November. The sports equipment is unused, the trainers complete their training and Pilates courses alone in the course rooms, the audience sits at home and participates in gymnastics via the internet.
But now that corona numbers are falling, an end to the forced stalemate is also in sight in Berlin. The clubs could reopen Friday. You only know for sure on Tuesday, when the Senate meets again. Only then will they find out what conditions the operators must adhere to during indoor training. “No one is talking to us,” Backasch says angrily.
No one knows what conditions apply when opening
In fact, the fitness industry is one of the necessities of corona relaxation. Politicians are too afraid that people can get infected during exercise if they exercise or sweat together in the sauna. Although numerous studies show that the risk of infection is negligible, even with indoor training, the clubs are always among the first to close during lockdown, and among the last to open again.
This could also be related to the association landscape. Instead of having a strong mouthpiece like gastronomy, several associations share representation in the fitness industry.
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Eleven million people were members
The industry is certainly a heavyweight in economic terms. The 7,000 studies generated sales of over 4.1 billion euros in the pre-Corona year 2019, eleven million people were members. But the two lockdowns in the corona crisis have left their mark. At the end of last year, the membership was 11.6 percent, and sales fell by a quarter, according to a survey conducted by the Employers’ Association for German fitness and health facilities (DSSV).
But the problem is even bigger than these numbers suggest. For from December to March, the studios traditionally close 50 percent of their new memberships, “it was not possible due to the closure orders,” says Deputy CEO of DSSV, Florian Kündgen.
But because contracts were terminated or expired at the same time, the true fluctuation rate is many times higher. Small studies in particular suffer from the loss of members. Ten to 40 percent of members are missing, depending on how well a studio has understood to keep customers on board, says Botond Mezey of the Federal Association of Health Studios Germany, who mainly represents small providers.
The revenue is lacking not only now but also in the future
“Every day we have to close costs us at least one member,” Benito Wegrad points out. He is the CEO of the Elixia chain in Berlin. There are three studios, the club in Lichterfelde is one of them. The problem: Since contracts with sports studios usually run for one or two years, the revenue is missing not only now, but also in the future – unless replenishment can be found quickly.
Fresh start offer
To attract new members, there are currently special offers for clubs that otherwise reject such promotions. This includes, for example, Clays in Berlin-Zehlendorf. If you sign a 24-month contract now, you can train for six months for free.
McFit offers monthly terminable contracts for EUR 19.90 instead of EUR 29.90 per share. month. Fitness First gives new customers the opportunity to train for free during the first 40 days of the contract and to cancel at the end of the respective test phase if they wish. With a 12-month contract, you can terminate within the first three months, and new customers also receive a Corona guarantee: you only pay when the club is open.
Pay dues even if the study is closed?
Previously, Fitness First members had to actively apply for such an exemption from contributions. Even at McFit, the records continue if you do not move. The members there, however, get the time of the closure linked to the contract period free of charge.
Other studies do not book on their own. This includes Clays as well as Elixia Studios, but the contract with Elixia is extended by the months in which the clubs were closed. Julia Rehberg from the Hamburg Consumer Center doubts that it is legal. But the courts judged differently. Clay, on the other hand, does not stretch, as is emphasized.
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Alexandra Backasch also fears she will lose members. 4,200 people had signed up for her study before Corona, now it should be a quarter smaller, she estimates. Still, she does not want to aggressively advertise with special offers – for the sake of her regular customers.
The November aid came in early May
But it is so much the more important to them that things can get going again. So far, state aid has only flowed hesitantly. The club manager says she received the November aid two weeks ago and is still waiting for the money from the other programs. Until then, she keeps her head above water with a KfW loan. And try to save where possible. Most employees are on short-term work, the light in the studio is off. But she must not drain the water in the pool, it is the water tank for the sprinkler system in the mall.
While competition still awaits, industry giant McFit is testing the limits of what is allowed. In Berlin, the members have for a long time been able to train again in six places – outdoors. The fitness machines stand outside in the parking lot, they are guarded by security at night, and a tarp protects them when it rains. “We want to give our members the opportunity to bridge the time the studio is closed with, with safe training in the fresh air,” emphasizes Hagen Wingertszahn, CEO of McFit Germany. The concept was well received. McFit also used the Corona crisis to make a takeover. The ailing traditional American chain Gold’s Gym is now part of the McFit empire, and one of the three German branches will soon open in Spandau.
The training is already underway again in Munich or Leipzig
Unlike in Berlin, the studios in many other major German cities are already open again for indoor training. This applies, for example, to Munich, Leipzig, Frankfurt am Main or Münster. The rules are different. In most cases, those who have not been vaccinated or have recovered must present a negative coronal test, training places must be booked in advance – both for courses and for the area.
Studio operators in Berlin expect a repeat of last year, where changing rooms, showers, saunas and swimming pools were originally closed and the number of visitors was limited. Moritz Kreppel, head of the Urban Sports Club, is annoyed by the “patchwork” of rules. “We are represented in seven European countries, and things are going better abroad than in Germany,” he says.
Three days in advance, it’s short
Already now things are roaring again in Berlin. “The fitness studios in Berlin need clear guidelines for when they can reopen and adequate notice,” Krepper stresses. “You have to get the employees back from short-term work and make new course plans, it does not happen from one day to the next.”
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Alexandra Backasch now also has very practical problems. She does not know if she can schedule water fitness classes. And now she needs equipment back from customers. In November, she lent out her free weights and other exercise equipment so people could train at home.
But for most, it was not a substitute for the studio, Backasch says. Many of their members are older, for them socializing is just as important as training. Even in the lockdown. “Customers stand in front of the door and want to drink coffee,” says Backasch. Time to start again.