“Have you gone to the gym lately?”
That question used to be a loaded one. Asked by your worst friend or least favorite family member, the real question underneath it was always “Do you know you’ve gained weight?” Nowadays, the underlying question is “Are you about to give me coronavirus?”
Whatever your reason, the answer to that first question is probably no. Gyms were forced to close for the first several months of COVID-19 to prevent, well, exactly what happened when they reopened. The loss in business was immediately cruel to the industry. Gold’s Gym ($PRIVATE:GOLDSGYM) was the first casualty, going bankrupt in May (though it was recently bought out for $100 million) after saying that "no single factor has caused more harm to our business than the current COVID-19 global pandemic."
24 Hour Fitness ($24HOURFITNESS) followed the death march just a month later, declaring bankruptcy and closing down 100 locations, once again dropping the blame squarely on COVID-19. “If it were not for Covid-19 and its devastating effects, we would not be filing for Chapter 11,” CEO Tony Ueber said. In the end, Gyms are where people go to sweat, pick up heavy things, yell, and “work out” - not at all the kind of place you want to find yourself in during a pandemic.
But when gyms did begin to reopen earlier this summer, hopes that COVID would be a short-lived nightmare for fitness clubs almost instantly vanished. Nobody showed up. When we last wrote about gyms, 30 states had allowed gyms to reopen in some capacity, and things looked grim. Gym-goers were posting rabidly about their clubs and memberships once states began to lock down in March, but seemed to quickly forget about gyms altogether. Facebook Talking About counts were at an all-time low, while at-home fitness brands thrived off of quarantine.
The same has held true today. Even with 46 states allowing gyms to open, Talking About counts for some of the largest fitness clubs in the country like Gold’s Gym, 24 Hour Fitness, Equinox ($PRIVATE:EQUINOX), Crunch ($PRIVATE:CRUNCHFITNESS) and LA Fitness ($PRIVATE:LAFITNESS) have remained utterly stagnant for gyms and at-home fitness brands have continued to soar, signalling a broader shift towards working out at home.
Some brands have fared slightly better than others. Despite their bankruptcy troubles, more affordable gyms like Gold’s, 24 Hour Fitness and Crunch have managed to stay more prescient in the minds of fit folk than the more luxury fitness clubs like Equinox and LA Fitness have, which are trailing even their most vulnerable competitors. But the success of Gold’s, 24 Hour Fitness and Crunch is still no achievement: Talking About counts sit at far below half of their January numbers.
Meanwhile, personal workout equipment is doing better than ever. Without gyms to go to and with too much spare time on their hands, customers instead chose to invest in personal workout equipment to help weather the duration of quarantine. While Peloton ($PTON) is the undisputed king of the pack, other notable fitness brands like Mirror ($PRIVATE:MIRROR) and Nautilus’ Bowflex ($NAUT) have fared better than most of the old gyms.
There have been notable investments in personal fitness as well. Peloton recently announced a price cut on its bike in addition to two new products, and Mirror was acquired by athliesure brand Lululemon ($LULU), one of the few retail brands to turn the tables on COVID and come out strong, earlier this year. Investors and customers are signalling that this is where the future of fitness lies. If someone is spending thousands on a bike for their living room, they probably aren’t going to drop another monthly bill on a gym membership.
That is, with one major exception.
Adding Planet Fitness ($PLNT) to our previous gym chart shows that they’ve remained leagues ahead of the competition. As undoubtedly one of the largest fitness clubs in the country, Planet Fitness has somehow managed to remain resilient and prescient in the minds of its would-be subscribers despite COVID tearing apart so much of their competition.
Planet’s strong brand and multiple locations no doubt help remind customers that it’s still around, but it also stands out as another one of the cheaper fitness clubs of the bunch. Perhaps the success of Planet shows that the gym landscape after COVID wont have disappeared entirely, but will have shrunk significantly. Perhaps the gym-goers of the post-COVID era will make space for a gym as a small additional charge rather than as a major lifestyle change.
About the Data:
Thinknum tracks companies using the information they post online, jobs, social and web traffic, product sales, and app ratings, and creates data sets that measure factors like hiring, revenue, and foot traffic. Data sets may not be fully comprehensive (they only account for what is available on the web), but they can be used to gauge performance factors like staffing and sales.