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How Have the Top Fitness Industry Experts Pivoted Their Business Because of COVID?

A growing crowd amongst the fitness industry believes that fitness will never be the same after COVID.  It’s possible there isn’t enough data yet to make that claim, but there is enough data to know what types of pivots during the crisis ended up being great pivots.  We’ve made connections with some fitness industry experts that are making a splash for the rest of us to follow. Let’s dive in.

We asked them to answer 1 question specifically for you.

“What should a boutique or fitness studio be doing now in 2021 based on how the fitness industry seems to be changing?”

We hope you find these golden nuggets as valuable as we did.

1  Team Thews

“In order to thrive and not just survive….. facilities MUST embrace technology. Starting with virtual offerings that include all fitness services including and not limited to Personal Training, Group Fitness and Small Group Training. The addition of Wearables (Apple Watch, Fit Bit, My Zone) will also build community, connection, and retention. It is going to take time before the consumer [goes] back to the club exclusively and technology will keep the connection which translates to retention of members.” – Doris Thews


2  FBA

 “As far as what we’re seeing and how the industry is adapting…Right now we’re seeing that the willingness for members to come back is all about trust. I read somewhere and believe it myself that what members want in their new normal is not going to be about the best workout, the most equipment or the most classes, it will be about whether or not I trust my health to you and your team. We’re also seeing across the board (according to research we’ve conducted) that most fitness businesses are down 35-40% of revenue from pre-COVID days.

Additionally, not sharing equipment will be a key selling point in the future [along with how cleaning is done,] how often, and with what products.

Those who have reopened have clear guidelines, safety measures, and cleaning protocols unparalleled to what was going on before. The issue is, for those who’ve reopened, that if you don’t open, and the business across the street or down the block does, you risk your clients or members going to that business and not yours. There’s without a doubt a certain percentage of people who are dying to get back, so it’s a tough call if the business is not ready…but they should be.

Additionally, now more than ever, you have to adapt to offering online/virtual training into packages. What this means is before when these businesses were looking to generate new revenue, they had to do so by getting more people to “walk through their doors” – now the opportunities are endless. A person who would never want to step foot into a studio or gym can now become part of your culture, can join your studio but train remotely. This opens up massive potential because you can cast a significantly wider net to attract a target audience to train online and never set foot in your physical, brick-and-mortar space.

From an industry perspective, those with single units or small groups will recover the fastest. Clean, sparse, sterile, almost antiseptic will sell the client. Everything uncluttered, countertops sparse. The next years in the business will belong to those that can individualize the workout process. I go to the studio or gym, get my workout in an exceptionally clean environment, and can control my contact with the other members. If I feel good about team training or boxing, I can do it, but if I am uncomfortable, then I have options too.

Getting together with healthy people in a safe environment is what will sell to the client. Socialization in a controlled, beyond clean environment three or four times a week is what we are really selling the client, not results and certainly not programming.” – Josh Leve



 “Today’s boutique fitness studio –based on demographics, country, and culture, may wish to consider the following which I’ve found to be the most common successful characteristics among those for whom I consult and track:

  •  Be sure you are offering hybrid memberships along with your in-person and online only options; consider tiering like Silver, Gold, and Platinum with huge perks between the Gold and Platinum options. 
  • Be sure to use your virtual space to profile aspects of revenue you’ve never considered from virtual arenas you CURRENTLY have. Example: to your existing yoga track, bring in highlighted special global gurus from unique places and spaces for special one-off events.
  • Be sure to use your virtual space to profile aspects of revenue you’ve never considered from virtual arenas you HAVE NEVER had, both from within and without. Example: if you have a mixologist or chef already on your team, offer special grocery tours, mixology events, and special dinners/bakeoffs where everyone prepares in real time the ingredients previously emailed to everyone. Also highlight special global gurus from unique places and spaces for special one-off events.
  •  Schedule weekly “zoom rooms” where people can bring their select beverages of choice across the time zones and check in with changing leaders; this is a unique way for all members/guests of any facility to feel a sense of community beyond in-person or virtual classes and get to know each other. A successful host can arrange brilliant meetings in 30 minutes which profile members, play games, allow them to unmute and share, and strengthen the boutique’s sense of community, all while oftentimes supporting a local or global charity social good outreach. Far too often, clubs miss out on the opportunity to provide for members to come and meet each other while still having a theme or sense of focus to each quick gathering. Anyone attending any one of these should get a sense of a club’s mission and message and understand immediately what the brand really cares about.” – Lawrence Biscontini


4  Thomas Plummer

“Let go of the past, recognize what is, and embrace what will be.
Words to live by for a studio owner in 2021.

If you want to survive and thrive in this industry this year, and beyond, understand three things that are the legacy of 2020. First of all, the client has changed forever and their expectations of what a gym is, and should do in their life, has evolved beyond simple weight loss into a resource where I come to seek health that will keep me safe in an uncertain future. Secondly, about thirty percent of all the gyms in this country are gone forever. The primary lesson you must take away from these failures is to treat your studio as a business, using financial tools such as a receivable base, to secure what you own, and you must become a better businessperson learning to master all aspects of business, such as lease negotiation, debt management and advanced staffing. Finally, you must understand that concepts in the fitness industry, such as the boot camp model or group circuit training, rise and fade. The circuit concept was in trouble prior to the virus, illustrated by the price war plunging towards the bottom, and the shutdown and following restrictions provided the catalyst to accentuate the failings of a concept that is saturated and fading from the consumer’s head. The future of the studio is return-per-client served, not how many people you can cram into your box at prime time. This year has the potential to be one of the strongest years ever in the fitness industry…if you are ready to take advantage of a changing market.” – Thomas Plummer


5  Incite Tax

“Whenever possible, we prefer to make data driven decisions.  We know that the entire fitness industry is made up of “different flavors” if you will.  And a variety of flavors will always need to exist to satisfy the different preferences of the consumers of fitness. (i.e., the members).

 What this crisis has exposed is the financial house of cards of many big brands and small boutique studios and microgyms.  Golds Gym and 24 Hour Fitness both permanently closed hundreds of locations (collectively) because of how leveraged they were.  (i.e., They borrowed a lot of money without having a solid plan to pay it back.) 

 Every fitness studio, right now, should be implementing a cash flow management system that helps them grow in a healthy way.  Profit First is the best solution out there for this.  All of our clients that were using the cash flow management system called Profit First, were able to weather the storm of the pandemic. 

 One of our Profit First experts had a client say this about her, “I wanted to share that with Eryn’s help towards aggressively attacking our debt (while still using the Profit First system) we’ve brought our credit card debt down $16k in 4 months. Talk about feeling like you got control over things at a time when things feel out of control. The best decision I ever made! THANK YOU, ERYN!” – John Briggs


6  Talking Elite Fitness

“My advice would be to find ways to invest in relationships. The thing that separates a boutique or fitness studio from a major big box gym is the ability to directly cultivate lasting personal relationships between clients/athletes and their trainers. Given the chasm that the pandemic has created between people and our ability to foster interpersonal relationships, and its emphasis on the importance of health and wellness as a hedge against the more drastic effects of illness, smaller gyms have the benefit of standing at the crossroads between the two, and successful gyms have found ways to maintain and develop their relationships in new and creative ways. People are craving human connection more than ever and being able to foster that connection in addition to someone’s overall health is paramount in my opinion.” – Tommy Marquez


As summary, here are some of the highlights… foster relationships between clients and their trainers, take advantage of a changing market, manage cash flow and attack debt with Profit First, get creative with your virtual space, it’s all about trust, and embrace technology.

We hope you found at least one thing you can do to take action.

I feel like one of the big, overall ways all these experts have experienced success or even growth during such a hard time, whether directly stated or not, is that they embraced change. They saw potential opportunities open up because of the changes happening and they went for it.

So go for it!


Opportunities to make an impact on our communities are still there for the taking, if we are willing. 

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