How the Charleston fitness community persevered, rebounded from the pandemic
Updated: May 4
By Hunter Lawrence
The 2020 COVID Pandemic impacted just about every business imaginable. There is a strong case, however, for a particular industry being hit the hardest.
The fitness industry took a massive hit in gym closures, loss of jobs, and loss of mass amounts of money all due to COVID-19.
According to an article by iHRSA, The Global Health and Fitness Association, by the end of 2020, 17% of clubs permanently closed.
The entire fitness industry's revenue declined by 58% compared to 2019 sales and 44% of the fitness industry workforce lost jobs.
Almost all gyms were forced to close or at the very least minimize the amount of people who are in the gym at a given time.
In addition, gyms were forced to go to extraordinary lengths and spend thousands of dollars on air filtration systems and sanitary materials to keep from COVID spreading in their facilities.
In Charleston, South Carolina, three fitness companies - all varying in size and national growth - navigated the COVID scene differently. But each had to figure out a way to bounce back and get through what was the most difficult time in all three of the companies' histories.
Orangetheory Fitness, a nationally known boutique fitness brand with an emphasis on HIIT focused workouts and heart rate tracking, has members purchase heart rate monitors that keep track of their heart rates in real time throughout the workout that hits 5 zones of activity level.
Cameron Close, head of fitness in Charleston, said the most difficult part of the pandemic was figuring out a solution as quickly as possible to not have to shut down the studios.
“Our marketing team worked tirelessly as well as our fitness development team to implement a completely new way for members to use their memberships while not being able to access the studio," he said. "It took us a month from when the pandemic hit to rolling out Orangetheory Live. We were shut down for only about 30 days which we as a company were super proud of.”
Orangetheory Live was the brand's main combatant to COVID-19. It brought the workouts into the members living room while still being able to track their heart rates using their monitor outside the studio.
Close said that bringing the heart rate monitor aspect from the studio to members' living rooms was a big point of emphasis.
“Our technical team had to find a way to bring that Heart rate monitor into our members living rooms. They created a new algorithm that allowed members to pair their monitor to their phones using Bluetooth. They got everything they see on the big TV screens in studio, on their phones and even still got their typical workout summary emailed to them. For many members, the monitor is a selling point because it provides them with some competition to see how many splat points, they can get in 60 minutes”
Erin Carney, a regional sales director said that the biggest challenge in terms of sales was how to get people back in the door while still following protocols.
Carney said that the fitness team did a great job buying the sales team time to start problem solving for ways to get members back in the studio.
“Most of it had to do with COVID guidelines and staying 6ft apart. We had our challenges, but we worked around it by minimizing the maximum capacity to 21 people. This allowed everyone to have a station while leaving an empty station open to stay 6ft apart. We also had plastic dividers installed between the treadmills, rowers, and weight floor to minimize the spread of germs. We had air purifiers installed in every studio that got rid of 99.8% of germs in the air and members had to wear masks to participate. It was the only way to expedite the process, but members were loving it even with masks on and all the social distancing parameters.”
Orangetheory’s work around was creating an online platform for members to use while quarantining in their homes.
HyLo Fitness, a local boutique fitness gym that is exclusive to Charleston had a similar approach but differed in some ways.
Hylo shut its doors for COVID on March 19th, 2020
They took a similar approach to Orangetheory where they created HyLo at Home.
Rob Spragis, Head Coach at HyLo said that the members loyalty and willingness to be flexible in these tough times was what kept the business afloat.
“HyLo at Home was our solution for the members to keep their memberships even at home. We would post a link on our social media accounts to a coach led, 60-minute workout that is in a follow along format. We tailored these workouts using bodyweight only movements to accommodate for members who don’t have access to weights”
HyLo hosted outdoor workouts for members at local breweries and parks in the Mt. Pleasant and Charleston areas as well.
Audrey Cooper, assistant studio manager at HyLo, said the outdoor workouts not only got the members outside, but it also helped them financially.
“The outdoor workouts were instrumental in getting the coaches in front of the members and getting the word out to the public about HyLo," she said. "Doing these workouts at local breweries and parks allowed us to interact with people who wanted to learn more about HyLo.”
In group fitness settings, the coach is sometimes the biggest motivating factor in the members eyes so getting the coach physically in front of members encouraging them in person was a huge win.
According to an article by The Fitness Consumer, most people during the pandemic had a hard time to stay motivated working out at home.
“Without access to health and fitness clubs, some people managed to exercise outdoors and at home. But it wasn’t the same. Fitness consumers found it difficult to stay motivated without their gym.”
Golds Gym, a nationally known Big Box gym had to file for bankruptcy on May 4 to combat the loss of revenue during the pandemic.
According to Club Industry, CEO Adam Zeitsiff said “We are filing this to restructure the company, and this is strictly as a result of the pandemic.”
Golds froze all active memberships at company owned clubs and furloughed 98% of the employees during the week of March 16th, according to Club Industry.
Golds Gym in Mt. Pleasant closed its doors on March 16th, as a company owned gym.
They took a completely digital stance on the pandemic.
A trainer at the Mt. Pleasant location told me that their biggest challenge was keeping the members motivated to workout.
“Keeping members motivated during this time was imperative. We decided to start posting a new workout every day that had our trainers going through the workouts with the members encouraging them throughout, which really seemed to work.”
Golds and Orangetheory, two nationally known brands along with Hylo Fitness, all struggled during the pandemic.
All three managed to come out on the other side using social media as their main platform to communicate and inspire their members.
Orangetheory and HyLo implemented a branded home workout specific to their in-studio workouts and Gold's used Instagram and Facebook to post daily workout videos with trainers guiding them every step of the way.
Each company agreed that it was the most challenging times they have faced as a company and it took everyone involved, including the members to ultimately pull out on the other side.