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Will the fitness industry see the usual New Year’s bump?

Marielle Segarra Jan 1, 2021
Heard on: Marketplace Morning Report
People take a fitness class in socially distanced workout pods at a Redondo Beach, California, gym in June. Frederic J. Brown/AFP via Getty Images

Will the fitness industry see the usual New Year’s bump?

Marielle Segarra Jan 1, 2021
People take a fitness class in socially distanced workout pods at a Redondo Beach, California, gym in June. Frederic J. Brown/AFP via Getty Images

It’s a familiar sight at the gym on New Year’s Day: The treadmills and weight rooms are packed with people who vowed that this is the year they’re going to start exercising.

And then, eventually, they stop going and forget to cancel their memberships. The fitness industry typically gets a big bump this time of year. But this is the industry’s first New Year in a pandemic. How have those businesses adapted this year, and what are they expecting in January?   

Bill Lia, who owns a chain of four gyms in upstate New York called Vent Fitness, said despite the pandemic, on New Year’s Day, “I think that the demand will be there. People will want to come back.”

They’ve been coming. Lia said about 60% of the gyms’ members have returned.

But gyms in New York are only allowed to open partially — in his area, at a third of the normal capacity.

“In one of our clubs yesterday, we had a line of probably 10-15 people outside that wanted to come in, but we were at our capacity limit,” he said. “So before we could let someone in, we had to have someone leave.”

Meanwhile, Michael Apuzzo, a personal trainer in New York City, is expecting to be busy this January. He teaches Pilates and dance virtually.

“I’ve actually been really busy already,” he said. “December has been my busiest month so far. It’s almost like because people are at home more, they’re ready, willing and able to work out. And people’s schedules tend to be more flexible, including my own.”

The virtual classes are not quite as lucrative as the ones he taught in person, so he’s not making as much money. But he said he doesn’t mind for now, as long as he can cover his expenses.

One part of the industry that has had a great year? The companies that sell at-home exercise equipment, like NordicTrack, which makes treadmills and bikes that cost about $1,000 and up.

The company’s sales usually jump at predictable times: the holidays. New Year’s. The week after Super Bowl Sunday, “because people have had too much beer and too much guacamole,” said Colleen Logan, NordicTrack vice president of marketing.

But this year, the only trend is up.

“In March, our sales were up 200% versus the previous March,” she said.

In April, they were up 400%. In May, 600%.

“And they’ve pretty much stayed at that unprecedented level,” she said. “For us, it was like January sales in July and then all the way throughout the fall.”

So this January, Logan is expecting more growth.

COVID-19 Economy FAQs

What are the details of President Joe Biden’s coronavirus relief plan?

The $1.9 trillion plan would aim to speed up the vaccine rollout and provide financial help to individuals, states and local governments and businesses. Called the “American Rescue Plan,” the legislative proposal would meet Biden’s goal of administering 100 million vaccines by the 100th day of his administration, while advancing his objective of reopening most schools by the spring. It would also include $1,400 checks for most Americans. Get the rest of the specifics here.

What kind of help can small businesses get right now?

A new round of Paycheck Protection Program loans recently became available for pandemic-ravaged businesses. These loans don’t have to be paid back if rules are met. Right now, loans are open for first-time applicants. And the application has to go through community banking organizations — no big banks, for now, at least. This rollout is designed to help business owners who couldn’t get a PPP loan before.

What does the hiring situation in the U.S. look like as we enter the new year?

New data on job openings and postings provide a glimpse of what to expect in the job market in the coming weeks and months. This time of year typically sees a spike in hiring and job-search activity, says Jill Chapman with Insperity, a recruiting services firm. But that kind of optimistic planning for the future isn’t really the vibe these days. Job postings have been lagging on the job search site Indeed. Listings were down about 11% in December compared to a year earlier.

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