Impact of Pandemic on SMBs: In Conversation with a Personal Trainer

Impact of Pandemic on SMBs: In Conversation with a Personal Trainer

Here’s the second in line to our periodic posts under Categories & Conversations that provides insights about the behavior and needs of different SMB categories, with an emphasis on their use and needs for digital technologies. As part of this series, we’ll cover several aspects of the turbulent landscape for SMB categories, from their current needs, through recovery, and then longer-term as the new normal takes shape.

Overall, this information and its key learnings will help our agency and enterprise partners to better identify their prospects and serve their customers more effectively.

Below is my conversation with Oxana, a well-established personal trainer with multiple certifications and a large clientele in San Francisco. Prior to the shelter-in-place orders, her sessions were held entirely in a private gym, available only to personal trainers and their clients. Trainers pay a facility use fee for sessions held in the gym.

Q:How is your practice doing in this lockdown?

In the first couple of weeks, my training sessions dropped to zero. People were trying to figure out their lives under lockdown. All gyms were closed. But then clients started to come back, one by one, for out-of-gym training. I’m now back to nearly my pre-lockdown number of sessions [this is about 5 weeks from the start of the lockdown in California]. I now work with clients in different ways: outdoors in parks, in their homes, and some on Zoom.I was skeptical that the out-of-gym sessions would work. But with planning and using equipment creatively, they’re working pretty well. In fact, about half my clients have told me they actually prefer the out-of-gym workouts because they’re much more convenient.

Cleaning the exercise equipment after each use, and distancing from the client are big inconveniences. But everybody is getting used to it. People who work with a personal trainer are pretty motivated.

I know that a lot of gyms, some equipment companies, and some trainers, are doing classes or lessons online. Some of these are live, but most of them are recorded. I’ve watched a lot of the recorded sessions, and I don’t think they’re very good. It’s only a fraction of what you get with a live session. I’ve been surprised at how well Zoom sessions are working, for both my clients and me.

Q:How is your financial situation?

My cash flow is less than I want it to be. However, that is slightly offset by the fact that when I do training sessions now, they’re outside of the gym (where I have to pay a facilities use fee for each session). So I’m not paying any facilities fees. [Note: The private gym is also a small business, which of course now has no revenues. We hope to talk with the owner of the gym in another conversation.]
I’m charging a bit less for Zoom sessions than for in-person sessions, which seems fair to my clients.

Q: Do you expect to apply for a government-guaranteed emergency loan (such as a loan under the Paycheck Protection Program)?

I don’t plan to. I don’t have employees, so I’m a lower priority. Even if I was eligible, I’d try to avoid it. There’s always a lot of paperwork involved, and the programs seem disorganized.

Q: Do you expect to use more digital technology once things return to normal?

Absolutely. I think I’ll do several things differently:

  • I’m going to get a higher presence online, including a website, probably an Instagram account, and maybe a page on Facebook.
  • My practice will definitely be different once the crisis is over. I’d guess that half of my training sessions will be outside the gym. And maybe one-quarter of the total will be on Zoom. I think these will be permanent changes.


BuzzBoardFull disclosure: The personal trainer in this interview is my own trainer, Oxana. Since the beginning of the lockdown in San Francisco, we’ve moved our sessions outdoors, to public parks. We like being outdoors so much that even once the gyms reopen, we’re going to continue with half our sessions outdoors. In fact, most of her other clients are going to do the same. That means that the fees she pays to the owner of the private gym will permanently drop by 50%.

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