There is no surrender – how do small businesses transform amid the pandemic

As the world’s largest work-from-home experiment continues during the pandemic, one industry has found itself thrown into an unprecedented and challenging situation. The fitness industry, valued at around US$100 billion worldwide, has been forced to rethink and adjust to the global pandemic on the fly. Gyms, yoga studios and recreational facilities have been forced to close.

When you see threats, they see opportunities. COVID-19 brought about many unprecedented challenges and norms, among which was the rise of home workouts. On-site gyms have been shut for months, making physical exercise in fitness centres with others impossible. Thus, the public tuned in to YouTubers, Instagram Live and home workout videos to cope with the current situation.It is why Hong Kong personal trainer Johnson Chan says his business has had to seriously adapt to the coronavirus. His business was forced to change due to the mandatory closure.

Unlike traditional fitness companies that may leave one more fatigued after a session, Johnson undergoes a transformation that aims to alleviate one’s aches and pains, leave them feeling energized after a workout. In the light of the recent COVID-19 situation, he is at the forefront of the market for tailored online training.

“We must all pivot, but it is difficult for small and big fitness business to accept that this the new way to train in hybrid mode. Yet, I remain committed to catering to your needs even during a pandemic. Our team pride ourselves on being innovative and adaptable to keep up with the changing landscape.

As a firm believer in a balanced life through nutrition, lifestyle, and movement, he practices what he preaches. He is an active person himself and is a keen sport player who runs, hikes, lifts weights, plays touch rugby, tennis and meditates daily. With the onslaught of the COVID-19 virus, on-site gyms have been asked to shut for over 4 months, resulting in Johnson’s team having adopted 1-to-1 home visits and outdoor training in order to adhere to governmental regulations. However, the mandatory wearing of masks not only makes it extremely difficult for communication between instructor and client, but also increases physical exhaustion due to laborious breathing.

Given that COVID-19 has significantly impacted the business industry, Jonhson, like other fitness studios, have turned to online platforms to cope with the changing norms. Following the closure of on-site gyms, there has been an increase in demand for online classes. He hopes to cater to a variety of age groups and individual preferences through offering training sessions on different platforms including LIVE 1-on-1 sessions, group classes and targeted training workouts through digital apps.

“Technology may feel different to in-person classes, but it does bring many advantages. We are better able to use statistics to find out which classes are more popular, cater to different needs simultaneously and allow for people to join us through recorded sessions which may accommodate their schedules better.”

“Due to increased social distancing and self-isolation measures, individuals’ health and mental wellbeing will inevitably be impacted. It is crucial to build immunity and prevent one’s wellbeing from deteriorating so as to continue a sense of normalcy, and to fight against COVID-19. I hope to support you in the ways we can, and join you in this journey.”

The greatest example of this is the provision of TRX when you are staying in a quarantine facility. He has taken the mandatory quarantine situation stipulated by the government into account. During the mandatory quarantine at dedicated government appointed facilities, he offers different packages with a complimentary rental of TRX set to cater to the needs of residents in temporary Hong Kong quarantine facilities, which will be picked up on the last day of quarantine. Such methods will enable those in quarantine to join zoom classes to continue their fitness journey whilst in quarantine and continue training with him to be in the best of shape.

Ultimately, he hopes to revert back to on-site training and coaching when the spread of COVID-19 pandemic subsides. However, it is clear that businesses have been hit hard by the pandemic, and the slow disbursement of COVID-19 relief funds make the upkeep of businesses even more difficult in these trying times. Some businesses have yet to receive subsidies following the fifth wave. This exacerbates the loss in revenues generated by fitness centres, which have seen a 30-60% reduction even with online training. Johnson encourages the public to participate in online training so as to effectively build up ones physical and mental health amidst these trying times.

Side box

Tips of maintain our wellness and our business

  1. Cap the number of students per fitness station, machine or equipment
  2. Clean and disinfect fitness stations, machines or equipment regularly;
  3. Adequate distance or effective partition between fitness stations, machines or equipment;
  4. Conduct RAT regularly;
  5. Provide hand sanitizer and mask onsite; and
  6. Place temperature sensor.

Since the Covid-19 pandemic began in early 2020, Hong Kong’s beauty parlours, including nail salons and spa centres, have been forced to suspend their business for a total of more than 190 days. Some beauticians and beauty therapists are voicing concern about the business uncertainties they face. Some have accused the government’s slow responses and double standards in its measurements meant to control the spread of the disease.

As the number of cases drops, nail salons and other cosmetic beauty services have resumed operations since April 21. Customers must have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and use the LeaveHomeSafe App before entering the premises. Salon staff are required to check guests’ vaccination status before accepting walk-ins.

We interviewed Miss Mok, the owner of a beauty salon which provides eyebrows & eyelashes beauty treatments, and we found that she has suffered from zero income for more than 3 months already. Without any immediate government support and relief, she was hopeless and felt worried about paying bills.

“We tried to get the government fund as quick as we can, but now the process is very slow. I cannot see a reason for it. Our customers mainly join our pre-paid plan, so we don’t have sufficient cash flow for the daily operations,” said Miss Mok.

Although the business has resumed normal, Miss Mok feels pessimistic about the future due to the spending pattern has changed significantly. With the uncertainty of being mandatorily closed again, about 60%-70% of revenue is received when compared with the past.

Miss Mok is facing another issue – loss of talent. “Due to the scepticism created during the suspension, lots of beauticians and beauty therapists left the beauty industry. Some have become salespersons, some work as storekeepers in convenience stores,” said Miss Mok. To stay afloat during the suspensions desperately, some hairstylists and manicurists have rolled out doorstep-to-doorstep services to keep their loyal customers. But Miss Mok refuses to do so as she also felt worried about the speared of Covid-19.

Some have chosen permanent closure due to the pandemic, Miss Mok shifted a part of her business from beauty services to training. Students could learn how to perform eyebrows and eyelashes treatment. Certificates will be issued upon courses’ completion. This new initiative could sustain Miss Mok’s income even if a statutory closure is going to happen. For Miss Mok’s case, there is no surrender.