Ina Opperman
Business Journalist
4 minute read
9 Feb 2021
9:10 am

Impact of Covid-19: Gyms are fighting fit but struggle with class-size restrictions

Ina Opperman

Although some gyms in South Africa found that less members show up to train, people queue for their chance to train at other gyms and some are even planning to open more gyms in the near future.

A gym-goer in the Planet Fitness gym in Centurion. Picture: Jacques Nelles

It looks like the fitness industry in South Africa is the one industry that survived the strict lockdown that started almost a year ago, with many consumers returning and even prepared to queue to get in with lockdown level 3 restrictions stipulating 50% occupancy.

“We have seen record numbers of members returning to the gym as well as record numbers of new members joining. Between 1 September 2020 and 31 December 2020, we had over 2.7 million visits to our gyms,” said Gillian Elson, marketing manager at Planet Fitness.

She said Planet Fitness members were flocking back to the gym. “We are currently only permitted to have 50 people inside at any one time in line with government regulations. Many members are prepared to wait in order to get into the club to do their workout.”

Planet Fitness did not have to stop any classes, but had to implement stricter protocols and social distancing in all its group classes, leading the company to investigate outdoor classes to supplement the space lost at indoor classes due to the number restrictions.

Elson said while the company was doing its best to help curb the spread of the virus, the limitation on the number of members who could be accommodated would cause strain on the business in the long run.

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Although there had been some increase in cancellations, these were within the company’s year-on-year predictions. “We have not seen an alarming change of cancelations month-on-month, although we initially took a pessimistic view due to the pandemic and were expecting massive cancellation figures.”

Planet Fitness has seen a steady influx of new members, with member figures relatively consistent with that of pre-lockdown. The company also did not have to close any of its gyms and was in fact planning another 12 brand new Planet Fitness gyms that will open over the next 15 months, starting with one in Potchefstroom this month and one in Benoni in March.

This is an investment of approximately R600 million that will create 600 job opportunities.

ALSO READ: South Africans keen to get back to gyms, bucking global trend

Virgin Active’s holding company, Brait, said in a note last week that fewer people came to its gyms, while there was an increase in member cancellations since the move to adjusted level 3 lockdown restrictions at the end of December 2020. However, its gyms had remained operational since gyms were allowed to opening again on 24 August 2020.

By December last year Virgin Active’s user rate increased to 70%, but the company said limiting the number of members in a gym had an adverse effect on usage rates and lower sales. Virgin Active has approximately 138 gyms across the country with and about 670,000 members, down from around 1.1 million members as reported in its most recent annual report. It had around 715,000 members in July 2020.

Cancelling your gym contract

Many people complained that they were unable to cancel their gym contracts, but if you follow the rules as laid down in the Consumer Protection Act, it should not be too difficult. A gym contract is a fixed-term contract, because you sign a contract for a fixed period of time.

Fixed contracts are covered by Section 14 of the Act and the regulations stipulate that a short-term contract cannot be longer than 24 months, unless the gym can show that it would be to your financial benefit to have a contract with a longer duration.

You can cancel your gym contract at any time by giving notice of 20 working days in writing. You will then be liable for the outstanding amount until the day you cancel, as well as a cancellation penalty. The penalty amount would of course vary as you will pay more to cancel in the third month than when you have only two months left.

Section 14 also stipulates that you can cancel your contract free of charge when it expires. The gym must give you notice that it will expire 80 to 40 working days before your contract expires. The notice must indicate if a new contract will differ much from your current contract and whether you will have the same options and pay the same price.

If you do not indicate that you want to cancel when the contract expires, the gym can renew your contract on a month-to-month basis. If the gym cancels the contract, such as when it closes down, it has to give you 20 working days’ notice in writing.

You also have a cooling-off period if you join a gym when someone calls you to offer a membership and you did nothing to initiate the call. This is called direct marketing and the Act gives you five working days to cancel an agreement entered into as a result of direct marketing. You have to cancel in writing and must get any money you paid back within 15 working days.

WATCH: Virgin Active gyms open on Monday, ‘disappointed’ by 50-person limit

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