Coronavirus: 24-hour gyms struggle to maintain operations due to extra cleaning, manpower costs

While some businesses struggle during the pandemic, one venture is actually growing due to its unique model.
The Gym Pod is a 24-hour unmanned container gym with seven locations in Singapore.
The Gym Pod is a 24-hour unmanned container gym with seven locations in Singapore.ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

SINGAPORE - When Gymmboxx opened its first 24-hour outlet in Bishan in 2013, its aim was to accommodate as many people with different working schedules as possible.

But the company has ceased 24-hour operations at all six locations since reopening in mid-June following the circuit breaker as this model could cause the business to be unsustainable in the long run, said assistant general manager Lee Wei Hao.

"Revenue has dropped since people are more careful about spending during the pandemic and we spend about $10,000 more a month because of extra cleaning," Lee, 30, told The Straits Times.

Gymmboxx outlets are now open from 6am to 10pm on weekdays and from 8am to 10pm on weekends. Each gym is now cleaned two to three times a day and sanitising kits are provided for members, among other safety measures implemented.

While the Century Square outlet used to see more than 200 users during the peak period from 6pm to 10pm, that figure has halved during those hours.

"As much as we want to open 24 hours, we need to ensure the business is sustainable because we don't want to pass the extra costs on to our members. We want to remain affordable while still providing premium services," said Lee.

Like Gymmboxx, most franchises under the Anytime Fitness chain, known for its 24-hour gyms, have also stopped operating 24/7. Only 12 of the 65 franchises here do so currently.

Koh See Khiang, who owns five franchises, said the decision was "commercial one" after a recent rule was established internally that all Anytime Fitness gyms have to be manned 24/7 to ensure users adhere to the Covid-19 safety guidelines set by the authorities.

Previously, Koh's outlets at locations including E!Hub at Downtown East were staffed from noon to 9pm on weekdays and from 10am to 1pm on Saturdays but were open 24/7.

 
 

Now, they are open daily from 6am to midnight.

Koh, 42, also incurred more expenses implementing safety measures, like increased frequency of cleaning and installing sanitiser dispensers.

"Without visibility as to how long this situation will persist, business owners will have to see whether they can sustain operations with this higher cost base, or if they're better off serving the needs of the majority of their clientele," he said.

"Because more than 95 per cent of our members are able to use the gym during the periods we're open now, we decided to prioritise the needs of the majority, rather than potentially rendering the business unsustainable in the long run."

But other 24-hour gyms have seen an increase in users since the phase two reopening while maintaining round-the-clock operations.


Ms Sharlynn Ooi leaves The Gym Pod in Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park. ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

The Gym Pod is a 24-hour unmanned container gym with seven locations in Singapore. The first was opened in 2018 at the JTC LaunchPad @ one-north. The latest two opened in Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park and Punggol Park in July this year.

Each pod has basic equipment such as a treadmill and dumbbells, as well as blinds that allow one or two people to exercise in privacy.

Freelance personal trainer Sharlynn Ooi used to be able to book the pod at Changi City Point a few days in advance.

But since the Phase 2 reopening, the pods have been so popular that sometimes, Ooi has to book slots two weeks in advance.

The pods are now occupied for 14 to 16 hours a day, compared to 11 to 12 hours previously, according to founder Damian Chow.

 
 

Ooi, 26, said: "I feel safer using the pods because I'm not in the same space as strangers. It's a nice solution because everyone wants their own privacy while working out and they don't want to be in direct contact with other people.

"Since it's open 24/7, you don't really know how often they're cleaning it so I clean the equipment before I use it. But I know the team has increased efforts to keep the pods sanitised."

To ensure the pods remain clean and safe, they are disinfected after every session by an automated humidifier and all equipment has an anti-microbial coating that is applied daily.

Peter Lam, branding and partnerships executive at The Gym Pod, attributed the increase in usage to more people wanting a private space to exercise, especially during the pandemic.

"Now people are embracing the benefits of private space because they don't want to worry about germs. The slots get taken up quite fast. If we were to only open eight to 12 hours a day, people cannot book sessions.

"If we can be available 24/7, we will be," said Lam, 26.

Samantha Woodward, owner of two Anytime Fitness franchises, one of which is open 24/7, added: "There are some people who can only work out in the middle of the night and we promised that we could provide that.

"Not that many people use the gym overnight on weekends but even if it's just 10 people who come overnight, we need to look after those 10 people too."

Woodward spends at least $5,000 more a month keeping her gyms in Pasir Panjang and Sembawang Shopping Centre manned and sanitised.

"It's slightly more expensive but I think those in this industry have to give their all and help as many people get fit and healthy as we can."