A resounding wave of exercise-conscious individuals — perhaps some upholding their New Year’s resolutions to join a gym — is boosting memberships for Minnesota-based fitness franchises.
After years of temporary closures, social distancing rules and mask mandates, many gyms have fully turned the corner from the pandemic including Woodbury-based Self Esteem Brands, the parent company of Anytime Fitness, which had more new U.S. member sign-ups in 2022 than ever before.
The company, which also operates barre studio Bar Method and high-intensity gym Basecamp Fitness, generated system-wide revenue of $2.5 billion last year up from the $2.2 billion in annual revenue before the pandemic.
“We are seeing a nice bounce back to the gym,” said Chuck Runyon, chief executive Anytime Fitness, in an interview with the Star Tribune. “I think people are coming back for the strength training, the variety, the coaching, the community — things that they missed and needed during COVID.”
Chris Damian tried to work out from home during the pandemic, but his full-body exercise machine just didn’t cut it. He ended up selling his equipment and now goes to a gym close to his St. Paul home four to five times a week.
“It’s really to get out of the house,” said Damian, 31, as he exercised over the lunch hour at Anytime Fitness in Roseville. “I work from home. … It’s nice to be around people.”
According to a report released last week by foot traffic analytics firm Placer.ai, visits to the leading U.S. fitness chains increased more than 23% year-over-year in the last week of January and were up 8% compared to early 2020 right before the pandemic caused retail shutdowns across the country. In November, Placer.ai found that the length of time people stayed at gyms has also been on the rise compared to 2019.
“There’s never been a better time to be a fitness consumer,” Runyon said. “There are cheap options. There are free options. There are specialized options. We can help you get in shape at home. We can help you visit the club more often. … We are in the roaring twenties for personal preventive health.”
Stronger U, the digital nutrition coaching business Self Esteem Brands acquired in 2021, has seen a recent jump in memberships. Self Esteem Brands’ hair waxing company Wax the City is also enjoying its best numbers in terms of visits, clients, and number of services as more consumers focus on self-care.
Other Minnesota fitness centers are keeping busy as well.
For 24-hour fitness provider Snap Fitness, this past January was “a stellar month” with more new members and higher gym attendance than what the chain saw in 2019 and the years since, said Brian Tietz, president of franchise operations in the Americas for Snap Fitness.
“Our industry was heavily impacted by COVID-19 over the last two years,” said Tietz, who was appointed to his new role last month. “The good news is that we came out the other side and the business is recovering nicely.”
Snap Fitness, a part of Chanhassen-based Lift Brands, has undergone a brand refresh and redesigned their gyms with clearly designated areas to guide members from warmups all the way to recovery, and murals and color palettes that highlight positivity.
At Life Time, which is headquartered not far from Snap Fitness, founder and CEO Bahram Akradi says business is also on the upswing. Total membership dues as of this January were more than in January of 2019, Akradi said.
In the last year, Life Time has seen huge jumps in usage in several of its programs including an almost 600% increase in new pickleball participants, a 150% increase in people engaging in group training and a nearly 170% jump in members of its ARORA programming for the elderly.
“We expect to deliver record-setting performance in fiscal year 2023,” Akradi said.
Independent gyms are also riding the recovery wave.
Ludy Webster opened Ludy’s Boxing Gym in south Minneapolis in the spring of 2021 with a goal to have 20 members. He attracted 60 members in the early stages of the gym, and now boasts about 130 members.
With a surplus of members, Webster needs to expand his 3,000-square-foot gym to accommodate more people. Webster is currently looking for a new place to lease close to his current gym.
“I’m losing people because I don’t have enough space,” Webster said. “I can’t have a class and then have my [boxers] come in there at the same time.”
Despite new membership growth, the fitness industry continues to face hurdles.
It is more expensive to open a new gym with construction costs, labor costs, and interest rates for loans still remaining high, said Runyon, of Anytime Fitness.
With high inflation, consumers are also cutting back on discretionary spending. A 2022 report from predictive analytics platform First Insight states there might be a return to more at-home workouts as the group estimated 44% of consumers were cutting back on gym memberships to save money.
For Welby Smith, 72, his time at the gym is priceless. He likes being around people and feels more motivated at the gym.
“I tried doing stuff at home,” Smith said, as he took a break from lifting weights at the Anytime Fitness in Roseville. “It was hard to maintain. My home life is my home life. It’s easier to come here and leave everything behind. … It’s an important part of my life.”