Petaluma gyms move online during shutdown
As California enters its second stage in reopening, Petaluma’s fitness industry is bracing to be among the last to resume normal business.
Since ordered to close mid-March, Petaluma’s more than a dozen small and locally-owned gyms have been working double time to find ways to adapt to strict social distancing requirements and attempt to stem revenue loss. Several are also plotting ways they might reconfigure their spaces to conform to looser restrictions once they do come, hoping for the best despite an unclear path forward.
“The gym industry is so volatile right now that we have no real way to predict what’s going to happen two weeks or two months from now,” said Petaluma personal trainer Rob Linn, who normally takes his clients to a brick-and-mortar gym for sessions.
Similar to entertainment venues and beauty salons, gyms are considered to be “high-risk” businesses under Gov. Gavin Newsom’s four-part reopening plan. While Newsom recently hinted that this next stage in reopening businesses “may not even be more than a month away,” timelines remain vague and subject to change as the coronavirus maintains its hold on California.
It’s a dance between preparing for the possibility of reopening and juggling new virtual outreach methods, one that Sonoma Fit owner Jenny Kovacs has been doing for her gym’s three Sonoma County locations in Sonoma, Novato and Petaluma.
Like many other gym owners across the state, she suddenly found herself mid-March locking the gym’s front doors and teaching herself how to use Zoom and camera equipment.
“We’ve been working like crazy trying to keep people engaged,” Kovacs said. “We first started with free YouTube classes, and then we went to Zoom, and now we have created this whole on-demand gym channel and made a recording studio.”
The 20,000 square-foot Petaluma location on Casa Grande Road normally serves about 1,200 members, of which Kovacs says roughly half are still active and participating virtually. Others have either freezed their accounts or canceled their memberships Kovacs says, many explaining they were either immune-compromised and hesitant to use a gym in the near future or suffering from the pandemic’s related financial crisis.
It’s been a fast-paced adaptation to the world of virtual workouts and coaching, as owners like Kovacs have had to find ways to try to keep as many clients as they can. In the world of YouTube and fitness blogs dispensing an avalanche of free workouts and fitness advice, gyms have also found themselves competing in a sphere they never thought they would have to.
In addition to launching a handful of virtual classes, Sonoma Fit also rented out “hundreds of thousands” of dollars of cardio equipment, weights and other exercise gear to clients at all three of its locations Kovacs said.
It’s a move 38 Degrees North CrossFit owner Mike Ward also took, personally delivering items to clients’ homes across Petaluma in the few days leading up to the formal shelter-in-place order.
He’s also transitioned to the strange space of virtual coaching, creating daily and customized workout programs each day for his clients. He said he has had to build additional flexibility and care for residents navigating work-from-home, assisting kids in online lessons and the sheer impracticality for some to exercise in limited spaces.
Unlike the gym environment where variables were more or less consistent, Ward has had to get crafty to serve every unique need, extending to gym fees.