Canadians are coming back to the gym.
No one wants to talk about the pandemic, or the collateral damage still felt throughout the fitness industry. The fact is, at least 10 percent of gyms closed between March 2020 and July 2023 and the majority of respondents across the survey and data reports said that they have not returned to pre-pandemic membership levels. But, gyms across the country are gaining momentum, with bright eyes towards the fall.
Fitness Industry Council of Canada (FIC), the non-for-profit trade association representing more than 4000 fitness facilities across the country, and working with industry partners including ABC Fitness, Fliip, Mindbody, Matrix Fitness, and Hexfit, presented this data and more at the canfitpro 2023 Global conference & Trade Show, State of the Industry session on August 18th. In spite of severe losses suffered by our industry, FIC believes there is extensive reason to be optimistic.
“We are essential, and we are the inevitable prevention solution to the healthcare crisis facing Canada,” said Gabriel Hardy, Executive Director of FIC during the presentation. Hardy cited the work done to lobby provincial and federal leaders on physical activity tax credits, and encouraging steps forward for the industry. This included a promising pilot project in British Columbia, that would have the BC government subsidize gym memberships for nurses, and FIC’s ongoing efforts to revise Line 33099 of federal income tax returns, allowing gym memberships to be included as a medical expense.
FIC’s State of the Industry panel offered insight and a glimpse into what is happening not only in Canada, but in the United States.
According to data collected from over 150,000 check-ins by Fliip, the demographic that spends the most in gyms are the 40-64 year olds. “We were a little surprised by this, because everywhere you hear that Gen Z is the demographic that has come back to the gym in record numbers,” says Hardy. “But the 40-64 year old demographic has more disposable income, and they are also very focused on physical activity for health.”
In a data report from ABC Fitness, looking at over 10 million gym users in the United States, online membership purchases have increased by 28% since the beginning of 2023, with the younger demographic joining online faster. Interestingly, women are joining at a faster rate, and spend more than men in the gym. “We are looking at the trends and finding ways to help our FIC members create marketing strategies that will help them finish 2023 strong,” says Hardy.
In Canada, more than 80 percent of survey respondents offered group fitness classes – women are still the highest in attendance, and older members take more classes, according to ABC Fitness. There is another trademark that gyms should be aware of: older members have a deeper sense of loyalty to their gym. And, quite interestingly, more than 40% of members use the gym frequently – more than 9 times monthly.
While there is extensive reason to be optimistic about the future of fitness in Canada, there are also realities to contend with: Gyms took on huge debts over the last three years – with 60% of FIC survey respondents saying they owe more than $50,000 in debt – and an additional 20% of respondents owe more than $100,000 of debt accrued during the pandemic. With the CEBA loan deadline approaching in December, over 65% say they won’t be able to repay the debt. “This is why we are fighting, alongside the CFIB (Canadian Federation of Independent Business), to have the voice of fitness owners heard loud and clear in the media and in the debate. Gym owners only took on these loans because they were forced to shut down for weeks and months at a time,” says Hardy. “We will continue to fight for an extension of the CEBA loan.”
Looking ahead to the fall, FIC is planning monthly webinars with a focus on marketing, human resource strategy, how to attract and retain employees and how to prepare for a big January in marketing and sales.
FIC will be releasing a full report on the State of the Industry to its members, and preparing for a very special marketing September webinar from Sal and Sarah Pelligrino on how to attract all generations to your gym!
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