Every day we are hearing from instructors who are worried about the cost of living crisis. What will the impact be on instructors? What will the impact be on the fitness industry? How will this affect participation? What support is there for the sector? What is EMD UK doing about it?
These are all important questions which I will attempt to answer along with some practical suggestions for instructors on how to adapt to this extraordinary financial situation.
First, some fact and figures. Inflation is currently around 10% and the experts expect it to remain high until at least 2024. On top of this, interest rates are rising which will have a significant impact on homeowners’ mortgage payments and disposable income. People will be cutting back on discretionary spending, including the spending on group exercise classes.
The impact on the fitness industry is two-fold.
- Costs will rise and this may be passed on as higher class prices or higher membership fees.
- Income will reduce as some people choose not to attend classes in order to save money.
A recent survey by London Sport showed that for 39% of people the cost of living crisis is already impacting their ability to be physically active, while 11% of people say it will have a significant impact.
The impact on instructors will be similar to the industry as a whole. Community venues are likely to increase their room hire charges in order to cover increased energy costs. Participants will be considering whether they can really afford to go to their favourite class. If left unchecked, this could reduce class numbers by 10-20% resulting in a reduced income for the instructor, making many classes unviable.
The outlook is pretty gloomy, but the key words above are if left unchecked, so the important thing is to act now, in every way possible, and find a way through. I’ve been speaking to instructors over the last few weeks to understand what they will be doing and what they expect from EMD UK as the national governing body for group exercise. I’ve also looked to other sectors and looked back at the lessons from lockdown to see what might apply now.
So, in no particular order, here is a rough guide to surviving the cost of living crisis. The list below is focused on instructors working in community settings and in future blogs I’ll look at those who are employed in gym or leisure centres.
Talk to your participants
Ask them what value they place on your class. Do they see it as an essential? Are they thinking about leaving? What would make them stay? Do they understand the physical and mental health benefits of your class? Don’t take it for granted that they do. Are they really after something different, in which case can you do a CPD and offer a new class? If money is a problem for them, can you do a deal such as a discounted price for block-booking?
Don’t simply accept an increase in room hire charges
Discuss it with the hirer and negotiate. Explain your circumstances and how an increase might threaten your booking – they need you as much as you need them. Tell them what you can afford to pay. If they can’t agree to that, ask for a discount based on a block booking or offer to reduce the heating. See if they can offer other times of day at cheaper rates.
Shop around for other venues and see what rates they are charging
This strengthens your negotiating position and gives you genuine alternatives. At times like these, non-traditional businesses and venues will be looking at new income streams by hiring out spare space. Ask the question in your local Facebook group to see what space is available in your area.
One option is ‘warm banks’
Churches, community centres and libraries are making these facilities available to help people to stay warm during the colder months. Birmingham City Council has announced a raft of these and many more councils are interested. More information here. If your council isn’t on the list, take the idea to them via your local councillor. You can offer to run a few classes, free to users but paid for by the council, in order to attract people to the warm banks.
‘Active Practice’ GP surgeries
Dozens of surgeries have signed up for the Active Practice charter which means that they have taken steps to reduce sedentary behaviour and increase physical activity in staff and patients and have partnered with a local physical activity provider. You could be that local physical activity provider! Don’t wait to be asked – speak to your practice manager and put the idea to them. More information here
Take your classes outside
Weather and temperature will obviously be a big factor here but for certain types of class, it can even be a positive.. Thousands of classes moved outside when we emerged from the first two lockdowns with some success. You may need to pay a fee to the local council if you are using a public park but it will be considerably less than indoor room hire. Our membership packages include insurance which covers you for outdoor classes.
Go online and deliver classes from home
While most participants prefer face-to-face, a well-delivered online class can still provide a great experience for the participant and could increase your reach. You learned how to do this during the lockdowns so you’ve got all the skills and kit. Have a look at this EMD UK video if you need to brush up your technique. There’s a financial benefit for participants because they save on the transport costs to and from your usual venue. You also save on room hire and your transport costs.
Double down on your marketing
There are always people out there who will pay for a professionally-led class exercise – you’ve just got to find them. This will include people who have cancelled their premium gym membership and are now looking for something better value in the community. Have a look at this video on some great tips on marketing you and your classes.
So what’s EMD UK doing?
First, we’ll continue to provide practical support via our monthly webinars, blogs and social media. Second, we’re putting your case to Sport England as they develop a package of support in response to the cost of living crisis – expect an announcement later in October. Third, we are supporting the sector’s asks of government including targeted investment and fundamental changes to legislative, regulatory and taxation regimes.
We are building on our current supplier partnerships to obtain discounts from some great companies across the sector, not only for our teacher/instructor members and member organisations but to make these more broadly available for all group ex instructors during this tough time.
Finally, we are freezing our membership rates for the second year running by absorbing the cost increases, so that instructors continue to get great value services from us.
If you’ve got more ideas on what EMD UK could and should do to help you, please drop me, Marcus, a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.