Covid-19 Decimated the Fitness Industry, But Some Founders See It as Opportunity Knocking

a woman sitting in a chair talking on a cell phone: Lucy Sexton

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Lucy Sexton

Fitness entrepreneurs are planning for post-pandemic now. What that looks like is still very much a question.


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Eight months ago, Lucy Sexton and Durran Dunn would have agreed: At-home workouts could never surpass the experience of going to the gym or attending a fitness class.

Then, the pandemic hit.

Sexton, a New York City-based boutique fitness instructor, quickly found herself out of a job–so she teamed up with another instructor she knew, Tracy Carlinsky, to host classes on Zoom. Soon, they had 70-plus people in each class. An entrepreneurial opportunity was born: In July, the pair launched Bonded By the Burn, an online subscription-based workout platform charging $30 per month for access to both live video workouts and pre-recorded sessions ranging from 10-70 minutes long.

Dunn, an Atlanta-based accountant and former competitive sprinter (who still moonlights as one of the men portraying the Atlanta Braves’ fleet-footed mascot The Freeze) also spotted opportunity. He’d long dreamed of opening a gym, and Covid-19 sent prices plunging as gym owners nationwide shut down their businesses, and equipment manufacturers desperately tried to offload supply. In late June, he paid an undisclosed amount–significantly below market value, he says–to assume the lease of a gym in Marietta, Georgia, and become the proud new franchise owner of Anytime Fitness East Cobb.

a man sitting at a desk: Covid-19 Decimated the Fitness Industry, But Some Founders See It as Opportunity Knocking

© Credit: LaRuche Creative
Covid-19 Decimated the Fitness Industry, But Some Founders See It as Opportunity Knocking

Together, Sexton and Dunn represent the two sides of the fitness industry’s existential struggle as the pandemic rages on. Sexton’s startup functions under the assumption that people won’t ever want to return to in-person workout classes. Dunn says he’s sure that in-person fitness will return with a vengeance, making this the perfect time to buy low. And while there could eventually be room for both approaches post-Covid, the short-term stakes are plenty high.

Betting on digital

By and large, the fitness industry has struggled this year. Revenue has plunged at gyms and fitness studios: Planet Fitness, for example, revealed on Friday in an SEC filing that its revenue since January has fallen precipitously: $272.8 million, compared to its revenue of $479.3 million during the same time period last year.

Yet, perhaps predictably, some e-commerce and digitally native offerings are thriving. Peloton’s Friday SEC filing says the company made $757.9 million in revenue from July through September, more than triple the $228 million it generated over the same period a year ago. Nautilus, which owns the Bowflex at-home fitness brand, on Monday reported $363.3 million in revenue so far this year, up from $205.1 million this time last year.

Those trends may continue for some time. Fifty percent of U.S. consumers simply aren’t comfortable returning to gyms yet, according to a September report from market research firm Mintel. And the industry’s central question–Will those consumers want to

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