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At the end of their wits: Gyms in Bonn fight for survival

At the end of their wits : Gyms in Bonn fight for survival

Gyms in Bonn are losing income due to the lockdown, Corona financial aid is delayed. Several studios report how they still want to keep their members in line. Some of them, however, have been criticized by consumer protection groups.

Gyms are in a bad way. In Bonn, too, operators are fighting for survival. After reopening in May 2020, the gyms have now been closed again since November. Meanwhile, some gyms are resorting to measures that have drawn criticism from consumer advocates: Unilateral contract extensions. "From our point of view, this is not permissible," says Carolin Semmler of the North Rhine-Westphalia Consumer Center.

Some gyms allow premium payments to continue for the lockdown period and additionally extend the contract. Others suspend payments during the lockdown months and, in the event of termination, extend the contract by the duration of the lockdown. In this case, the customer should decide "with a sense of proportion," Semmler said. "Although even that, in our view, should not be determined unilaterally by the gym, consumers should reconsider this option if it makes sense for them.“

This is also how the Bonn-based gym "Sport Treff 2.0" does it. The gym bases this, among other things, on a ruling by the Ibbenbüren district court, which ruled in favor of the gym operator in a similar case. "Sport Treff 2.0", however, sent out the notice about the contract extension several months after it had already been terminated. This is rather unusual: if the gym has confirmed a termination of the contract for a certain date, this cannot be easily reversed and the contract unilaterally extended, says Carolin Semmler.

Corona aid does not flow as announced

The owners of "Sport Treff 2.0" are basically always ready for a dialogue with the customers, says the manager Nadja Klag. For her and her husband, Harald Schmidt-Klag, the contract extension is a legitimate measure that is generally also accepted by the customers. It is a win-win situation for gym and customers, since the gym can continue to be used after the lockdown. The financial situation is borderline: "We have only received part of the government aid so far," reports Schmidt-Klag. So far, only some of the aid received in November and December has arrived. The switch to digital training has worked well: a YouTube channel, podcasts, and home workouts via Zoom are well received by members. "But it is clear to everyone that this is only an interim solution and cannot replace on-site training," says Schmidt-Klag.

Other gyms in Bonn have had similar experiences; all independent gyms report delayed aid payments. Dimitri Ott, trainer at the gym "Simple Move" on Graurheindorfer Straße, reports: in order to prevent terminations, the gym had completely stopped contribution payments for the lockdown. "Since we live on just 150 members, 15 cancellations are already ten percent less turnover for us," says Ott. Again, the focus is on online workouts; in addition, the gym has loaned equipment to members.

The Fitness First chain of gyms, which operates a branch in the Bonn market, is in a slightly better position than the small, independent gyms. "We are a financially strong company," says Christophe Collinet of the "Life Fit Group," to which "Fitness First" belongs. But here, too, the second lockdown has led to major sales losses, he said. In general, membership fees will continue to be collected, but members will be offered compensation, for example in the form of vouchers for personal training.

Many members prefer to train in the gym

Frank Röhrig and Ralph Marquis, who run "Studio50" in the Brückenforum, report a 15 percent loss of members since the first lockdown. New registrations have almost completely disappeared. Customers who continue to pay their dues in a supportive manner have a choice of reimbursement options: Attaching bonus months to the contract term is one option here, Röhrig said. In the case of cancellations, a contract extension corresponding to the lockdown months is also sometimes chosen in consultation with the customers. The gym offer is aimed at older people, who are therefore also more often part of the Corona risk group. Nevertheless: "With a few exceptions, all of them would like to go back to sports," says Ralph Marquis.

Valentina Stoyanova, owner of the gym "Unique Fitness" near the Old Cemetery, describes one advantage for her gym. She only offers fitness classes, no equipment training, which is why the shift to the members' living rooms may have worked better here than elsewhere. But again, not as many members join as quit. When people do quit, they often agree to keep paying and tack on free months. Whether the future of the gyms is secure depends on whether they are allowed to reopen at the beginning of March - and whether aid payments arrive reliably. Valentina Stoyanova commented, "Otherwise, it's going to be really difficult."

(Original text: Johanna Lübke, Translation: Mareike Graepel)