Home confinement forced on us by the outbreak of Covid-19 has left the fitness industry in the UAE and the world over in a state of flux. Trainers and facilities have been responding by offering at-home workouts over social media and on new or existing platforms. The current situation, with most people staying in their homes, has required innovation and creativity in order to help people maintain their fitness, and businesses stay afloat.
Digital delivery is certainly effective but some studios have gone a step further; they are offering to take their facilities, quite literally, into people’s homes. Define, a studio in Dubai Marina, was among those to act swiftly after the country-wide closures came into effect, giving its members the opportunity to take equipment away in order to continue their barre, cycle and yoga classes at home.
“Right when it was announced, we knew this was important to do,” Laura Olivier, co-owner of Define, tells livehealthy.ae. “We rented out small pieces of equipment like weights, balls and yoga mats straight away, but then had to figure out a good system of delivery for our bikes.
“When we were notified of the lockdown, we had 48 hours to get all of them rented and ended up distributing all of them within that time thanks to marketing on social media and word of mouth.”
It was a successful impromptu campaign. All of Define’s bikes were rented within 24 hours of them being made available. There is now a waiting list in place in case some don’t renew their rentals.
One major challenge was deciding what to charge. After all, there is no precedent for this situation and there is a massive variation in rental prices across the UAE. Define opted for accessibility, pricing a one-month bike rental at Dh500, though that might have to increase at some point to cover delivery costs.
“We knew a lot of our competitors were charging more than we wanted to, but we also knew this could possibly be one of the studio’s only sources of revenue for some time, so we wanted to make sure we weren’t losing money on the rentals,” Olivier explains.
“We also had to consider that a lot of our clients were in a tough spot financially and many had lost jobs already or their spouses had, so we ended up going with a really low price for the first month, which we will try to stick with if we can.”
For Rev, a cycling studio in Abu Dhabi, a surge in initial demand for bikes, which are being rented out for Dh3000 per month, has led to an unusual situation among the UAE’s fitness facilities, according to owner Jean-Marc de Montrichard.
“It is very expensive to run boutique studios and very difficult to make money,” De Montrichard says. “But in tough times, you have a dedicated community ready to come together and help you out. We built our reputation and people knew the quality of our bikes, so they were quick to respond when we offered rentals.
“Remarkably, we have done better with renting out the bikes now than if we were running normally, which I can’t quite believe. There are people willing to pay premium to ensure they can continue to exercise and stay healthy in a very trying time like this. It is working for us and, importantly, working for the people in the community too.”
Another gym, Fly High Fitness in Dubai Investment Park, is focusing on renting smaller items in a bid to reach as many of its members as possible. It is running two remote CrossFit classes each day with members signing up for either a 7am or 5pm slot.
Participants get two key pieces of equipment delivered to their home and have a week of workouts designed around that equipment. At the end of the week, they swap it for two new items. A Dh500 deposit is required for the equipment but the rental is include in the cost of the at-home program at Dh150 per week.
“The equipment is only smaller pieces like dumbbells, kettle bells, skipping ropes, weight plates,” Blake Stemm, head of marketing at Fly High Fitness, explains. “Everyone is going through this tough time together, some don’t have jobs and so we wanted to make our services affordable.
“We’ve had great response so far and our adult CrossFit classes sold out in the first week. We are constantly looking at our structure and trying to open up more spaces.”
For bigger gyms, the logistics behind renting out equipment are incredibly complex. The region’s largest fitness chain, Fitness First Middle East, is offering a significant number of at-home workouts, including live sessions with trainers and 95 classes available through Les Mills, but is not yet renting out equipment.
“With the latest directives on limiting social contact and non-essential travel for the protection of our UAE community at large, Fitness First is not running equipment rental,” chief executive George Flooks tells livehealthy.ae. “If the situation changes in time, we will be in the position to rent our equipment and are ready behind the scenes. We are committed to supporting our members and the wider fitness community’s health and wellbeing through our amazing online content.”
At times of uncertainty, it is understandable that smaller studios feel more vulnerable than bigger organizations with deeper cash reserves. But being boutique-sized also has its benefits – namely the flexibility to respond reflexively to their customers’ needs.
“We don’t have that financial strength but I think in some ways it helps,” Define co-owner Olivier says. “We are nimble, we have a small team, we can make decisions more quickly than those gyms that have a larger, more formal chain of command. We didn’t need layers of approval, which meant we could move fast.
“Obviously all we can do now is keep looking at our options and being attentive to what the UAE government are saying about when we can open. We have a lot of faith in the leadership here. We know they are doing all they can to protect their people.”
Mark is a Dubai-based writer who has couch-surfed through Ukraine, broken bread with football fans in Basra, and appeared on a boxing reality TV show in the UAE – all in pursuit of a good story. Or at least an average anecdote.