HUNTINGTON — The coronavirus hit the exercise industry hard in 2020. However, the challenges were quickly met by both the privately owned fitness businesses and nonprofits, like the YMCA.
“Certainly 2020 forced us to regroup in terms of our business model,” said Katrina Mailloux, owner of Brown Dog Yoga at Heritage Station in downtown Huntington. “As we redirected, we stayed rooted in our mission statement of inspiration, service, connection, balance and growth.”
Mailloux says they embraced the change of 2020 by creating an online platform, BDYONLINE, to keep people healthy at home.
“We offer a free trial and a very affordable subscription for that platform,” she said.
Brown Dog Yoga had to reinvent itself and start offering live classes through Zoom. This new offering essentially transformed the student’s experience from studio to living room.
Makenzie Callicoat, manager and director of operations, said those who sign up for live classes get an email link before the start time.
“On Zoom, for example, we will all be in the same Zoom room,” she said. “Those are only available for the time they are live versus the on-demand option.”
Then, Brown Dog Yoga took it a step further and created an on-demand platform.
“We have switched to a partially virtual platform with a state-of-the-art, on-demand video library at bdyonline.vhx.tv,” Mailloux said.
Pre-recorded workouts, cycling and other fitness classes are filmed by Callicoat in a lighted studio at the Heritage Station location.
“We offer cycling classes, barre classes, fusion classes, adult and kids’ yoga classes and specialty classes, like meditation, and more that is uploaded to our on-demand platform where people can have access anytime they want,” she said. “The response has been overwhelming. We now have hundreds of clients from all over the world that have purchased the BDYONLINE subscription.”
While virtual workouts were in existence prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, data show that use has increased. Mindbody data showed a jump in consumers accessing virtual content since March 2020. It showed 73% of consumers are using pre-recorded video versus 17% in 2019, and 85% are using livestream classes weekly versus 7% in 2019.
The data also showed that since March 2020, consumers are actually working out more than before, with 56% of respondents exercising at least five times per week.
COVID-19 has created more digital fitness classes and pushed much of the health and wellness space online, but what’s in store for the fitness industry?
“I think future strategies of fitness will be a hybrid of digital and in-person fitness classes and workouts,” Mailloux said. “However, while digital classes have made exercise more accessible for many, there are still certain aspects of in-person fitness that digital fitness has yet to replicate. I don’t think there is any way you can replace the live experience being in the room with your teacher, your instructor, with your colleagues and with your tribe. There is nothing that will ever replace that.”
While Brown Dog’s future will include both in-person and digital fitness options, she said the changes have elevated their brand.
“Now we have brick-and-mortar studios and we have an online platform,” she said. “The pandemic has been a humbling experience, but it has given us the opportunity to transition, transform and evolve. Now more than ever people need variety, accountability and, most importantly, connection. Wherever we meet our students and clients, we promise to give them the best in cardio, strength and recovery workouts with indoor cycling, barre, strength and sculpting classes including TRX suspension training, yoga and meditation. We promise to give the best of ourselves with heartfelt commitment and connection.”
She says in 2021 they are working toward a greater sense of connection with the community.
“Now more than ever, people are suffering from anxiety and depression,” Mailloux said. “They are overloaded with Zoom and online connection, but there is a lack of personal and interpersonal connection. 2020 taught us that there’s one constant, and we know and understand this from our practice of yoga. That one constant is change. Along with change often comes suffering, but it doesn’t have to be that way.”
She says in 2021 that Brown Dog Yoga will continue to offer outdoor classes.
“We know the fresh air and sunshine can be healthy and healing,” she said. “With more and more people working from home, our goal is to provide alternate ways to serve them. In addition to the online platform, outdoor classes and in-person classes, we will continue to find opportunities to meet our clients and students where they are. I personally have three options for working out, born out of the pandemic. I work out at home with BDYONLINE, I teach and participate in group classes, and I go to a small gym where I can move my body in more solitude.”
At the nonprofit YMCA of Huntington, the pandemic also brought challenges.
“In the first few months we were closed down during the pandemic, we probably took a $500,000 hit,” said Brian Byrd, the chief operating officer at the YMCA of Huntington. “Fortunately for us, we were able to get some PPE funding that helped us. We will be recovering financially for a few years.”
Other challenges included getting folks to understand the state-mandated restrictions on gyms.
“Educating folks on the restrictions and guidelines was one of the biggest challenges,” Byrd said. “We had some folks that didn’t want to wear their masks, but we shut down some of the equipment so we could make sure we were following all the social distance guidelines and other regulations.”
When YMCA centers reopened in May, they were allowed to have only 50% capacity.
“We managed through that well,” he said. “We reduced class sizes, cleaned equipment several times a day and kept that up now that we are allowed 75% capacity, which is about what our membership is right now.”
The YMCA has 6,500 members, and hundreds more come in to use the centers.
Doug Korstanje became the CEO of the YMCA of Huntington in March last year, right when the pandemic was hitting the region hard.
“I was meeting Brian and some employees about layoffs before I even started,” he said. “It was tough, but the additional unemployment benefits helped a lot of our employees until we could start bringing them back.”
Korstanje said during the two-month shutdown from March to May 2020, the staff went from approximately 160 employees to 12.
“Now we’re back up to about 120, and we hope to get it back to 160,” he said.
The Kennedy Center Pool was not opened last year due to the pandemic, but is planned to open this year.
“The outdoor pool is scheduled to open May 29, 2021,” Korstanje said.
Korstanje said it’s been an adjustment for all YMCA members, but they have done a great job.
“They have worked with us on all the changes and regulations, but stayed committed to staying fit,” he said. “We are hoping for a day very soon when everyone is back and membership is on the increase again. We feel like the YMCA plays an important role in the health of our community — not only people coming here exercising, but those coming here for community development, for mentoring youth, working with all of our youth and senior programs and all of our programs for families. It’s you plus one. By supporting this organization, you’re also supporting all of the programs here, like ones that help at-risk youth, moderate income seniors that might not have that opportunity, but because the YMCA is here they also have the opportunity to exercise here, get child care, have outdoor and indoor recreational opportunities and so many things that exist because people support this organization.”