A fitness instructor has the strength to maintain a gym

Editor’s note:

Small businesses in China are the backbone of employment and prosperity. But size can be a disadvantage in tough times. This series explores the consequences of isolation on the sector.

A fitness instructor has the strength to maintain a gym

Zhou Anna / SHINE

The members come to Zheng Yi’s studio early on July 1st to practice.

The past week has been a real rollercoaster for Zheng Yi.

Just days after he reopened his Oubisi fitness studio, the coronavirus has broken out again in Shanghai, fueling his worries as a previous outbreak forced him to close his business for nearly three-and-a-half months.

He understands that anxiety isn’t helpful, but he’s just overwhelmed by a sense of helplessness.

“I can only do what I can do right now,” he told Shanghai Daily. “Strengthen disinfection; provide our members with good and professional services. Other than that, just trust the government.”

Shanghai witnessed a resurgence of the pandemic in early March, leading to mass shutdowns and leaving many businesses at a standstill.

Oubisi closed in mid-March.

For Zheng, it was very encouraging to see the news that the city would reopen from June, as the pandemic gradually subsided. The long-awaited permit finally arrived on June 30, after the city government announced the reopening of cultural, tourist and sports facilities in July. That night, he stayed in his studio until 10 p.m., preparing everything.

A fitness instructor has the strength to maintain a gym

Zhou Anna / SHINE

For him, Oubisi has been like a second home since he opened it in Hongkou District three years ago. Carefully nurtured, it now has more than 50 members. However, it is difficult for him to survive the outbreak of the pandemic in 2020. And this year it is a harder blow.

“A lot of small fitness studios were affected, and there were a lot of closings or relocations,” he said.

According to an industry report published by Shanghai Sports University in June, nearly 14 percent of private fitness studios in major cities in China will go out of business in 2021.

Zheng spends nearly 30,000 yuan ($4,474.8) on his 192-square-meter studio every month. The three-month shutdown really put a strain on his finances.

“I thought about closing the studio,” he admitted. “But I just didn’t want to give up, and right now I can still start my business.”

However, the friend fell on hard times and closed his fitness studio in mid-June.

“His studio is bigger and more popular than mine, it shouldn’t have been so hard for him to get through,” Zheng said, sighing deeply at the randomness of life.

In addition to rent and staff costs, he is also worried about losing members.

“The pandemic and the lockdown have forced many people to withdraw,” he said. “They may have a cautious attitude about spending money on fitness.”

A fitness instructor has the strength to maintain a gym

Zhou Anna / SHINE

Xiao Gu exercises his leg muscles under Zheng’s guidance.

To retain existing members and attract new ones, Zheng gritted his teeth and spent 40,000 yuan on new fitness equipment. It worked and delighted Xiao Gu’s loyal customer on reopening day.

“I saw the reopening notice last night and I got there pretty early this morning,” he said. “I won’t be leaving until this afternoon. I’ve waited too long for this day.”

Gu did not choose a studio near his home in the new Pudong area. Instead, he crosses the Huangpu River and takes the Metro to Zheng’s studio because he appreciates Zheng’s professionalism and quality service.

Zheng has more than 10 years of experience in the fitness industry. That’s why he was invited by Dragon TV to give classes in front of the cameras during the isolation. Moreover, unlike regular chain gyms, his is a home-style fitness studio.

A fitness instructor has the strength to maintain a gym

Zhou Anna / SHINE

Zheng’s anime toys in the studio

Zheng, a huge anime fan, decorated his studio with his precious collections. His four cats are also there to play with the members.

“I want my members to feel at ease,” he said, adding that they are friends.

Member Xie Xiaoya really appreciates this.

“I don’t like the atmosphere of those big gyms,” she said. “Their prices are high and the trainers are of varying skill levels. But this place is fantastic, and I always stay at least three or four hours.”

Zheng believes that the positive side of the pandemic is that it could “reconstruct” the industry, leading to the “survival of the fittest”.

“Big and big investment is not necessarily synonymous with profession and quality,” he said. “It is a core competence that is really important and ensures a bright future.”

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