It was April 2020 and I hadn’t trained in months. As the former editor-in-chief of Oxygen and Clean Eating magazines, health and fitness were very important at one point in my life. But somehow I fell off the car. And since the gyms were closed for the foreseeable future, my motivation was not there.
That all changed when I got a text from my old Oxygen beast informing me that Alicia Tyler, still editor-in-chief of Clean Eating, was next to her husband Drew, a professional basketball player who became a personal trainer , had started offering live virtual practice courses. The two had planned to open their new gym, F45 Port Credit, on April 4th, but COVID-19 changed their plans along with so many others.
The on-screen Tylers were excellent coaches – friendly and fun, but a total butt-kicker at the same time. And the workouts were tough. The “F” in F45 stands for Functional, a mixture of interval cardio and strength training that is geared towards everyday movements. The 45 refers to the length of each workout – 45 minutes of intense sweat. F45 was founded in Australia in 2012 and has grown into a global movement with 1,750 studios in 45 countries worldwide.
Celebrity referrals, from actor Mario Lopez to minority shareholder Mark Wahlberg, have helped grow the company into one of the fastest growing fitness franchises in the world. There are 130 F45 gyms in Ontario, including 50 in the GTA. Franchisees make money with membership fees that range from $ 55 to $ 69 per week for unlimited sessions, depending on membership options.
Before the start and before the pandemic, the Tylers used business loans and their home equity to invest an astronomical amount of money in their dream. They gave an upfront franchise fee of $ 70,000, $ 140,000 for construction, $ 114,000 for equipment, $ 14,000 for first and final month rentals, $ 12,000 for studio approvals, $ 10,000 for architectural designs, $ 4,000 for engineering, and $ 25,000 for marketing expenses out. The Blitz resulted in 110 pre-sold gym memberships, but only 10 percent of those members chose when owners were forced to switch to virtual.
“We have only been open and counting for a total of 10 weeks in the last 14 months,” Drew tells me. “Every month we lose more money and we go into debt. We found it difficult to find ways to survive. “
Starting a new business is difficult in the best of times. Try opening one during a pandemic. The couple’s landlord in Mississauga has put the gym’s rental payments on hold until it reopens. The accrued $ 50,000 will be added to the monthly payments. In the meantime, the Tylers remain responsible for paying taxes, alimony, and property insurance in the studio.
To cushion the blow, the partners took out a $ 60,000 Canadian emergency business account loan, with payments scheduled to begin this fall. However, as new business, they could not qualify for the state wage or rental subsidies as they could not see any revenue losses for 2019.
In late June, when outdoor fitness classes were approved in Toronto, the owners opened a store in the parking lot in front of their store on Lakeshore Road East. And on August 4th, exactly four months after it was originally due to open, the Tylers were finally able to welcome members into the studio.
From temperature checks to hand sanitizer, contact tracing and COVID-19 questionnaires, F45 Port Credit followed government guidelines to the tee. Masks were worn when entering and exiting the studio and removed during class.
Physical distancing stickers were placed three meters apart on the gym floor so that each member had their own exercise room for the duration of the course. Equipment was sanitized before and after each session while the floors were vacuumed and disinfectant mopped.
The studio’s 1,670-square-foot training area typically seats 35 members per class. During the summer months, the capacity was fixed at 30 percent of the space, which meant that only 18 people could attend each session. In September, the capacity stipulated by the city will be further reduced to 10 people per class.
“With government restrictions, we’ve lost a significant loss in membership attendance and revenue in every class and every day that went by,” Drew said.
Toronto gyms were completely closed for two weeks over Thanksgiving weekend before the green light was given to resume outdoor classes. But on November 23, the Prime Minister of Ontario, Doug Ford, put Toronto and the Peel Region in a second wave of COVID-19. F45 Port Credit has been practically up and running ever since.
The Tylers had their hopes raised in March 2021 when the Ford government announced that outdoor fitness would be allowed to resume with a maximum of 10 people per class at the end of the month. Just days later, the prime minister imposed a nationwide emergency brake to curb the growth of the third wave of the pandemic and once again ban outdoor fitness.
“The persistent lockdowns over the past year have turned off any momentum for us to create and grow our community and support our business,” says Drew. “We had to start reselling memberships for the second, third and fourth time. It’s like restarting our pre-opening campaign over and over again. “
In April, the province announced new restrictions banning outdoor sports facilities and multi-purpose fields. Ontario health and science experts said they did not advise Ford to do this. In fact, Peter Jüni, the director of the COVID-19 Science Advisory Table in Ontario, almost gave up on the decision.
Experts agree that outdoor transmission of the virus is extremely low. According to Jüni, outdoor activities are around 20 times safer than indoor activities. As a result, the Toronto Public Health Board unanimously passed a motion in May urging the Ontario government to reverse the order to shut down outdoor activities. We finally saw this happen in time for the long Victoria Day weekend.
You don’t have to be an expert to know that exercise is essential for mental and physical health. Aside from going to the grocery store or pharmacy, exercise was one of the few outdoor activities allowed during home orders from Ontario. “Maintaining a consistent exercise routine is key to a healthy lifestyle that prevents disease and boosts immunity,” says Drew. “Restricting movement in the open air ultimately scares people off and makes it difficult to establish the habit.”
Drew has been a fitness trainer for 20 years and knows what he’s talking about. “Look at our heads of government,” he says. “They do not represent or support regular exercise and healthy routines. How many times have you heard them talk about gyms and exercise as an important part of our needs during their live announcements? When did you hear Doug Ford tell you to support your local gym so that you can take care of your physical and mental health? You do not do that. “
He is right. While Ford often encourages people to support local restaurants with take-out, he’s not an advocate of health and fitness.
“Because we are out of date or deemed material,” continues Drew. “Instead, we are driven to the LCBO and fast food for things that support mental and physical well-being. That’s why, in my opinion, the fitness industry in particular suffers. It’s the last thing they think “
Thanks to the Tyler, it’s the first that’s mine. I still work out practically most mornings. But now that outdoor training is allowed as part of the first step of Ontario’s new reopening plan, I can’t wait to find the right deal.