The War Wages On: Gym Owner Battles Covid 19 With No Retreat
Posted on January 19 2021
The Bell Rings
It’s been almost a year since COVID-19 first donned its gloves. The virus has hit economies around the world hard. America’s economy took a hard one in the gut. Unemployment claims in April of 2019 hit 20 million. Small business hours were cut in half, according to CNN Business. Those that didn’t catch the virus, caught the economic hit.
Gym owner, and fitness leader Artem Sharoshkin, has stayed on top of the game. Early on he offered business tips for the battle. Now, almost a year later, he has become a seasoned pugilist in the current economic war.
“I had a fighter mentality,” Sharoshkin said.
The Fight Begins
The ability to dig deep came in handy as did Sharoshkin’s skill set. He’d said before that there would be a few big issues, two of them being rent and staffing and payroll.
Gyms and other businesses faced many closures as the state was unsure of what COVID-19 was.
“We closed The Boxing Club in San Diego in March and then reopened in June for two weeks. We reopened in September with record sales. But by November we were only allowed outdoor operations,” the gym owner said.
The finger was pointed at a variety of different and locations as being super spreaders. Schools, restaurants, and gyms all took the blame.
This has led to whiplashes of openings and closings. For business owners like Sharoshkin, it meant constantly negotiating for rent. Each time the gym closed a new deal was struck.
“We had conversations with landlords,” Sharoshkin said. “I’d be very surprised that any landlord would deny the impact of COVID-19 now.”
A Yelp report in September of 2020 showed a 23 percent increase in the closings in the fitness industry. California was especially hit hard. The same report had 19.2k permanent business closures and 19.9k temporary industry closures.
The constant talks with the landlord were important in an ever changing landscape.
“This year will be the year where we see record business closures. Many people used the same strategy, pay full rent back plus the deferments. But each new wave of closures increased the deferments. Unless the business renegotiated, got runway and rent reduction, there will be closures.”
The business owner suggested coming to the table, let the landlords make the first offer. The pandemic hit landlords hard and many will offer support upfront.
Staffing has been a hard front to handle but there has been a key weapon.
“There have been some that fell apart due to uncertainty,” Sharoshkin said. “The vast majority of the staff stepped up. It showed the importance of company culture. In challenging times it pays dividends, the staff isn’t there for a paycheck.”
Honing company culture and trimming the excess in the business created an unexpected increase in the quality of classes.
“We limited classes to 45 minutes,” Sharoshkin said. “We’d use the 15 minutes to clean. It was more fun. We began to focus on the product because time was short.”
Rolling With The Punches And Sinking In The Shots
The Boxing Club has had several boxers perform during the pandemic.
“For the fighters themselves, it’s tough. You don’t have the same number of training partners,” the former fighter and gym owner said.
Yet, The Boxing Club has had success. There was the viral success of boxing prodigy Ryan Garcia. Signed to Golden Boy Promotions, Garcia was dropped with a southpaw cross to the button in the second. He spent seconds on the ground. He rose. Then sent his opponent, Luke Campbell to the canvas with a hard body shot in the seventh. King Ry trains at the Boxing Club.
Also on the cards has been Brandon Kurosawa. The rising American took a points win over
Phillip Ignacio at Triumphant 9 in Mexico. The show streamed online.
“It’s fantastic that we’re seeing shows being put together. It’s so new,” Sharoshkin said.
Victories big and small need to counted. Maintaining and creating brand awareness has been a success for Sharoshkin.
Putting out content online costs little. With practice it can be an excellent source of information and advertisement. It is an especially useful tool for a small business during the shutdowns.
The Boxing Club’s brand awareness grew due to high profile visits. Dana White, the Diaz brothers, and others came to the gym.
Sharoshkin has created new allies because he’s taken the fight to the state level.
Hitting Hard State Side
Early on Sharoshkin took his problems to the local level. The laws of the state hampered the city of San Diego.
“I talked to local politicians. We should be able to open gyms safely. We’re not saying no guidelines. We don’t want to put customers at risk. It would be bad business if my members would get sick. Businesses by nature would protect their customers,” Sharoshkin said.
Since the state isn’t protecting businesses, Sharoshkin and 24 other gyms in San Diego are protecting themselves.
“We received multiple visits from local police and inspectors,” Sharoshkin stated. “We got three citations, they were actual misdemeanors. Other gym owners contacted me. ‘What can we do,’ they asked. ‘If I shut down again I’m not gonna be able to reopen.’”
A complaint was filed in late December in the San Diego County Supreme Court. The suit is against the governor and public state officials. It seeks to allow fitness centers to reopen their doors for indoor training.
While outdoor training in California is available to fitness locations it has been difficult to pivot.
"We had to build out operations but none of the equipment was available,” Sharoshkin said. “We decided to file due to lack of evidence that gyms are super spreaders. We should be encouraging exercise and encourage people for health.”
According to the Los Angeles Times since June, less than 1% of people who tested positive for COVID-19 had been to a gym two weeks before they’d felt sick.
“There has been very little spread in the fitness industry,” Shroshkin stated. “Households are the major spreads. Gyms are right behind as beaches in San Diego.”
A study by New York State released in December showed that household gatherings accounted for 74 percent of the diseases spread. Gyms meanwhile played a part in .06 percent of the spread.
“I suspect they’re going hard on small business owners as a way to scape goat,” Sharoshkin said. “You can’t go hard on households. You can’t control households. By shutting down businesses it shows that they are ‘doing something.’”
Meanwhile, nursing homes have been real sites of the battle for the coronavirus. The New York Times stated that at least 36% of all COVID-19 deaths are linked to nursing homes and long term care facilities.
The Decision Is Digital
The obvious winner throughout the pandemic has been the online world.
“People take it for granted and don’t see the power of social media,” Sharoshkin said. “We’re doubling down on digital. The vast majority of customers come from digital. They do research and find out which gym fits them.”
The push to take over the digital world will have The Boxing Club rebrand and launch an app.
“There will be general fitness and instructional classes. Customers can also request a personal trainer,” Sharoshkin said about the app.
Other brands like the UFC gym have already gone digital. As has the promotion itself. The promotion is showing events online and or pay per view with no audience.
“The UFC is paving the way. I could see a show based on streaming. It will come down to delivering quality fights. I think it’s for the better, now promoters aren’t tied down to ticket sales. Now you just have to make sure you get exciting fights.”
The coronavirus has shown how unstable life can be. One thing has stayed true though. The world of business is like in the ring. It’s about people coming together, biting down on their gum shields and grit.
“Knowing everyone is in it together helps it. It’s all about perseverance and pushing through,” Sharoshkin said.Photos via Artem Sharoshkin and The Boxing Club