Wellness businesses continue to evolve amid COVID uncertainties

By Christie Vogt

Since the Bugle’s last wellness edition in March 2021, the arrival of COVID-19 vaccines, boosters and variants has continued to alter the landscape for wellness businesses. While there appears to be more optimism this year, uncertainty still reigns for many of them.

“We had hoped that we’d see an increase back to pre-pandemic attendance and revenue,” said Suzy Levi, owner of Defining You Pilates & Fitness. “But we’re still kind of hanging where we were last year.”

Nevertheless, Levi said her St. Anthony Park business has changed in interesting ways. It has seen consistent attendance and some growth with apparatus classes, which use large Pilates equipment and are limited to five attendees, a factor that Levi believes may help people feel more comfortable participating. Personal training has also brought in new clients, Levi said.

Prior to the pandemic, large studio classes were a bigger percentage of Defining You’s business. But now much of that in-studio clientele has been lost because classes like strength and interval training can be found online, Levi says.

Defining You continues to offer virtual and in-person classes, a hybrid model that it initially anticipated dropping but virtual classes became too popular to cancel, particularly during the winter months.

The shift to focusing on Pilates apparatus classes and smaller group training has been “a good thing,” Levi said. “I feel like that’s what sets us apart.” With no shortage of competition in the fitness market, the pandemic has prompted them to focus on their specialty, she added.

At Next Level, a St. Anthony Park gym that focuses on resistance training, owner Jonathan Swenson said that although they have had a steady group of returning members, new clients come in waves.

“It’ll be that up/down kind of feeling,” he said. “But overall, I think we’re getting toward that phase where people are more comfortable doing things.”

Unlike most gyms, Next Level sells memberships as time slots where members register for a specific day and time and then work out with the same people for a month. “People really like it because it helps them not miss days,” Swenson said. Members also like having that “pod of people that they always recognize,” he added.

Although he hasn’t received specific feedback on the matter, Swenson acknowledged that this pod system might help people feel better about reducing their chances of being exposed to the corona­virus. For those who prefer at-home workouts, Next Level launched virtual memberships in February that include personalized programs and virtual coaching options.

At the Como Park/Falcon Heights Block Nurse Program, executive director Lisa Kane said they continue to offer a virtual meditation and somatic movement course that focuses on anxiety relief, balance and posture. The program has also distributed iPads and hot spots to seniors to help facilitate engagement.

Kane said the group has returned to hosting in-person blood pressure clinics, and she is feeling “hopeful” that in-person exercise programming will return in 2022 with activities like chair yoga.

In addition to Defining You Pilates, Levi runs a consulting company in which she coaches wellness business owners, and one of her current recommendations is for companies to find their niche.

“You’ve got to have a reason for (clients) to want to come out and come back when they can get a lot of this online or they’re scared (to return),” she said.

The pandemic has forced business owners to “take a deeper look into what’s working and what’s not,” Levi said. In the meantime, “you’ve just got to put your head down and be flexible . . . and know that on the other side, it’s going to be better,” she concluded. 

Christie Vogt is a Twin Cities-based freelance writer and a regular contributor to the Bugle.

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