PLAINVIEW, NY — Josh York isn’t the type to sugarcoat things. Like many Long Islanders, he calls it like he sees it. York is the CEO of GymGuyz, based in Plainview. He founded the company in his parents’ New Hyde Park dining room 12 years ago and has since guided it to become one of the fastest-growing companies in the country — in any category, not just fitness.
And while he doesn’t want to sound insensitive to the plight facing thousands of other gyms across the country — many may never reopen — he knows the coronavirus extraordinarily benefited GymGuyz from a financial standpoint.
“Since the coronavirus happened, there’s just this huge uptick in business because gyms have become Blockbuster video,” he said, referencing the once-booming video rental chain that filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2010 amid the gaining popularity in streaming services.
“We’ve become Netflix,” he added.
But even as the company appeared to emerge as an economic winner, GymGuyz — indeed, York himself — suffered an incalculable loss: A dear friend and successful franchise owner died from COVID-19, the disease that is caused by the virus.
A Virus Upends Gym Industry
It’s no secret gyms and personal trainers were flying high. The International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association called 2019 a “year of abundance” for the fitness industry. The organization said global industry revenue that year totaled $94 billion. As a result, health clubs were on pace to reach 230 million members by 2030.
Business took off in the United States in particular. America led all markets in memberships and revenue at 62.5 million and $32.3 billion, respectively, the organization said.
Indeed, GymGuyz capitalized, too. The chain was named the fastest-growing franchise in 2017 and 2018 by Franchise Gator, and it was listed by Inc.500 as No. 292 of the country’s 500 fastest-growing companies. Last year, GymGuyz ranked No. 231 by Entrepreneur Magazine’s Franchise 500, up from No. 470 a year earlier.
But in March, the coronavirus swept across the globe. As Gov. Andrew Cuomo often tells it, the new coronavirus started in Wuhan, China, in late 2019 and spread to Europe. Eventually, it reached New York undetected and spread for weeks, infecting thousands before state and federal officials knew what was happening. In March, Cuomo issued a statewide stay-home order for all nonessential workers. The number of infections, deaths and hospitalizations due to the virus peaked in April, but the state has since seen a dramatic decline. Every region in the state has entered the fourth and final phase of reopening businesses, though New York City did so with additional restrictions in place.
But gyms and movie theaters were left on the outside looking in. Cuomo has remained steadfast in his stance that it remains unsafe for them to operate given how the virus thrives on people breathing the same air indoors.
As New York and other states closed gyms, the industry took a massive hit. The sportsclub association estimated that health clubs across the globe lost $1.3 billion in revenue per week at the height of the pandemic. Many fitness facilities were small businesses whose revenue was 90 percent to 100 percent based on “in-club” activity. This left them with few options when it came to paying staff, keeping them working, managing cash flow and paying rent.
“We have a thousand people working here and no revenue,” Catic Wellness Group Owner Loni Wang told the sportsclub association in May. “So, this is a big problem for us.”
And she was far from alone.
The exclusion led gym-owners across New York to file a class-action lawsuit accusing Cuomo’s administration of violating the equal protection and due process clauses of the 14th Amendment, as well as the takings clause under the Fifth Amendment. The gyms are seeking an injunction of the executive order that would allow gyms to reopen, as well as damages to be compensated for all the money lost as a result of being shut down.
GymGuyz is not a part of the lawsuit, but York said he sympathizes with them.
“I feel bad for those gyms,” he said. “And No. 2: I love the gym and I can’t go.”
Unlike other fitness companies, GymGuyz furloughed no workers, and no one had to be laid off. In fact, the virus wasn’t a detriment to the business.
Mobile Gym Sees Business On Steroids
Much like the lone trees able to grow in the tough, unforgiving tundras, GymGuyz bucked the trend during the pandemic. York wouldn’t say exactly how much business took off, but acknowledged “it went up a lot.” He said his business is likely one of just a few franchisors that continued franchising even during the pandemic — adding 17 locations, to be exact.
What sets GymGuyz apart from other fitness training services: There are no brick-and-mortar locations. Clients have a personal trainer drive to their home or office with a van filled with exercise equipment tailored to a specific workout regimen designed around a series of assessments on the body, measurements, nutrition and fitness.
“Based on that, it determines what we bring into your house,” he said.
The company has rates for single sessions with no long-term commitments or contracts ranging from $75 to $88 in price. Customers typcially spring for at least two training sessions a week. The gym does offer group rates.
When the pandemic hit, GymGuyz converted operations to all virtual. Clients would meet with trainers over Zoom teleconference, and the company lent its equipment to customers. It resumed full operations during Phase 2 of the governor’s reopening plan. York emphasized that virtual will be a part of the future, but he doesn’t believe it will replace in-person, human interaction.
Trainers have to wear masks and gloves on visits, and the company was already sanitizing equipment. Both staff and clients have to complete temperature checks, and that information is tracked within an app.
York said the transition to COVID-19-era restrictions has been simple. He doesn’t feel the requirements have been overly cumbersome.
“If you don’t adapt, you die,” he said.
York still owns the corporate territories on Long Island, but the brand has grown to over 250 locations across 32 states and three countries. GymGuyz is about to enter its fourth country.
On Long Island, the trainers serve a handful of territories from Little Neck out east to Riverhead in Suffolk County. While there are many factors at play as to why the business has managed to grow, York noted the world has become all about “convenience.”
“Even when gyms do open — who knows when the hell they’re going to open — but when they do, [people] are not going to go back, I’ll tell you that right now,” he said, estimating that his franchise will become the largest personal fitness brand in the world within 15 years.
The likelihood that doesn’t happen? York made no qualms about his confidence.
“You’ll have a higher probability of seeing elephants fly,” he said.
To that end, he has no fear that the coronavirus, or anything else, will stop GymGuyz from thriving.
“I don’t fear a God d— thing,” he said. “I’m the guy that runs through the walls, eats the sheet rock, the studs and the nails, and ends up on the other side. That’s the guy I am. If you’re scared, you’re going to get crushed, and people like me are going to eat you. Nothing scares me.”
An Unshakable Confidence Meets An Unthinkable Loss
While GymGuyz was isolated from the early financial effects of the pandemic, the company wasn’t completely unscathed.
“A very good friend of mine, one of our best franchise owners, died from [COVID-19],” York said.
Dan Spano, a close friend of York who franchised a location in Norwalk, Connecticut, died April 11 at a hospital due to. He was 30 years old.
“It was horrible,” York said. He added: “I freaking cried, man.”
York helped create a fundraising campaign for Spano. A GoFundMe account for Spano’s family raised about $41,000 as of Friday out of a $45,000 goal.
According to the GoFundMe post, Spano had been “in perfect health.”
“We are absolutely heartbroken,” York and fellow creator Samuel Langer wrote.
Spano was an “incredible friend, brother and son,” as well as a successful GymGuyz franchise owner who had a passion for life, family, friends and fitness. The health and well-being of his clients was “contagious,” organizers wrote.
“He had a smile that simply lit up the room, and a drive that rallied everyone around him to perform at their best,” the GoFundMe post said. “He absolutely loved training his clients, and they loved being trained by him! We are so completely overcome with sorrow, but at the same time, keenly focused on helping Dan’s family and friends cope with his sudden loss mentally and financially.”
Spano was also remembered as a “shining light” for those who knew him.
“You will be in our hearts forever, and your legacy will live on well beyond the precious time we had with you here,” York and Langer wrote.
The company plans to create a special award in Spano’s honor.
“We’re going to let his memory live on,” York said.
He said a couple other staffers have also come down with the virus, but no other workers have died from the disease.
About 4.6 million Americans have been confirmed to have contracted the disease. About 155,000 of them did not survive.
New York has confirmed roughly 419,000 cases. Over 32,000 New Yorkers have died.
GoFundMe is a Patch promotional partner.
This article originally appeared on the Plainview Patch