GoodLife’s Bad Day a Bonus for Microgym Owners in Canada?

A close up of a hand holding a slip with a COVID-related layoff notice.

A mass firing by a corporate chain of gyms might be a good thing for Canadian microgyms.

GoodLife terminated 480 fitness instructors at 189 of its facilities in Canada earlier this week, and while I hate seeing people lose their jobs, I’ve learned to look for silver linings after dealing with the pandemic for two years.

A head shot of writer Mike Warkentin and the column name "Pressing It Out."

GoodLife Fitness Centers Inc. is the largest fitness company in Canada, with more than 450 facilities under a banner of four brands. The corporation received a $310 million government loan in February 2021. The funds were accessed through the Large Employer Emergency Financing Facility, and the injection was needed because COVID restrictions had destroyed GoodLife’s revenue.

A few commenters have criticized GoodLife for accessing those funds and then laying people off a year later, but let’s recall that the money was a loan with an interest rate of 5 percent in the first year and 8 percent in the year after. The cash was more of a Visa advance than a gift.

Further, the access to money was provided “to help these enterprises to preserve their employment, operations and investment activities until they can access more traditional market financing.” So retention of all jobs wasn’t to be expected as a condition of financing. You can’t pay staff members if you can’t even cover your lease and utility payments.

Some have also attacked GoodLife for laying off the employees by mass email. That sucks, to be sure. But the mechanics of mass firings are tricky, so employers have to take measures that seem ruthless but are actually pragmatic. Getting punted by email sucks, but, really, getting punted sucks, period. The method of communication isn’t all that important at the end of the day.

All that aside, microgym owners can take heart for two reasons.

1. Instructors Available

Right now, 480 group fitness instructors are likely looking for new jobs, and some of them might be wonderful additions to a coaching gym. These aren’t facility attendants. They’re instructors who should be able lead and inspire groups.

Good staff members are hard to find, and this might be a great time to create an intrapreneurial opportunity for a talented trainer. (Get our “Intrapreneurialism 101” guide here.) Keep your eyes peeled for skilled go-getters who might be able to grow a program at your gym. In a best-case scenario, a terminated instructor might come to your business with a few loyal clients in tow.

2. Clients Are out There

These instructors were axed because COVID restrictions punched holes in GoodLife’s group programs. That means all the people who used to fill GoodLife’s classes are out there somewhere. You just have to find them and convince them to book a No Sweat Intro at your microgym.

Sure, your rates are higher than GoodLife’s, and maybe you don’t offer the aquatics classes GoodLife does. But your services are more valuable because you’ll help clients accomplish goals faster via better coaching and more accountability.

And my point stands: People who used to go to group classes aren’t attending them now—but that doesn’t mean they won’t. The people who are most likely to work out in the future are the people who worked out in the past. Make sure your media gives former gym goers a reason to check out your website and come talk to you.

Adapt and Evolve

I hope all the recently fired instructors find new employment fast. And I hope the clients who once filled GoodLife’s classes keep training. It’s bad news for public health when the fitness industry shrinks.

But as pandemic restrictions finally come to an end, we’re entering a new era for fitness businesses. I sincerely hope microgym owners can cash in on that and help more clients accomplish their goals through coaching.


One more thing!

Did you know gym owners can earn $100,000 a year with no more than 150 clients? We wrote a guide showing you exactly how.