In early 2019, Tran Khang in HCM City decided to open a gym with VND500 million that he had saved after a period of working as a hired worker.

Khang and his cousin, a personal trainer, pooled VND1 billion to rent premises, buy equipment and spend on interior decoration for their first gym.

They hired two receptionists who were paid VND14 million a month, and two cleaners paid VND12 million. There were four hired trainers. Each of them had a salary of VND6 million and additional pay based on their capacity, plus commissions.

The gym ran well and revenue increased steadily. He even thought of opening a second gym. A report released in 2019 showed that Vietnam’s fitness club market may exceed $3.5 billion by 2023.

In November last year, Khang and his partner decided to borrow VND700 million from a bank and use the money, plus the VND300 million worth of profit from the first gym, to open the second gym. He spent millions of dong on marketing campaigns.

The second gym had been operating for three months when the Covid-19 pandemic broke out. Both the gyms have to stop operation. The hope that the pandemic would be stamped out soon was dashed and it’s unclear when they can reopen the gyms.

Like Khang, Phan Hoa, who is the trainer and owner of a small gym located in a residential quarter in District 7, is in distress because of the pandemic.

“I have had to borrow money to cover expenses, because there has been no revenue over the last five months. I moved to the gym to live here to save money,” Hoa said.

“Even if the municipal authorities loosen social distancing, fitness services will be the last sector they allow to reopen, because they are not essential services,” he said.

Spa owners are facing the same situation. Thanh Huong, the owner of two large spas in Hanoi, said she once managed to obtain revenue of VND1 billion a month and maintained 40 workers. However, revenue began dropping to zero four months ago.

Huong shifted to provide skincare service at clients’ homes. However, the service has been prohibited for two months. She now focuses on selling beauty products, which is the only feasible solution for now.

Way out not found

Khang, Hoa and Huong said they still have to pay bank debts every month. In addition, they have to spend up to VND100 million a month to maintain equipment of gyms.

Huong said she has laid off two thirds of workers and only retained the key ones.

“I still have to pay workers with the savings of my family, about VND120 million a month,” she said.

She plans to give back one premise to the landlord and try every possible way to cut expenses. She said it would be impossible to restart beauty services until 2022 Tet holiday.

Khang is offering to sell the second gym. Though the landlord accepted to cut the rent by 70 percent in July, he doesn’t intend to maintain the gym.

Khang said he is luckier than other gym owners. He is working as a software developer, so he still can earn VND20 million a month to pay bank debts. However, he admitted that he has to live with his parents.

Analysts said that it’s difficult to predict the future of fitness services and the beauty industry because the sector heavily depends on pandemic developments. 

Thu Giang

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