In the fight to be deemed 'essential,' frustrated gym CEOs argue they have better coronavirus safety protocols than major retailers like Walmart and Costco

  • The chief executives of the fitness chains Life Time and Self Esteem Brands are calling upon lawmakers to reconsider the decision to close gyms in select states.
  • They argue that membership-based fitness facilities are actually better equipped to enforce safety protocols than essential retailers like grocery stores and big-box stores.
  • "If you go to Home Depot, Costco, or Walmart and you don't buy something, they don't know that you were there. It's absolutely impossible to contact trace," Life Time Fitness CEO Bahram Akradi told Business Insider. 
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With a handful of states reimposing shutdown mandates, and several others likely to follow suit in the near future, frustrated gym owners are fighting to obtain essential status and prevent closures. 

The chief executives of the fitness chains Life Time and Self Esteem Brands — owner of Anytime Fitness, The Bar Method, and Basecamp Fitness — are calling upon lawmakers to reconsider the decision to close gyms in select states.

While the lobbying efforts are primarily focused on the state of Minnesota, where both companies are based, one of the CEOs main arguments is that membership-based fitness facilities are actually better equipped to enforce safety protocols than essential retailers like grocery stores. 

Read more: The CEOs of Life Time Fitness, Self Esteem Brands, and Retro Fitness defend keeping gyms open as coronavirus cases climb

According to Bahram Akradi, the founder and CEO of Life Time Fitness, large big-box chains lack the ability to properly contact trace in the case of a coronavirus outbreak in the same way a gym can. 

"If you go to Home Depot, Costco, or Walmart and you don't buy something, they don't know that you were there," Akradi told Business Insider. "It's absolutely impossible to contact trace. If you go to a Life Time club, when you come in, you get a temperature check. We know you came in and we know you're in the club."

Further, he said extensive registration policies for club activities like group fitness or to use sporting facilities can also help the company easily trace in the case of illness.  

"If you're going to do a class of any kind, if you're going to go play basketball or tennis, we know exactly [where you are] because you have to register," he said. "We know when you went, what bikes you were on, which mat on the yoga floor, it's all numbers. If you have tested positive, we're able to go back to see when you were in the club and who else was in the club."

CEO Chuck Runyon, CEO of Self Esteem Brands, echoed Akradi, and said that while venues like malls or big-box chains may have some capacity limits or social distancing protocols in place, they can be more difficult to enforce given the size of their facilities. Walmart, for example, recently resumed counting customers entering stores for the first time since the beginning of the pandemic.

"Right now you can shop in major malls in Minnesota," Runyon told Business Insider. "You can go to all forms of retail. You can go to liquor stores, you can go to grocery stores, but they don't have capacity management. Maybe they have some social distancing, but [Self Esteem Brands facilities] have less people per square foot than most retailers or most major malls."

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