Ellen Berg is Co-Founder and CEO of NonStop Gym SA, an innovative chain of sports clubs with 17 sites throughout Switzerland. She launched her career at a major player within the consumer goods industry before deciding to follow an entrepreneurial path. Ellen Berg holds a Master of Science in Industrial Engineering and Management from Chalmers University of Technology and also studied Management and Economics of Innovation at ETH Zürich.
As we emerge from the acute phase of the COVID-19 crisis, our journey towards a new normal begins. EY asked various thought leaders and decision makers to take stock and share their insights into what’s next. Ellen Berg, Co-Founder and CEO of NonStop Gym SA, shares why she’s optimistic for the future despite her business being hard hit by the second wave.
How did COVID-19 affect your business in the first wave, and how’s it affecting you now?
When COVID-19 hit Switzerland, it also hit us. Like everyone else, we were pretty shocked when we had to close down, especially as it happened so quickly. Our clubs are open 24/7, and have been since they first opened, so this was the first time ever we had turned off the lights and locked the door. It was very sad. And there was also that sense of uncertainty and fear – for the virus, what would happen and when we could open again. When we got the go-ahead to open again in May, the team was super motivated. We also had a great response from members, a good atmosphere. People were keen to get back to routines, to healthy lifestyles. I think the pandemic is a reminder to all of us how important health is.
Now we’re in the second wave and we’ve had to close 14 out of our 17 clubs. Only the Zurich sites are still open. This time, the shock is less: we’ve been through it before. The frustration and disappointment is heavily present. But, we all have to do what’s necessary to fight this pandemic, and this time around, we are confident that we can bounce back, that our team will get back on track once again, and that our members will be back to train.
This time the shock is less: we know we can bounce back.
How has the crisis changed your daily working life?
We’re all quite used to working remotely because our clubs are spread out so we were already using digital tools like Teams, Zoom and WhatsApp to connect. But this gave it a whole new dimension, it was a new experience for all of us. We tried to find a rhythm, had Friday Zoom apéros. For me personally, I’ve gone from spending most of my time at the different clubs to having hardly any clubs to go to! There are good things about remote working, but also things I miss – coffee catch-ups, creative workshops. It’s hard to recreate those digitally.
Where have you had to adapt your concept?
Our core concept has three pillars: fantastic facilities, simplicity, and top quality training. The coronavirus has forced us to add a new point: COVID-19 safety. We’re not experts yet but over the summer we got into a new normal, with a security concept that was working well. Recently, we added masks during full training – that’s where things become a bit more intrusive. We’re committed to learning how to provide the safest training for our members and how to protect our staff. It involves a lot of trial and error, a lot of investment and resources.
How has this crisis affected your growth strategy?
We opened our first club in January 2014 and have grown rapidly since. Not being able to take on new members affects our growth strategy as all of our revenues are linked to memberships. We made a choice not to invoice a single member during lockdown. We were down to zero revenue, which of course was very, very tough. But it’s short term, hopefully not long term. Our priority is to get the existing clubs back and ensure our members feel safe. After that we’ll work on bringing the concept to more people with well-placed new locations.
How do you feel about the future prospects for your industry and your company?
Things are tough for everyone in fitness right now. But we’re operating in an industry that’s becoming increasingly relevant for more people. Long term, this crisis is an opportunity to capitalize on people’s renewed health focus and welcome new members to NonStop Gym when they’re ready. We offer top-quality training at a great price and we’re open 24/7. I think cost will be even more relevant for people as the economic effects of the crisis unfold. And many people will also be more flexible. We’re seeing it already. More people are working from home so they have more flexibility to squeeze in training. Before, we used to have clear peaks – morning, lunch, after work – and now it’s more evenly spaced throughout the day.
We also want to develop our concept to make our training more interesting, inspiring and motivating. That’s something we can do both at the clubs, but also via online tools, for example by offering digital training support. This can continue even during coronavirus times and we’re working on a training app to support people outside of the gym space.
Would you say the crisis is also an opportunity?
At the moment, we’re caught up in the day-to-day of getting through this second closedown so it’s hard to see the positive, but of course there is a bright side. For us as an organization, it’s boosted our team spirit, we’re even closer and stronger than before. It challenges us to improve our concept, especially in the area of COVID-19 safety and security. I’ve also seen some positives for my industry as a community. We share a mission to get more people in Switzerland to work out and stay healthy. I’m not originally from the industry and this has been a great chance to discuss with peers for the good of the industry overall and I’ve enjoyed that exchange. On a personal level, and on a member level, the lockdown was surely tough, but it also pushed us to explore new habits. I’m a big fan of testing new kinds of training and finding what fits.
This has been a great chance to discuss with peers for the good of the industry overall.
Last thoughts – does a crisis like this change your outlook?
Yes, it changes your mindset. I, like many, have gone through different phases. At the beginning, I felt shock at our perfect plan being totally messed up. But it shifted quickly into a sense of gratitude that everyone’s healthy, and that we still have a business. The shock of having the business plan ruined was replaced by a new type of motivation, one of humbleness and of gratitude for working in an industry I find incredibly meaningful and a concept I believe in. That’s the basis for developing a new business plan. Overall, I think this crisis will have some positive effects on helping people get a better work-life balance.
The shock of having the business plan ruined was replaced by a new type of motivation, one of humbleness and gratitude.