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Trampolines, hot tubs and fitness equipment in high demand during pandemic

Bike ride
Lily MacRae, left, Mya MacRae, and mom Marilee MacDonald go for a little bike ride. Cycling stores have seen a spike in demand during the pandemic. PHOTO: Chris Zdeb

There's no place like home in a pandemic which explains why hot tubs and gym equipment are selling like toilet paper did in the early days of COVID-19.

Aaron Pilon, sales manager at Arctic Spas Edmonton, put in 18-hour days at work, only to have people living in his St. Albert neighborhood, who he didn't know,  knock on his door at 9 p.m. asking if he could hook them up. 

"I had no reprieve. It was insane."

With no place to go this summer, "everybody's vacation budget has turned into a hot tub budget, or an RV budget, or a bike budget," Pilon said. "People are putting money into their homes because they're probably thinking we're not going anywhere for a long time and it would be nice to improve the situation that we have.

"We outsold what we did all of last year, in March. Our industry exploded."

Things have slowed down some, but only because the demand has so outpaced supply, if you order a hot tub today — basic price $7,000-$13,000 — you won't get it until December, instead of the three to four weeks it took pre-COVID, Pilon explained.  

Jason Samograd, regional manager for Flaman Sales and Rentals in Alberta, said it's been the same thing with home gym and fitness equipment. 

"When all the gyms closed in the middle of March we saw a surge in business like the company never experienced before. We were probably doing five times typical local numbers. It was crazy for about three months."

The inventory for some items, like weights and weight equipment, are depleted. As are trampolines.

"There was a total shortage across North America," Samograd said. "People were looking for trampolines for their kids. We presold 85 trampolines that never even touched our warehouse. The demand was so much higher than supply we sold things we had sitting as deadstock for over 10 years.

"Nothing will ever maintain (the sales) we saw in March and April, that was a freak of nature, we know those numbers couldn't be sustained, but even now with gyms reopening, a lot of people are going to be gun-shy to go back to a public place to workout and share machines where people sweat, breathe heavy, share change rooms," Samograd noted.

"Fitness is a very intimate industry. There will be a percentage (of gym rats) that will go back, but now that people have invested as much as they have in their own home gyms they're going to continue to workout at home where they know they're safe and comfortable." 

John Pracejus, director of the School of Retailing and associate professor of marketing at the University of Alberta, would never have predicted either of these lifestyle trends at the start of the pandemic.

"(The pandemic) is kind of uncharted territory so I didn't know what to expect," he said. "I guess I was less surprised about the fact that grocery sales went up as people stopped eating at restaurants. If you're going to have more of your meals at home you're going to spend more at the grocery store.

"But as it continues to be risky to leave your house it's not surprising, in hindsight, that people are investing in things to stay at home as opposed to investing in holidays and travel," he explained. (Pracejus himself was part of the stampede to buy fitness equipment when his own gym closed.)

When people do leave the house, more of them are pedalling away on bicycles. 

"Cycling is one of the last things you can still do this summer," Weston Covert, co-owner of Bike and Brew in Calgary, said. 

"It's safer to get around for work or for personal reasons than taking transit. It's also a form of exercise you can do when physically distancing. You don't have to go out with big groups or anyone to go riding. You can do it by yourself or with another person, keep distancing and still have a social life."

Certain bikes in his inventory are depleted. 

"The most popular are entry level bikes that cost $600-$1,500 because there are a lot of new riders coming into the market who are not looking for high end but a good dependable bike from a bike shop.

"There is still supply, but you don't get as many options as you did a few months ago," Covert said.

Recreational vehicle sales are also up from what they normally are, Russ Small, director of marketing at Woody's RV in Calgary, said. But with prices ranging from $75,000 to $150,000 they're not selling like hotcakes.

It's hard to say which pandemic lifestyle trends will continue once a cure or vaccine is found. Pre-COVID activities like travel and eating out, going to the gym, going to the movies, will return, Pracejus said, but even if virus rates in the community are low "there are going to be a lot of people, especially people who are older or have underlying health conditions, that are going to be cautious. They're not going to engage in activities that involve being close to a lot of people."

Anytime you have "a major shock to the system, something that disrupts behaviour,"  he added, it's hard to predict exactly how much of what was pre-shock normal will return. 

In the short term, people who have become used to spending a little less and saving a little more likely will continue to do so. On the other hand, "there are a lot less things to do that are perceived to be safe" that people can spend money on, Pracejus said. "There's also a lot of anxiety about employment ... so saving is a natural inclination."

He expects that the increase in online spending on clothing or groceries will continue well beyond the crisis people especially if people who had never tried it before have had a good experience.

People who have come to enjoy riding their bikes to work instead of taking public transit will also likely continue. 

As will people who bought home gym equipment to work out at home. 

As for the family closeness many people have experienced by spending so much time at home together, "I think a lot of people hope this is the one silver lining that people have found during the crisis that will continue beyond it," Pracejus said. 

Chris Zdeb is a freelance writer and regular contributor to This story was funded by the Facebook Journalism Project Supporting Local News Coverage of COVID-19 Program via the Local Media Foundation.