Lockdown Economy Hungary in a Sports Training Practice with Gergely Kaposvári
The interview was transcribed and adapted into an article by Sriyansh Hetamsaria
Lockdown Economy: Interviews by think tank AlterContacts.org with real entrepreneurs sharing insights, challenges and successes during the COVID19 global pandemic to inspire, motivate and encourage other entrepreneurs around the world.
In this interview hosted by Juhász László, we meet Gergely Kaposvári. He is the founder of the Force Training Academy, a strength and conditioning business in Budapest, Hungary. In mid-March 2020, at the beginning of the first wave of the pandemic, Gergely lived in Malta, where he ran a gym which was closed immediately. Thus, he had to return to Budapest, where he continues his business. In the spring, restrictions were in place in Hungary too. Due to the situation, Gergely substantially changed his business strategy and shifted his activity from in-person to online presence. He always wanted to take this step because the online space is a larger market, but it was the pandemic that pushed him towards this direction. As a result, his business developed an online product independent from large platforms that proved to be too unreliable. His other response to the lockdown is taking a course about online business. Also, he found time and dedication to studying and stepping up to the next level as a Certified Strength and Condition Specialist. In the coming months, he keeps maintaining his online presence because going back to the normal in-person and indoor sessions are nearly impossible now.
What do you do as a business?
Gergely: I run a little gym and I’m a personal trainer. So this specialization is a sports rehabilitation. I work with a group of trainers and some medical people to make sure that those athletes who are injured and want to get back on the field, they can do so and those people who are afraid of training because of any kind of past injuries or uncomfortable situations or they just want to make sure that they do everything right, they can come to us and train with us. So that’s basically what we do. That involves everything from education, working together with physical therapists, massage therapists, pilates and other specialized people if need be.
It sounds quite complex and interesting. How long have you been doing this activity?
Gergely: It’s actually quite fun and yes, it’s a beautiful trade.
I started to train myself around 15 years ago because I was fat & old and it just kind of grew from there. Eventually, the trading started around five years ago. I started to study it 8–10 years ago. The trading started five years ago and as a business, it’s 4 and a half or 5 years old.
Where are you based right now?
Gergely: Right now, I’m based in Budapest. Most of my customers are online since I used to work in Malta for most of my time and I moved recently. So most of the customers moved online but I do have masterclasses and workshops in Malta every now and then.
All right. Do you have any employees?
Gergely: One single person. The thing is that there’s this saying that if you think you do it alone, then you just don’t recognize your thing. So no one really is able to work alone. It’s such a vast list of things to do that I have someone who is working for me, that’s one person but the team itself is more than 20–25 people: different types of medical professionals, media people who make sure that the posting is okay and my wife helps with finances and stuff like that. It’s a bigger team but most of them are actually contractors. So there’s just one person who specifically works for me.
How does the normal operation look like when there’s no pandemic?
Gergely: Waking up at 5 o’clock, opening the gym at 6 and the first team starts at 6 o’clock. I tend to hold classes, not so much of Personal Training(P.T.) because in order for the trainers to hold P.T. sessions, the client needs to have a very specific issue because most of the problems can be easily catered for in small groups.
So the business is centred around the groups of six or seven people. These are held in a gym in about 50 minutes to 1 hour & 10 minutes sessions, depending on the day and then the sessions would go from 6–11 o’clock in the morning. So it’s one hour sessions i.e. 4–5 sessions in the morning quite easily.
Then P.T. would start and business duties and online posting- recordings of courses and education and stuff like that. So at 11 o’clock, I usually take out my camera and just work using the gym as a video and photo studio until lunchtime, then a little bit of break and then back online with the camera and answering questions going through “Quora”. We found quora as a very cool platform for questions and answers. So I started to work with quora 5 years ago and within a number of months, we started to receive 120 questions per day, so it really grew as a massive thing. It’s really easy and people tend to ask a lot more than any other platform, so it’s really good. I use it as a sort of giving me an indication of what we should be working on and talking about.
What was the situation since the pandemic started? What all has happened in the spring and since then?
Gergely: Malta was a little specific because I think Malta was slightly different than any other European country during the first round of the pandemic. So I got a call from one of my clients who works at a government agency in Malta and she was telling me that probably after tomorrow, I need to close. And a couple of hours after that call, the official bulletin came out on 12th March saying the same. So then we were closed.
I rented some of the equipment out to people and gave away most of our stuff to the clients so they can train at home and supplied them with a training program. Unfortunately, there was nothing else we could do apart from using the gym as a studio for recording videos.
I was never into these live training sessions online, so I didn’t do any of them. In my business, I find them quite useless because it tires me as well as the clients down. The business was always centred around availability around the clock. The classes were from 6 to 11 in the morning and from 4:30 till 10 in the evening, that would mean if I want to go live, then I would need to go live literally all day every day, so that’s just not feasible. So we started to do online courses and online training videos based- you download it, you do it, record it yourself and then send it back.
Is it some new kind of strategy that you started since the pandemic?
Gergely: Yes, it is. I was always thinking of getting into the online space because it’s a much bigger market and you can help much more people, but the pandemic was the one that actually forced me into doing it. So that was it. We had to sit down and just had to go around with my friend and partner to figure out how to put the knowledge and the quality together in an online space and we managed to come up with a very simple independent method. I say “independent method” because we used to use a couple of platforms before but when you depend on a platform, it’s very difficult to find your stability.
Okay. So they don’t really share what they are planning and they might change something substantially?
Gergely: Yeah, it did happen to us a few times. We were going online, everything was cool and then ‘Oh! Here is a new feature’- business stops and you need to redo everything. So we needed to come up with something that’s completely independent of the platform like using an excel sheet and a phone for videos which took a month during the first wave of the pandemic and then we launched the online product. Obviously, maybe 70–75% of our customers disappeared because a large number of people came for the actual mood of the place and for personal education and that’s something you cannot convey online, doesn’t matter how good you are.
So you think now your clientele has changed a lot because of this?
Gergely: Yeah. The business model changed a lot as well. It’s an interesting thing because we weren’t really sure if we will ever go back into physical or we just stay online, but I find out that then we actually miss it. So it’s a lot of fun to meet with people and work with them in-person. But the freedom online gives us in terms of time and work, obviously, the first two months, it’s a hilarious amount of work but then it sort of settles and you can build a business around it. It’s much less turnover because you cannot charge as much for a service online as you’re doing in-person but you can build a lot more volume. That was one of the things that changed in the business.
The other thing is I started to study and there was a guy who I’ve been following for a number of years. He’s a very good business coach, but he was working only in Hungary and I was living in Malta at that time. So I couldn’t sign up with him, but then he announced that he’s starting to do online coaching because of the pandemic. I realized that I don’t know enough about online business and I already knew for many years that I don’t really know enough about business at all. So I need to learn and study. That was the second thing that happened and I focused a little bit on my professional education as well like finishing the CSCS Level 2 (Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist) which I’ve been planning for a while.
What are the outlooks for the coming months?
Gergely: For the coming months, definitely online. I mean we do it in-person as much as we can. Right now, in Budapest, I’m training outside. There is a very cool park which we found and it’s like a little OCR training ground where we can train people. That’s where we work and grow the online base. So right now, I’m taking as much time as I have to coach my clients to the point so they can work at home with my guidance because I don’t see any stability in terms of the market and the economy in any way.
Most of my competitors and friends as well are just waiting at home to get some business. It’s very difficult as well in the sense that when the first round of Covid came, it also instilled a lot of fear in the mind of our customers. So I didn’t feel it at the time because I had always worked around small groups and small people. This is like the gym I run in Malta. It’s 60 square meters. It’s tiny and the group is like six people, not more than that so that as a coach, I have the attention for everyone.
But now, it’s different. So are you in contact with your clients and do you know how they feel right now?
Gergely: There is this sort of feel of the big gyms, feel of the public places and stuff like this. We change the way we need to find our clients and the way we need to work with them. Most of my clients are eager to get out and move.
For the first round, it was like maybe I stay home, just take a small class or maybe I do personal training. Now it’s like, I don’t care. Just get out and do something. People are so hungry that it’s unbelievable. There is a large part of the market who is just simply afraid because they have relatives at home they want to take care of or they are falling into the risky category by the statistics so they just wanna stay home and then see what happens.
My business partner is living in Australia. They run a little gym based on the FDA technology so this is the stuff we do. Essentially safe to say that we have a lag in Australia, Hungary and also in Malta. So I can see different places of the world how it goes and I don’t see any easy and short way out of this anytime soon. So it’s really important to go online and try to build a personal connection with my clients over phone or video.
What are the things that you think might help you as a business?
Gergely: Location. Definitely! It’s very interesting legislation in Hungary because I had a chat with my lawyers a little bit and effectively, it’s not forbidden, but it’s not allowed to hold the whole personal training sessions in a personal training studio. So it’s very weird.
The language of the regulation is not really understandable, I guess?
Gergely: Yes. It’s with common sense, it’s very easy to understand but common sense doesn’t really mean anything in terms of a legal text, so it’s a bit tricky.
So location would be really important if that could be sorted especially because we’re right before the winter. The other thing is that it’s not just a legal implication of the thing but as long as the official communication conveys uncertainty, our clients will always be afraid. So it’s very difficult for us to actually communicate that they are safe- we are sanitizing, cleaning and we’re taking care of them. So this is crucial that we communicate this information, but as long as the official communication conveys speed and uncertainty in any way, it makes our life a lot more difficult. So it’s very important that the location is sorted out in solid terms i.e clearly in no uncertain terms.
So what you would need is clear communication from government officials and from regulators of what you can do and cannot do, then you can plan I guess?
Gergely: Yes. It would actually help a lot to stabilize and grow in these times.
The second thing would be working hours because you’re gonna get home by 8 o’clock because of the curfew and you need to close the door. So that kind of shuts the bread and butter of this business because the evenings were always the busiest time because that’s when people are available to train. So even if we could go outside and train outside or if we could have access to private training studios or not, then if you wanna get home by 8 o’clock, the last training session you can start is 6, you finish at 7 and you need to leave. So most of the business again has to happen online. So the extension of working hours or clear communication on how to extend the working hours if you’re a trainer and how you can do the paperwork if you’re a self-employed person, that’s extremely important because there is no information on that.
About the Guest
Gergely Kaposvári: “I am a strength and conditioning specialist, working with the Malta Rugby League, having moved from Malta to Budapest, Hungary. I specialize in teaching people to move and helping them to discover the love of exercising through preparing and educating them for their chosen sport.”