The year 2020 will forever stand out in the history books due to the unprecedented effects of COVID-19. The virus has caused large parts of the world to go into lockdown for the last number of months. Flattening and then eliminating the curve has become a global priority and quarantine, self-isolation, and social distancing have become the norm.
Because of this, businesses, where groups of people gather in close proximity to each other, have had to close. This includes bars, restaurants, shopping malls, and gyms. For their business to survive, a lot of gym owners made the decision to move their businesses online so they can reach their members at home.
Most gym owners have experienced some success with this strategy, like Brittany Welk, who explained how she retained all of her membership base on a recent episode of our podcast. However, as lockdown restrictions are slowly eased in the US and in other parts of the world, gyms may now be able to open their facilities in phases.
In this article, we will look at how gyms are planning for life after COVID-19, how to protect your members and staff as you reopen, and how to protect your business as you reopen.
Skip ahead to:
- How Gyms are Planning for Life After COVID-19
- Protecting Your Members and Staff as You Reopen
- Protecting Your Business as You Reopen
How Gyms are Planning for Life After COVID-19
Lockdown is beginning to ease in a number of countries around the world. Many governments are now looking to implement exit strategies to help re-start their economies and allow people more freedom of movement. However, as worldwide availability of a vaccine is still a long way off, some restrictions will remain in place to stop the spread of the virus. Let’s take a look at three major areas of the globe; Europe, Asia, and The USA, to see how gyms are planning to reopen.
An article published in The Guardian last week laid out the plans of some countries in Europe. The Czech Republic and Germany are among the first countries in Europe to begin exiting lockdown. The Czech government has announced a five-step process to open up the economy with the reopening of gyms planned for the second week, with the provision that showers and changing rooms remained closed.
Meanwhile, in Germany, gyms will remain closed in the initial reopening plans but DSSV, which is the association of fitness studios in Germany, has written to the government to request the reopening of fitness studios under certain conditions. In the UK, the CEO of PureGym Humphrey Cobbold has stated that their facilities have less exercise equipment that will be spaced out and will ensure a smaller number of members are on site. Industry body ukactive has also revealed a 4 stage strategy to reopen the UK fitness industry which you can read more about here.
EuroeActive board member Herman Rutgers has written a series of articles on the industry post-COVID-19 and has referenced Asia’s exit strategy in discussing what could happen in Europe. In his latest article published on April 19th, he explains how countries such as China, South Korea, and Singapore have reopened facilities. In Shanghai, for example, gyms have been open since early April and have installed thermal scanners to deny entry to anyone with a high temperature.
However, it may not be smooth sailing yet. An article from CNBC last week reported that China’s capital Beijing has had to shut its gyms again over fears of a second wave of coronavirus. This should serve as a note of caution to countries around the world hoping to open up fitness centers.
In the US, lockdown restrictions are also easing off and last week US President Donald Trump announced his plan to open up the economy. In his plan entitled Opening Up America Again, there are three phases that the country will go through and in each phase, gyms may open up if they maintain hygiene and socially distant protocols.
It should be noted though that it is up to the individual states as to how this plan will be implemented. However, several major US franchises have already announced plans for reopening their facilities. Here is a brief overview of what their plans are:
Golds Gym CEO Adam Zeitsiff has explained that their facilities will open in accordance with the phases in the government’s plan. In Phase One, they will be opening the gym with limited capacity, alternating the machines that can be used and laying down markers for members to keep them socially distant. In Phase Two, Zeitsiff is hoping for classes to resume, again at a limited capacity. In the third phase, the plan is to get back to normal, which Zeitsiff admits no one knows the meaning of yet.
Exponential Fitness, the owner of eight boutique concepts with over 1,500 locations, have already deployed their reopening plans to their franchisees. CEO Anthony Geisler says they are already pre-selling memberships over the phone and linked the process to that of pre-selling before the opening of a new studio. In an interview with Franchise Times, Geisler says that while they have successfully migrated to virtual classes, now is the time to begin planning their movement back to the psychical world.
Crunch Fitness has said they will look closely at its approach to open its facilities. In the state of Georgia, Governor Brian Kemp has allowed business including gyms to open up from Friday the 24th of April. Crunch Fitness CEO Ben Midgley told Cheddar.com that they are looking to reopen their facilities in Georgia and will be providing franchisees with a 30-page readiness plan. Classes have now been modified to cater to social distancing and equipment will be sanitized between usage.
Protecting Your Members and Staff as You Reopen
Health and safety are the most important factors to be considered when reopening your gym. Everyone, from independent studios to larger fitness franchises are making plans to keep their facilities as safe as possible when it comes to reopening their gyms. Club Intel, a brand and consumer insight firm looking after the fitness industry conducted a survey on March 31st, 2020, gathering responses that represented 2,500 studios around the world. A particular section looks at how gyms have been implementing measures such as social distancing, hygiene, and disinfecting protocol and signage in accordance with WHO and CDC measures. On these measures, it was found that around 40% of gyms surveyed had already implemented measures.
However, for measures such as registration systems to make sure there is a limit on attendance and the implementation of special hours for over-60s, there was a considerably lower uptake.
What this graph shows is that just under half of gyms and studios were implementing the majority of correct safety measures before April. In the coming months though, this number will need to be almost 100% if gyms are to responsibly reopen their facilities and keep members and staff safe. Let’s take a look at some of the key safety measures you will need to consider when reopening your gym.
Gym Reopening Health and Safety Checklist
At minimum gyms and studios must enforce social distancing and enhanced cleaning measures when they reopen. As well as that, they need to have adequate staffing and cleaning supplies to implement these measures successfully. As well and that, gyms will have to be guided by the local authorities on the correct protocol to follow as some regions and countries may differ on this.
As franchises like Exponential and Crunch Fitness have done you will have to put together a health and safety playbook that your staff can follow or, if you are a franchise owner, your gym locations can follow. In anticipation of gyms reopening, IHRSA has put together a list of 18 questions you should ask yourself as a gym owner when planning your re-launch. For health and safety measures, there are three categories we will summarize below. The fourth category, operations, will be explored in the next part of this article.
Containment: This section looks at the steps you need to put in place to maintain social distancing. IHRSA quotes Pure International Group CEO Colin Grant, who says that gyms in China allowed limited numbers of members in 90-minute blocks with an hour of deep cleaning done between each block.
For group classes, you will need to ensure there is adequate space between each member of the class. And, for a general gym area with weights or machines, you will need to put down markers to make sure members stay a safe distance apart.
Cleaning and Sanitation: A really important thing to do here is to have a schedule for deep cleaning your facility and build an inventory of cleaning supplies that are stocked up regularly. IHRSA also advise that you remove any hard to clean equipment such as bands and foam rollers.
Staff will need to be provided with protective materials such as face masks and gloves if there is a readily available supply. As well as that they need to be on hand to enforce any measures necessary to keep members safe.
Staffing: Gyms and studios will likely go through different phases of reopening to maintain good health and safety. You will need to figure out what staff are essential for the first phase of reopening. Training for this staff will need to be organized. It’s recommended that you send out your health and safety playbook in advance of staff returned so they can study it.
Before staff return, try and ensure that they have received a test to clear them of COVID-19 if this is possible. It is important to have key staff do this as soon as they can as result times for tests can vary from country to country. You should also put in place a system for checking in on their health and temperature regularly.
Protecting Your Business as You Reopen
Ensuring that rigorous health and safety measures are in place should be top of mind for you as a fitness business. The next most important step is to manage and protect all aspects of your business as you reopen. Even if you have been running your business online for the past couple of weeks with relative success, reopening presents a whole host of new challenges to overcome.
The reality is that the economy is not in a great place at the moment and the industry itself has changed fundamentally for the medium term at least. On top of that, your finances may not be in the same place as they were when you opened up. Before deciding whether to open up or not again, please consult your accountant and financially plan correctly for this. If you feel you are in a position to reopen in accordance with the regulations of your local authority, then consider the following important steps.
Build a Hybrid Business of Online and Offline
Gym Launch founder Alex Hormozi appeared on our podcast recently and gave some good insights into the future of the fitness industry. One interesting point he made was that while there will be a lot of people desperate to come back to the gym, there will also be a good percentage who find at-home workouts more convenient.
Therefore you will need to develop a business that has caters to two types of markets. You will simply not make enough revenue by transferring completely back to brick and mortar as there will be restrictions on your capacity. Give members the option to do online workouts if they can’t get into the gym. This will also allow you to provide better value for the service you are offering and also allow you to charge a good price for it. Take a listen to our latest podcast with gym owner Jack Thomas for more information on pricing and packaging your offer.
Develop a Safe Environment and Schedule for Members
In the final section on operations in IHRSA’s 18 Questions article, they again reference Colin Grant and his insights into gyms in China. Fitness facilities operated without changing rooms to stop the risk of infection, limiting access to bathrooms only. This is maybe something you will have to consider when you reopen.
Use your gym management software to edit the number of classes and the attendance within each class. Realistically you will only be able to put on three classes per day and have a couple of hours of time in between to deep clean the studio. For big-box gyms, you may only be able to open for short blocks of time with limited capacity.
Communicate Clearly with Current Members
Now that non-essential businesses are reopening in some countries around the world, you could be forgiven for thinking that there will be a massive rush back by consumers. However, there may be some hesitation from people in coming back straight away due to safety concerns. Here are a couple of keys things you need to do:
- Communicate with members early and regularly when reopening is confirmed.
- Send them a detailed guide on the new safety measures in your gym.
- Be available for any questions and concerns members have – don’t leave them in the dark.
- Make it clear that you are still running online classes as an option.
Get Into a New Beginnings Mindset
Earlier in this article, we quoted Xponettial Fitness CEO, Anthony Geisler who gave an interesting insight into their relaunch plans. Geisler already has instructed his franchisees to begin pre-selling memberships over the phone and according to him, you should treat this as if you were launching a new studio.
Consider the way you launched your business originally and apply some of those tactics now. Begin pre-selling over the phone if possible and generate some excitement in your local community about the reopening. However, as you are reopening at a limited capacity, strike a balance between generating excitement and being realistic.
Accountability Is Still the Key Differentiator
Changing your business model from brick and mortar to online and now to hybrid in such a short space of time can cause some processes to change quickly too. Accountability needs to remain consistent throughout. If you get accountability right, members are more likely to get the results they want and are more likely to continue paying their membership, regardless of your business model.
There are other factors like community and brand that are important also but if a person is not getting the results they want they won’t stick around. As Alex Hormozi said recently in the podcast episode mentioned earlier; “people pay for you to pay attention” and you need to ensure your attention is always on the member and their goals.
The fitness industry has changed so rapidly in recent months that it’s hard to keep up. Hopefully, you have had some success as an online business and now you may need to change your business model again. If your local authority allows fitness businesses to open, please consider all the factors that are involved in this process, most importantly the health and safety of your staff, your members and the wider community.