The outbreak of SARS-CoV-2 (also known simply as “coronavirus”) and the resulting COVID-19 pandemic has affected nearly every industry worldwide. Gyms, classified as “nonessential businesses,” have been ordered to close until the pandemic wanes and health officials deem that it is safe for the public to return to normal daily activities in public.
As a gym owner, you are no doubt feeling the strain of this unplanned closure during the normally busy spring months. Thankfully, there are many things you can do with this time to not only lessen the impact of this crisis on your business, but also to develop a reopening strategy that will build trust with new and existing gym members.
The three things you need to focus on right now are generating income remotely, sanitizing your facility, and marketing your efforts so the public sees that you are taking this health crisis seriously.
What can you do to help offset financial problems due to the COVID-19 closure?
Modern technology makes it possible even for brick-and-mortar establishments like gyms to weather tough times with remote online income.
Hopefully, your gym had some sort of online revenue stream (such as an online store selling merchandise) even before this crisis, but now is the time to push your online game even further.
You can use platforms like Zoom to allow your trainers to host live, online classes for paying viewers. Consider charging $5-$8 for live classes where viewers can follow along with the routine.
Trainers may want to charge a bit more for small group classes where viewers can interact with the trainer and ask questions or receive feedback and encouragement.
Personal training sessions between a trainer and his or her client roster can and should continue during this time in an online format, at a discounted rate.
Even free or discounted online videos and classes present a marketing opportunity if you provide your trainers with a business logo to use as a backdrop in their videos.
Do note that if you use Zoom or a similar platform, you must have a contingency plan in place to handle outsiders hacking sessions and posting vulgar content. Note that your gym’s standard release of liability does not cover this problem. Place a liability disclaimer that covers mishaps like this at the beginning of each Zoom class.
What should you be doing right now to make the biggest impact on building and keeping member trust once you reopen?
While your gym is closed, the two best things you can work on are developing strict sanitation policies and then marketing these policies.
This is not the time to continue with advertising as usual. Instead, it is important to take this health crisis seriously to avoid spreading the virus. When you advertise all the measures you are taking to ensure the health and safety of your members when they return, that builds so much more trust in your business than a regular advertisement ever could.
While your gym is closed, take the opportunity to do a thorough deep cleaning to completely disinfect the entire facility.
Then when you reopen, you can take the following measures to make sure your gym stays a safe environment for everyone:• Place battery-operated, no-touch hand sanitizer stations in multiple locations around the building. • Throw away old towels. Replace them with microfiber towels that each gym member can pick up as they walk in the door and take with them when they leave. • Make sure your cleaning and sanitizing supplies are stocked up.• Have staff clean your facility regularly (at least daily) in front of members.• Encourage members to clean and disinfect any equipment they use and report areas that need to be cleaned. • Train employees on how to encourage members to clean properly. • Order and install touchless methods for opening doors. Door sensors or foot-pulls (with noticeable signs informing members how to use them) keep people from placing their hands on doors and other surfaces. • Replace cloth or cushioned surfaces (chairs, benches, carpeting, etc) with hard surfaces that are easier to keep clean and disinfected.• Use spray disinfectant rather than wipes to clean dumbbells, barbells, and other textured surfaces. • Make hand sanitizing and cleaning product stations very noticeable by placing balloons or other attention-drawing markers on each of them. • Steam clean any flooring or surfaces that will not be replaced. • Repaint walls and paint over any visible chips.• Teach each member and employee the proper way to clean each surface after it has been used or touched. • Install UV light sanitizers in dumbbell and barbell stations.• Space your equipment at least 6 feet apart, and post signage explaining to members that any unavailable equipment is closed for their health and safety.• Use tape or dots on the floor to mark 6-foot intervals for group classes. You will likely need to limit the registration for group classes in order to maintain this minimum spacing. If limiting group size is a problem due to too many members wanting to join, you may want to opt for a tiered membership plan with higher pricing that includes priority class registration. • If your state’s labor laws allow, consider using infrared thermometers to check the temperatures of gym members and employees before they enter the building or begin working out.
These measures may sound excessive, but you can’t really do too much to make your members and staff feel safe and well cared for during this scary time.
Remember, you only have one chance to impress upon your members the seriousness with which you prioritize their health and wellbeing. The first day members return to the gym should feel like a grand re-opening day, with your new sanitation policies clearly on display for everyone to see.
With that in mind, think about advertising your new cleaning policies using strategies like the following: • Hang a big poster in the lobby explaining your new cleaning practices. Emphasize that these changes are not temporary or centered around a certain event; they are a core change in your business operations. You take their health seriously. • Update your website and social media to describe all the new health initiatives your members can expect. Be sure to include information about any online classes you have launched.• Post video updates of the gym owner and managerial staff speaking directly with viewers. This can help increase the relationship and level of trust between your business and your clients. Remember, members want transparency, honesty, reassurance, and hope. • Offer incentives for keeping a current gym membership going. You can team up with other local business to offer discounted rates for similar services. This builds your marketing network and supports other local business owners in addition to promoting your own interests.
How can you use this downtime as an opportunity to draw in more members when you reopen?
Not everyone will return to “normal” life as soon as this current crisis passes. Elderly members, immunocompromised people, and those living with at-risk family members will likely try to maintain social distancing and isolation well after the peak has passed and any business bans are lifted.
To combat this, you can keep your virtual classes going once you reopen. Though many of the usual members will come back in to the facility, you can use this time of increased caution to switch your classes and marketing toward those demographics least likely to return to the gym right away.
Consider offering online classes for the elderly, or scheduling webinars by dieticians and other experts. Phys ed classes for kids who have been stuck inside during the lockdown will likely be appreciated during this time as well, now that summer is approaching and those children won’t be going back to school for months.
You may choose to make these classes and webinars for highly affected demographics free as a show of goodwill to the community. Many people have lost their sources of income during this crisis. Allowing those members to continue working out with your gym while they get back on their feet will go a long way toward helping your community members rebuild and get back on their feet.