The COVID-19 pandemic has cast a long shadow on the question of how to maintain a clean and sanitized gym while running a successful, profitable business. The increased vigilance required by staff, the infrastructure investments, the heightened customer awareness coupled with suppressed demand all combine to swell both costs and risks.
Today’s gym owner walks a fine line between keeping his or her business open and losing it all to an uncertain market. However, for gym owners, their single greatest decision could be to see this pandemic as an opportunity-a chance to grow and change for the better-rather than view it as an unnecessary financial burden.
In today’s market, providing guests with a clean, sanitized facility staffed by well-trained, empathic employees is a core competency. It is a value-added benefit that, at first glance, seems to absorb costs rather than enable sales. Yet, if you think it through, there are ways to take advantage of a "new normal" in cleanliness and come out stronger and more successful.
Use "COVID Clean" to Build Your Customer Base
By now, there probably are antibacterial stands throughout your gym, cardio equipment is roped off, and clients are trickling in for their first workouts. Yet, it is important to ask, how aware are these customers of your behind-the-scene efforts? How public are your cleaning strategies?
Cleaning and sanitizing is the new value-added programming. Consider branding your cleaning and sanitizing practices.Showcase the brand, make it visible throughout the club, explain it to members.
Schedule staff to clean during peak hours, and incorporate your innovative approach in marketing materials. Use videos to reach out and reassure clients before and after they visit your gym. In this video by Upper Valley Aquatics Center, a simple three-minute tutorial helps prospects and customers understand what to expect when they come back in after their COVID staycation.
This informational video achieves the dual purpose of informing clients while building confidence in your gym.
Don’t be shy! If you use foggers at night and have installed ultraviolet light in the ductwork, communicate it through video tours, messaging campaigns, specific emails highlighting your commitment to their safety. If your company is big enough, research partnering with specific cleaning product companies to mitigate advertising costs through cooperative advertising.
Providing an ongoing, super-safe facility is an investment, and like any investment, it should be promoted as a service valuable to guests and employees alike.
Market the New Normal In House
In sales, there are prospects and then there are customers. Although prospects are vital, customers are the ones you need to keep and the best way to do that is to build their involvement in your success.
Provide and post information around the gym on how clients can share in keeping their gym clean. These messages should be uplifting, positive, consistent, and provide specific cleaning protocols. Make sure antibacterial stations are strategically placed and well stocked. When guests see other members following the rules, it creates a sense of shared responsibility and goes a long way in subduing anxiety and building trust.
Empower Employees through Training
According to Bill McBride, president, co-founder, and CEO of Active Wellness, a key megatrend for the short term will be an increased fear of infection and other people. Individuals may be alternatively hypervigilant or exceptionally lax. Unfortunately, your employee will be the referee keeping peace between these two types of people.
To sooth nerves and mitigate possible confrontations, staff needs training on enforcing rules empathetically but firmly. As well, employees should understand the gym’s cleaning protocols. A strong knowledge base will allow them to ease the minds of worried clients, answer questions effectively, and not accidentally pass on false information.
Most sales training includes role playing. Use this tool topractice diffusing tense situations and to reinforce your company’s values. By doing so, you’re empowering your team to act in the club’s best interest and creating an impression that will last far longer than any actual conflict.
The Nitty Gritty of Cleaning Your Business
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency manages a list of approved products used against emerging viral pathogens. Unfortunately, one of your new titles will be chemist, as you determine which of these works best for your situation.
The steps to basic cleaning are simple. Employees should be trained in these techniques:1. Wash hands prior to cleaning (using alcohol-based sanitizer or soap and water);2. Wear PPEs during cleaning;3. Swipe wipes in the same direction along surfaces to prevent recontamination, using multiple wipes if necessary;4. Disinfectant must remain on surfaces for time based on product recommendations;5. Dispose of PPE and cleaning materials, and re-wash hands.
In terms of customers cleaning equipment, there is ongoingindustry debate on how involved they should be. In some gyms, customers are actively encouraged and trained to clean their equipment using hand-held spray bottles. However, some experts caution against opening up gyms to potential liability for unintentionally exposing customers to risks while handling chemicals and ingesting fumes. Unfortunately, precedent exists in the Illinois court system supporting a client’s right to hold a gym liable.
There is a simple solution, though.
A physician-produced blog from NASM (National Academy of Sports Medicine) encourages a three-step process: 1. Use a towel to cover equipment to create a barrier;2. Use a clean towel or disinfectant wipe to clean equipment after use; 3. Wash hands well after working out.
The best offense is a good defense: 1. Broom closets and laundry rooms are prime breeding grounds for bacteria. Keep them clean and well-maintained, as if they were a locker room.2. Build relationships and contingency plans for emergencies. Know which company to call if a COVID-19 positive client unintentionally visits. In these cases, you may need to sanitize the entire gym in a single night.3. Research industry certifications. WELLO Building Standard and LEED rating system are both international organizations whose stamp of approval will go far in creating a positive image and effective defense in case of a lawsuit.
Back It Up in Writing
Now that you’ve cleaned the gym, trained employees, and promoted your policies, it’s time to document your efforts. According to NASM’s "11 Steps to Disinfecting" blog, all employees should know the location of each product’s Safety Data Sheet (SDS), a document that informs the safe handling of the disinfectant and what to do in an emergency.
Secondly, develop a daily cleaning schedule and log all cleaning practices. This log and protocols should be stored with your standard operating procedure manuals as ongoing documentation of your company’s commitment to the health and safety of its employees and customers.
If there is a silver lining in all of this, it is that most expertsforecast a bright, and less stringent future. Maintaining this level of sanitization is both unrealistic and potentially hazardous. Until then, cleanliness is a competitive necessity which, handled creatively and optimistically, is a vital factor in creating a stronger, and dare we say healthier, business in the long term.