8 Takeaways from IHRSA’s HV/LP Reopening Strategies Webinar

Fitness industry experts discussed the future of high-volume/low-price clubs as reopening approaches for many businesses in the world. Here are our top eight takeaways from the webinar.

High-volume/low-price (HV/LP) clubs are presented with unique challenges as they approach reopening to the public after government-mandated shutdowns across the nation. With large square footage, unique staffing and membership circumstances, these HV/LP clubs are approaching reopening strategically.

During our May 7 webinar, "Reopening Strategy Lessons from HV/LP Health Clubs" sponsored by Zeamo, moderator Rick Caro, president of Management Vision, Inc., and panelists Todd Magazine, CEO of Blink Fitness, and Ben Midgley, CEO of Crunch Fitness Franchise, discussed what lies ahead for HV/LP businesses. Here are our top eight takeaways.

1. Member experience begins before your members even set foot in the gym

Transparency with your members and community is highly valued during this uncertain time, panelists said. And consumer confidence may be low.

“I think that the best thing that we can do is to try to inform our members well before they even step foot out of their homes and start to make their way to the gym,” Magazine said. “[We] provide them a sense of what our experience is and what we're doing in order to make sure that they feel confident in coming back to the gym.”

Before committing to coming back to the gym, you will have members who will first want to see what measures are being used to protect both them and your staff. For both Blink Fitness and Crunch Fitness, cleanliness has always been a part of their brand identity, so many of their normal processes will continue. Cleanliness will have a heightened impact on overall club culture, as staff and members will need to take on renewed responsibility in the club.

2. The uses of different sections of the gym will vary by state

Consider what sections of your club you can keep open and what may need to be reconsidered—or reworked—to make it functional under new state mandates. For example, lockers may not be available, but that doesn’t mean you can close the entire locker room, the panelists advised. If your locker space also includes restroom space, operators will need to determine a new traffic flow and ways to close off individual lockers, showers, sauna access, and more.

“Locker rooms are not going to be available to members...we're going to have to block those off,” Magazine said. “In most cases, we're going to zip tie most of the lockers. Where locker rooms are available, we will zip tie groupings of lockers to enable their six feet of social distancing as well.”

Similarly, you’ll need to think about and walk through the entire member experience with these new restrictions in place. Try out the member experience on your own in order to find any potential challenges that can be solved.

3. There will be new—and creative—approaches to cardio and free weight space

Similar to the new flow of traffic in locker rooms, you’ll also need to revisit how you use cardio and free weight areas. Many clubs are blocking off cardio equipment or completely removing free weight items in order to assure social distancing. Some are installing shields between pieces of equipment.

The Crunch Fitness and Blink Fitness approach is to place signage on cardio equipment. They will also unplug them so they will not be functional for the member.

Adhering to these new regulations seems to be easier with cardio equipment than the free weight area, where equipment like benches and dumbbells are often moved around.

Magazine mentioned the true challenge isn’t in equipment setup, it’s in the enforcement of the new rules.

“It will be a combination of moving of equipment, pulling out plugs of equipment, and then making sure that [staff] are ...constantly monitoring,” he said. “The true challenge is when you have mats, balls, and bands and things that people are using and putting back….Those are many things that people usually don't clean as well as they should.

“Our instinct is to take some of those off the floor—either store them up at our front desk and our staff will clean them and people will check them out—or remove them from the floor entirely and let people either bring their own, or sell them. So we're looking at some different options.”

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4. Personal training, small group training, and group fitness will be reimagined

Personal and small group training can continue with modifications to allow for social distancing and no equipment sharing. Magazine stated, “We've done some prototyping earlier in some of our gyms on how to do it and really trying to set some standards for making sure that people are at least six feet apart. So, the goal is to not have them, at any time, less than six feet of distance.”

Group fitness capacities will be planned to increase as time progresses, he said, first starting with limited capacity and then slowly allowing for more people in each class.

While Blink does not offer group fitness, Crunch Fitness’ Midgley shared what his team is planning for their large group fitness rooms, which can range from 2,000 to 3,500 square feet.

“We're certainly limiting the amount of people that can go into those rooms,” he said. “We're going to make sure that people have approximately eight feet of space between each other. We're going to require pre-registration for the classes. Equipment is going to be limited and cleaned regularly.”

Midgley also suggested modifying your group fitness schedule to require less equipment.

5. Training your staff begins before reopening

Don’t wait for your club to reopen to train staff on new procedures. Crunch is bringing its teams back well ahead of time, Midgley said.

“You have to show them what it's like to wear a mask and interact with people with masks,” he said. “You have to show them proper spacing so your people aren't right next to each other. You have to literally go through all aspects of it....Everything you can think of. You want to have several dry runs with your teams before your club opens. There's no way any operator can get it right without a dry run.

“We're just trying to train them all to be friendly, compliant ambassadors and be very visible on the floor...politely reminding folks to follow gym etiquette and be mindful of how their actions are affecting the health of others in the club.”

“You want to have several dry runs with your teams before your club opens. There's no way any operator can get it right without a dry run.”

Ben Midgley, CEO

Crunch Fitness Franchise

Midgley also advised about planning for possible exposure to COVID-19 in your facility. He describes the virus exposure as a chain of reactions.

“You want to have a matrix for your staff in terms of how to interact with exposure to COVID-19,” he said. “So an example: if a member or an employee is infected with the virus, and then you're notified, what do you do? What are your protocols with the team? What are your protocols notifying members?”

Safety for both staff and members remains a top priority, with actions in place to manage exposure to the virus.

6. There will be changes to membership billing and freezes

Membership billing and freezes vary based on how your club is currently managing billing. Panelists suggested continuing with the original billing dates and also continuing to offer freezes until customer confidence is returned for all.

“You have to focus on getting your billing done appropriately,” Midgley said. “Proration is going to be very important. People only need to pay, and should only pay, for the time that you're open. So you're going to have to go through some sort of administrative work to get those right. Billing dates, in our opinion, shouldn't be modified.”

He suggested looking over your documentations and state regulations to make sure the methods you are using for billing are in line with your member agreements.

He also touched on credits: “You're going to have to give a lot of credits. You can give credit for dues, you can give it for [a] product in the club, you can give it for retail—there are a lot of creative ways to do that.”

While Magazine clarified that decisions had not yet been made for billing at Blink, he did share that they are “going to do the right thing for the member.” He stressed the importance of doing right by the customer by providing the choice to continue to pause or freeze memberships.

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7. Think wisely and long-term about your expense management

To tackle expenses, Midgley suggested talking to your landlords about your rent or consider speaking to providers for deferrals on equipment leasing.

“One of your biggest expenses is rent. So you've got to get out and you've got to be talking to your landlord,” he said. “Decide how much debt you want to take on versus what cash and liquidity you currently have.”

There is a lot of government assistance available, but qualifications and proof of forgiveness for loans can vary. Weigh your options, take on only the debt you can truly manage, and cut back where you can.

“Be very, very sharp on your expense management, and then stepping back into business wisely when you start spending,” Midgley shared.

8. We’ve learned many lessons during this time

“It's incredible to see the creativity that has been forced upon us,” Magazine said. While there is no doubt that this crisis has been terrible for health and welfare around the world, there are a few things that have been proven.

Magazine shared that the new use of technology has pushed us years ahead with virtual fitness options in the industry. He said he feels that this time has forced us to prioritize and that this whole experience has really changed the workforce.

“From a silver lining standpoint, I think we've proven that there [are] a lot of great things that can happen even in times of tragedy and stress,” he said.

“From a silver lining standpoint, I think we've proven that there [are] a lot of great things that can happen even in times of tragedy and stress.”

Todd Magazine, CEO

Blink Fitness

Midgley said he believes there are also some silver linings that have yet to be discovered.

“I think part of being locked up for so long is that people realize how important activity is to managing your stress and managing your health conditions,” he said. There is a renewed appreciation for fitness and movement, and Midgley feels this appreciation will continue.

For more, watch the full webinar on HV/LP reopening strategies.

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Christine Ulatoski

Christine Ulatosk is the Education Manager for IHRSA. She develops educational content online and in person at IHRSA events, as well as manages all event speakers. Outside of IHRSA, Christine can be found teaching or taking group fitness classes, or in the kitchen baking her specialty: chocolate chip cookies!