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How to Keep Your Health Club Clean in the Great Reopening

Suppliers are eager to help with sprays and wipes that provide protection from contagions and give your members peace of mind. We spoke to a few who specialize in sanitation and maintenance to learn more.

As we move toward a phased reopening of fitness facilities, club owners are putting together their plans for operating in the new normal. In an environment where a vaccine is still some time away, avoiding transmission of the COVID-19 disease is job number one, and that means having a solid cleaning strategy in place.

Some unexpectedly positive news came out of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on May 20. The CDC’s updated guidelines now say that the virus “does not spread easily” from touching surfaces or objects. As this new information begins circulating, people may be more inclined to worry less about exercise equipment and benches being infected. Person-to-person contact continues to be the most common way to spread the disease, so sanitizer, social distancing, and protective gear will still be part of any business’ COVID-19 strategy moving forward.

As outlined in a recent article, “Cleaning, Disinfecting, & Sanitizing Your Gym During Covid-19,” club owners in Asia who have experience with reopening after quarantine found it important to have members see staff frequently cleaning equipment and surfaces. It’s also important to have plenty of sanitizers and/or wipes available for members to clean up after themselves. You don’t just need to increase cleanliness itself but also the perception of cleanliness.

(For more guidelines on safety measures and other issues during the COVID-19 pandemic, see IHRSA’s coronavirus resource hub, which is continually updated.)

Facilities gym valet Selectorized Strength column

Courtesy: Gym Valet

Treating Clubs Like Essential Services

To help give club operators some guidance on cleaning and sanitizing products available to them, we spoke to a few suppliers who specialize in sanitation and maintenance. The good news is that many companies have increased inventory and are ready to help clubs meet the challenge. In fact, they’ve been supplying products to essential services while fitness facilities were closed down.

One of those companies, Petra-1, pivoted to serving hospitals, grocery stores, transportations companies, and others that continued to operate during the strictest phase of the lockdown.

“We ramped up our supplies because the demand is much higher for those products at essential service companies, so our supply chain is very good,” says Benjamin Whitham, president and co-founder of Petra-1. “How essential services utilizes these products has given us a bit of a heads-up in terms of what to expect for the fitness industry.”

One lesson they learned was to increase their product line to meet the moment.

“We broadened our product base to include masks, gloves, electrostatic dispensers, face shields, thermometers—all the products that you can think of that people need to operate a business safely, whether it’s for their staff or their customers,” explains Whitham.

As clubs begin ordering more products, equipment wipes and sanitizers are the two products most in demand, says Whitham. He says some gyms are also ordering masks, which Petra-1 can brand with club logos, but cleaning products are still their chief focus.

Facilities Petr A 1 Eva Clean PX200 ES column

Courtesy: Petra-1

Rising to the Occasion

Another company that pivoted to creating increased supplies of sanitizer in response to the crisis is Sports Solution. Based in Dallas, the company was founded by Laurie Schmidt in 1984 and pioneered the production of personal care products specifically designed for athletes.

Sports Solutions manufactures a number of amenities for spas and locker rooms. They began making sanitizer as the COVID-19 crisis intensified a few months ago at the request of the FDA.

“They contacted my lab and asked, ‘Would you make the World Health Organization and the FDA-approved formula and get it out to the people in the Texas area?’” says Schmidt. “Of course, we said yes.”

Sports Solutions began producing a formula made with an 80% alcohol base, and began selling it to medical facilities and other service providers across the country. They sent a pallet of the product to the U.S. Navy in early May.

“We went all out because we wanted to kill COVID-19 and other viruses,” explains Schmidt. “We're now making around 1,250 to 2,500 gallons of the sanitizer about every other week, so we have inventory in stock and have plenty to go around.”

Schmidt wanted to make a product that was potent as a virucide but also convenient and versatile. Sports Solutions’ sanitizer can be used on surfaces, skin, clothing, shoes, and more. Schmidt says that the alcohol dries quickly and doesn’t have any lasting odors.

“We wanted to make it as strong as we could, but our sanitizer also has glycerin in it, so it’s easy on the skin. We use a denatured ethyl alcohol, so it’s softer,” she says. “When you spray it on your hands, you just rub it in and let it dry. And when you spray it in your office or facility, you can just let it dry, so you don’t have to expel a lot of energy by having to use a cloth every time.”

Facilities Gym Valet Wall Mount column

Courtesy: Gym Valet

Sports Solutions has plenty of the sanitizer in stock, says Schmidt. The sanitizer is available in wall-mounted dispensers and also 32-ounce magnetic-locking spray bottles that attach to a wall using clear acrylic brackets. It’s available in gallon units, four to a case, with 48 to 60 cases per palette. They offer large volume discounts for those clubs with multiple locations.

Sanitizing wipes are a specialty of 2XL, another company that served first responders and essential businesses during the height of the lockdown. The company creates a wide range of antibacterial wipes for a number of different businesses, but fitness facilities remain the chief focus of 2XL, and are the number-one selling wipes in the industry.

“Our wipes are EPA-registered,” says Linda Giammanco of 2XL. “If an EPA-registered disinfectant says it has bacterial, fungicidal, and virucidal activity, it should kill bacteria, fungi, and viruses. It also means that the product does not result in unreasonable adverse effects on a person’s health or the environment when used according to label instructions.”

2XL also offers “The Guardian,” a cylindrical stand that can store and dispense disposable wipes. It fits easily between equipment and other areas of a club where room is scarce but access to wipes is essential.

“Make sure cleaning product stations are placed strategically and prominently,” says Giammanco, echoing a common theme from suppliers, business owners, and health experts. “We have a wide variety of dispensers. The Guardian is more of a station that can hold any of our buckets of wipes. There’s also a storage area for a trash receptacle, wipes refill bag, and an area for hand sanitizer or signage.”

Facilities 2 XL supplies column

Courtesy: 2XL

Increasing Convenience for Members

Members need to be an extension of the maintenance staff, some industry analysts say, including Blair McHaney of MXM in a recent article. Whatever sanitizers and cleaning products you choose, they must be convenient or compliance will suffer.

Bruce Sherman, Ph.D., recognized this aspect of human nature when he founded Gym Valet. An exercise physiologist who has worked in the fitness industry for decades, Sherman developed a product that connects to the equipment itself. Using a patented attachment device made of soft rubber, Velcro straps, and repositionable adhesive, Gym Valet stays firmly connected to the equipment. With the spray bottle of cleaning solution and towel literally at hand, members are more likely to clean the equipment before and after use.

“If you know human nature, if it's convenient, they will do it,” says Sherman. “Every extra foot they have to walk to get the cleaning product, the chance of them using it decreases. Compliance will be very good if you make it convenient.”

The Gym Valet unit uses an attached towel to wipe the equipment, which may give some members pause, worried about possible contamination of the cloth. Sherman says that they have nothing to worry about.

“I did microbiological analysis on this when I first went into business to show people that the towel is clean,” he says. “It's continually being replenished with cleaning solution. It continually absorbs a high-quality disinfectant by remaining wet. Actually, the towel is the cleanest surface in the room.”

Sherman hopes that a product like Gym Valet sends the right message to the public.

“It's free sales and marketing for a club because you have created this positive perception in members that my club cares about me,” he says.

This aspect of togetherness and personal responsibility has become an industry theme in recent weeks. Says Whitham: “In the health club industry, a sense of community and responsibility go hand in hand. We can always protect ourselves to the best of our ability no matter what our neighbors, friends, or other family members may be doing. We're ultimately responsible for our own safety.”

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Jim Schmaltz

Jim Schmaltz is a contributor to IHRSA.org