How Your Club Can Survive a COVID-19-related Reclosure

After mandated closures around the globe earlier this year, many clubs are now faced with the possibility of having to close again due to surges in COVID-19 cases. Here are some ways to find opportunities in a reclosure.

As clubs around the world begin the long recovery process of reopening, COVID-19 surges are threatening to shutter doors again. Reclosures have already impacted clubs in Arizona, California, parts of China, and Hong Kong, and the threat of more surges is raising concerns for business owners. Clubs cannot rule out the possibility of a reclosure as the pandemic continues to prove unpredictable, but having a plan in place if your area is affected can help alleviate the impact to your business.

Revise Your Communications Plan

PURE International Group clubs, with locations in Hong Kong, Singapore, Shanghai, and Beijing and New York, were among some of the first clubs to close due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Many locations were allowed to open a few months later, but now are faced with a resurgence of the virus and thus, reclosures of the clubs. Communication has been the key to keeping their members engaged through these unpredictable times, according to CEO Colin Grant.

“Our first task was to develop a comprehensive communication plan—this was critical,” he says. “We need to keep members, staff and public fully and regularly informed…We sent members a weekly update via email, a social media post and a notification through our members app. We included a link to an FAQ document that we maintained and updated daily. The aim of the FAQ document was to answer as many questions as possible.

(Not sure what to include when developing your FAQ list? We wrote an article to get you started.)

PURE Group communications focused on the importance of wellness and making members feel safe.

“The message to members [is] about leading a healthy lifestyle—being active and eating well! We also talked a lot about our community and that we were in this together and we all need to help and support each other. Prior to opening we did several social media posts highlighting all the measures we have undertaken to show the clubs are safe—we needed to build their confidence,” Grant says.

Brent Gallagher, owner of Avenu Fitness in Houston, TX, says he relies on video marketing in his communication plan. Gallagher listed numerous reasons why video marketing has been a success during uncertain times in particular.

“Video is best during this season because it keeps you in front of your community, it helps to convey the unspoken confidence a viewer picks up in your body language, and it paints a more complete picture than just words on paper,” he says. “Since meeting in person wasn’t an option, video was the next best solution.”

Revenue & Cost Management Considerations

Virtual offerings have become essential to most clubs during the months of mandated closures by providing a revenue source and keeping members engaged and loyal. As clubs have begun to reopen, many have continued with virtual options, giving members flexibility to engage with their clubs in the manner they feel most comfortable. If your club is faced with a reclosure, an existing virtual set-up will be beneficial as you can add classes or reorganize time slots to accommodate members.

Universal Athletic Club in Lancaster, PA, is preparing to pivot if their club faces another closure with a strategic plan that includes building out current online offerings, creating an on-demand experience within a club app, and rebranding their current personal training model.

“We are going to create an on demand experience inside of our app that essentially puts the health club in your pocket,” says Sheldon McBee, the club’s personal training director. “We've dedicated about four of our staff to run this entire process in full so that in the next couple of months, we want to be able to say that we are one of the best deliverers of online and on demand personal training. So for us, that's our way to pivot. We feel like we can have a high volume model that can drive enough revenue to support us just in case we have another shutdown.”

Finding ways to ensure your club is collecting revenue goes hand in hand with managing costs. For some, this may also mean restructuring your staff again. As difficult as this move is for many clubs, it may be a critical step in overcoming another closure.

“Our revenue during the closure period was almost zero,” says Grant. “No one was billed during the closure period. We did receive some rent relief from our landlords and some salary reductions we put in place. The message to staff was we need to make a shared sacrifice and by doing this we will come out of this stronger together.We then got on to managing all our costs. Speaking to landlords was very important. We also did a new three year reforecast to see what areas of the business we need to work on and what actions needed to be taken.”

Opportunities to Improve Your Club

While facing mandated closures, a global pandemic, and a poor economy, the outlook can seem bleak. However, there are opportunities for clubs to use this time to prepare to reopen even stronger—and safer—than before. Implementing a deep cleaning schedule, carrying out maintenance projects, and educating and training staff are a few ways to optimize the time you’ll have if forced to close again.

In an earlier IHRSA webinar, Grant encouraged clubs to develop a relationship with a trusted cleaning company that can provide deep cleaning services. PURE International Group looked to Ecolab, whom they found reliable, using proven effective disinfectants which met Environmental Protection Agency criteria.

“Once the clubs were closed [we] used an Ecolab product to disinfect each club. We took a video of the cleaning and used this video in some communications to members,” said Grant.

Houston, TX, where Avenu Fitness is located, is seeing a resurgence of COVID-19 cases. Gallagher says he is prepared.

“Since 2006, we’ve operated with surgically clean standards,” he says. “During this COVID season, we’ve continued to maintain those same standards with a few additional steps to help our clients feel safe and comfortable. If we had to shut down, we would invest time deep cleaning everything again.”

When Catic Wellness Group, a company with more than 50 locations across China, was forced to close their pools, they used that time to update their pool areas and train staff.

“[Closures] offered us time to do upgrades and necessary maintenance that we had actually planned to do later. [We] opted to do it now so as when the pool did reopen we didn’t have to close it down for the repairs,” says Walter MacDonald, director of fitness operations.

At Avenu, Gallagher plans to communicate overall wellness to his staff in the event of another closure.

“Reiterate that during this season, the most important and healthiest step we, as a team, can all take is to care for our own health by: Sleeping more. Eating healthier. Training smarter,” he says. “[We will] let staff know that if they are struggling mentally or just feel they need to speak with a mental health professional, Avenu will cover the fees to insure there is no hold up with getting the proper help.”

The future is uncertain, but taking the time to prepare and solidify your strategy now will be critical for short- and long-term success.

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This article was a team effort by several IHRSA experts.