Keeping your physical club safe and clean with new COVID-19 protocols is imperative. As media reports scrutinize the industry, now is the time to ensure your club image is just as protected.
It is an understatement to say that a lot has changed since the onslaught of COVID-19.
The fitness industry as a whole is facing an image crisis even thoughresearch shows that clubs are safer than common public perception. Protect the image of your club by strategizing targeted actions and clear communication.
Reinforce the Image That Your Club Is Safe and Clean
Clubs are reinforcing the perception that their facilities are safe and clean in a number of ways.
A key element to the reopening strategy of VIDA Fitness’ six locations around Washington, D.C. has been building member confidence through video communications and virtual offerings, all working up to an in-club experience.
“We created an amazing reopening website and video that has helped members understand the safety measures we have put in place,” says Allison Rand, vice president of marketing.
“We have a lot of members who have decided to freeze their membership until they feel safe to return and they can stay on track with VIDA Virtual. However, we want to invite each member back inside the club to see what protocols we put in place and show them that it is safe and ready. We have found that once a member sees what we have prepared, it goes beyond their expectations for safety.”
At Hard Work No Excuses in Marlton, NJ, Owner Diva Richards is advocating for the many benefits health clubs provide. “…Because of the current crisis with the pandemic, we were also kind of seen as a threat like this is a bad place to be. When actually…people need fitness…for our physical health, our mental health…[Club] operators need [to] communicate to [their] members: ‘I’m fighting for this because this space provides all these emotional and physical benefits for you.’”
Communicating Your Commitment to Cleanliness
Communication is key, especially when it comes to safety and cleanliness in your club. Chicago Athletic Clubs (CAC), with seven locations across the Chicago area, makes their motives clear with a commitment to safety statement on their website: “The safety of our staff, members, and guests is what’s most important. Chicago Athletic Clubs has always been dedicated to delivering a clean facility for members and guests to confidently workout.”
CAC’s website outlines what members can expect in all areas including protocols on physical distancing, cleanliness procedures, and touchless amenities. They highlight their compliance with guidelines from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Occupational Safety and Health Administration, and Illinois Department of Public Health and have a detailed FAQ section for members. Information on cleaning and disinfecting supplies, and regular amenity and department updates is also included.
“In general, the fact that we are all learning the same information at the same time has been challenging,” says CAC Owner Patrick Cunningham. “As we know information changes daily if not hourly. Members unsubscribed from our email list also proves to be a challenge, so a simple email doesn’t reach every member. Because of this, we knew the website would be the easiest and fastest place for us to communicate the most up-to-date information members needed. We created two important pages on our website: Safety and Member FAQ. Then we made sure members easily had access to these pages. The main buttons on our homepage linked to these pages.”
To make sure members received the message, CAC added in-club signage using a QR code that directs to the website, and staff set up email auto-responses with links.
“In these times, we don’t think we can over communicate to our members!” Cunningham says. “Even if we don’t have an immediate answer, a simple ‘Great question! I’m working on getting that answer’ goes a long way. If we don’t communicate, they will fill in the blanks themselves with misinformation. We are sticking with member communication that emphasize our clubs’ extensive procedures and protocols for cleaning and sanitizing, helping them navigate use of our new app for registering for classes, and letting them know that their safety is our key concern—safety for all.”
When it comes to helping members realize that it’s safe to return to the club, Richards says the key is to be honest about what you’re doing to keep the space clean. She shares information with her members such as class sizes, cleaning procedures, and that the club is following updated CDC guidelines. Richards also demonstrates her commitment to safety by being the person on the floor wiping down equipment and taking temperatures at check-in.
“I think showing them that we want you here, we want to support you, and these are the things we’re going to do to keep you safe is what’s going to keep them loyal to you,” she says.
Protecting Your Brand Image
As circumstances around COVID-19 cases continue to remain unstable in some areas, the threat of a reclosure is something clubs need to consider. Protecting your brand through a reclosure will be critical to how you will reopen for a second time.
“We certainly hope that we don’t face another closure or increase in cases,” says Rand. “VIDA and the city as a whole are committed to the mask policy and social distancing. We are currently 100% focused on keeping our members safe so that we won’t need a marketing plan in the event of a surge. However, we learned a lot from the first closure and we are talking regularly about how things would be different if we did it again. VIDA Virtual would continue to play an important part in helping our members stay on track while we are closed.”
At HWNE, Richards’ goal is to have a space for members to work on their physical and mental fitness.
“They work on being better daily. That’s the ‘Hard Work, No Excuses’ brand identity,” she says. It’s especially important now to have a mission statement and a clear purpose, “because right now people are looking and searching for something to hold on to.”
CAC takes their responsibility to their community seriously, and clearly demonstrates their commitment through effective communication.
Cunningham said, “Prior to reopening, we executed the MXM shutdown survey. The data we received from the survey along with feedback from employees and members confirms the most important thing the employees, members, and community need from us is to know that their safety is our top priority… . Our communication commitment is to make sure everyone is aware of our extreme safety measures which included reopening with a certificate of compliance certifying we have implemented policies and procedures that meet and exceed the CDC, OSHA and IDPH guidelines. The constant communication and easy access to this information is the marketing plan. We will continue to follow city and state guidelines as they adapt to changing COVID numbers.”
The image of safety and cleanliness that your club cultivates is a key element to your future in the face of the COVID-19 crisis. The best marker of your efforts to gain the trust and confidence of your members will not only be shown in revenue numbers but also in member feedback.
“The members have been incredibly open and understanding as they know that everything we do is for safety,” says Rand. “They appreciate our speedy and ongoing communications. The Yelp reviews and social comments have been appreciative of our cleaning and safety efforts…. The efforts are hard work and the positive feedback is the best marketing we could hope for.”
Carolynn Jordan is the Member Communication Specialist for IHRSA. She develops outreach that helps IHRSA members best use their benefits and stay engaged in the IHRSA community. When she isn’t working, Carolynn is likely researching what city she’ll run her 10th marathon in.
The International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association (IHRSA) is a global community of health and fitness professionals committed to building their businesses and improving their communities’ health and well-being. The mission of IHRSA is to grow, protect, and promote the health and fitness industry, and to provide its members with the benefits that will help them be more successful. IHRSA and its members (health clubs and fitness facilities, gyms, spas, sports clubs, and industry suppliers) are dedicated to make the world healthier through regular exercise. For more information visit www.ihrsa.org.