What Clubs Can Learn from Other Industries’ COVID-19 Strategies

By Kristen Walsh

By Kristen Walsh

Courtesy IHRSA

Health clubs often rely on each other for guidance implementing new policies and programs, but what can we learn from other industries? We take a look at leading companies that are working to keep their businesses safe and thriving.


It’s safe to say that few industries were impacted harder than ours by the global COVID-19 pandemic. Health clubs around the world were forced to close their doors indefinitely. Reopening has proven daunting for many.


A handful of companies in other industries, however, can serve as models for health club operators working diligently to implement safety measures and communicate them to staff, customers, the public, and the media. Let’s look at a few of them.


Starbucks Succeeds with Consistent Messaging


With app ordering, drive-thrus, and delivery, Starbucks has successfully adapted to the changing landscape.


“Starbucks is equipped to handle what COVID-19 has thrown at it and likely will come out the other end of one of the worst periods in human history stronger than ever because it has been doing the work to keep itself flexible and prepared for the future,” according to a Forbes article.


A key component of its success has likely been its consistent messaging across various platforms. A note on the company’s home page reads, “We remain committed to the health and well-being of our partners and customers. Learn more.”


The Starbucks mobile app includes “A reminder on facial coverings” which reads, “In our stores, we respectfully request you wear a facial covering and comply with local public health mandates to protect the health of our customers and partners.” Starbucks posts its partner (employee) communications online so that the public can read them. This transparency can only improve the public perception of the brand.


Store signage reinforces the same message, directing traffic in one door, and out another, with stickers on the floor where people should stand in order to stay a safe distance away from one another. Signs note the requirement that if a certain number of people (based on store size) are already inside, new arrivals should wait outside.


What is perhaps most similar between coffee shops such as Starbucks and health clubs is that traditionally both have strived to become what is known as the “third place.”


“Starbucks built much of its brand on being what former CEO Howard Schultz described as a unique ‘third place,’ the place between work and home that customers could go to meet friends, get work done, or simply hang out,” notes Inc.


In a June letter to stakeholders, the company’s leaders wrote, “No matter the format, we know that the Starbucks ‘third place’ experience occurs from the moment a customer envisions their daily Starbucks Experience to wherever they enjoy that Starbucks beverage.”


These days, many people have just one place—home. Some of your members are working from home indefinitely, and others may be out of work due to the pandemic. So for some, your club will become the second place (instead of the third). The more you can demonstrate that your club is a clean, safe, and healthy place to be, the sooner and more frequently your members will return.


Whole Foods Quickly Adapts to New Safety Standards

In the newly released Consumer Health & Safety Index, marketing research company Ipsos Group compared the safety measures grocery chains across the company have adapted during the pandemic. The findings revealed that Whole Foods has made the most positive impressions on customers with the changes they’ve implemented.


“From social distancing to stringent sanitizing and disinfecting, we’re here to help you shop more safely,” says a note on the Whole Foods website.


In addition to the basics such as requiring face coverings, the company has suspended all food and product sampling and demos, and closed all hot bars, salad bars, soup bars, and self-serve pizza counters. “We have installed plexiglass barriers to protect customers and team members, and appointed dedicated team members to sanitization measures, including disinfecting every shopping cart and credit card reader between customers,” according to the site. They also have dedicated shopping hours at their stores just for at-risk populations such as senior citizens.


Universal Orlando Resort Ups Cleaning Protocols


Universal Orlando Resort reopened to the public on June 5, having implemented many safety measures, including limiting capacity and increasing its already-aggressive cleaning and disinfection procedures. Everyone—including staff—must wear a face covering, and temperature checks are required. (Those with a temperature of 100.4 degrees or greater are not admitted.) Guests are urged to keep at least 6 feet between their travel party and others, and to stand on floor markings that promote social distancing. At select locations, including prior to boarding ride vehicles, guests are required to use hand sanitizer.



A note on their website warns potential visitors, “Exposure to COVID-19 is an inherent risk in any public location where people are present; we cannot guarantee you will not be exposed during your visit.” It’s important for customers to realize that even a company’s best efforts cannot eliminate all risks.


A video like this one by Universal Orlando Resort is an excellent way to get people excited to return to your business while also demonstrating the extensive measures being taken to keep them safe. People are more likely to watch a brief, upbeat video than to read several paragraphs of text on a website. Even if shot on a phone, a short video featuring one of your managers giving a tour of your club can get members feeling more comfortable about coming back. Be sure to show where and how temperatures will be taken, which equipment is roped off to allow for social distancing, where new hand sanitizing stations are located, etc.


Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis praised Universal Orlando for its efforts. “Theme parks have been doing great, I mean, Universal, look at what they’re doing,” he said. “And I think that’s the lesson. We have to have society function. You can have society function in a way that keeps people safe, and when you have all the different procedures they have in place … it’s a safe environment.”

Kristen Walsh has worked for IHRSA for more than 20 years, and is currently the Associate Publisher. She writes and edits articles, e-newsletters, and research reports, among other things. When she’s not at work, you’ll find Kristen vacationing with her husband and daughter, volunteering for a local 5K, or attending a Boston Celtics game.


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.

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