Your guide to reopening gyms and fitness centers during Covid-19 (and what other businesses are doing)
As the owner of a gym, fitness center, or yoga studio, you might be used to seeing a dip in memberships and attendance as people fall off their new year’s resolutions.
But no one could have prepared you for what 2020 had in store.
After Covid-19 led businesses across the world to shut their doors for the last few weeks, the fitness industry is now stuck in a newfound predicament as countries lift stay-at-home orders:
How can members and patrons return safely, considering the close contact and shared surface touching that a typical “gains” session involves?
Based on the government regulations, expert advice from industry influencer, and experiences of real-life business owners who reopened their centers last week, we have come up with this reopening guide.
Here’s a sneak peek of what’s inside. You can choose to explore the guide at your own pace: either going through it as it comes, or clicking on a specific topic you want to know more about
- To open or not open, that is the question
- What do the owners of gyms and fitness centers need to think about before reopening business post Covid-19?
- What are other gyms and fitness studios along?
- Conclusion: Making educated decisions is the key to reopen like a champ!
To open or not open, that is the question.
Between owners who are eager to reopen and those who still don’t think it’s a good idea, the debate on reopening gyms rages on.
However, the general consensus between most business owners in the industry is this: an environment where sweaty people are in close proximity to each other, sharing equipment and heavily breathing is not conducive to preventing the spread of Coronavirus.
With that said, how do you make the decision to reopen your gym or fitness center amidst the Covid-19 pandemic?
Consider these questions first:
Are you allowed to open, yet?
In the United States, The Opening Up America Campaign of the federal government includes the gym industry in the second phase of reopening.
However, many states have pushed back the reopening of gyms and fitness centers to the third phase of their local reopening plan. What that means is that in a lot of states, the earliest reopening date for gyms is as far as June 29.
So based on which state you are located in, it could be a while before your state moves from one phase to another. For owners who have a multi-location business spread across multiple states, you need to understand the reopening guidelines for each individual state and proceed accordingly.
Check your local news for what your state government says about reopening gyms and fitness centers. Follow the guidelines, laws and regulations released by your local authorities. Our advice is to not open if your local authority doesn’t permit it.
If you can open, should you?
If you are in a state that allows gyms and fitness centers to reopen, the next question you might be asking yourself is, should I reopen?
But before even considering that, you should have a plan of action ready. A plan of action helps you stay organized while also focussed on your end goal. It will also give you a clear idea whether reopening your gym right now is a good idea or not.
There are a lot of factors to consider before you dive head first into reopening:
With all the rules and regulations that businesses need to adhere to, reopening your gym is going to be tough and expensive.
As a business owner trying to guarantee the health and wellbeing of its customers and staff members, you are going to have to make a huge investment: Buying PPE, sanitizers, disinfectants, wipes and towels frequently is going to be expensive and dig a hole into your pocket.
For gyms operating on a membership-based model, customers are also expected to ask for an extension of their ongoing memberships due to the shutdown.
Between having to accommodate these existing clients and not taking any new ones due to social distancing capacity constraints, you are likely to see a drop in fresh revenue generation.
Assess the impact of new expenses and understand the profits that you can make right now to decide if it is economically viable for your business to operate profitably during Covid-19.
2. Talk to your staff and trainers
Understand your staff’s perspective on reopening and coming back to work.
Each member of your team might have their own challenges with returning to work. Whether it be their concern of contracting the virus and bringing it home to vulnerable family members or even giving up an alternative source of income that they were able to find: these are valid concerns that your team might present to you. You need to be well equipped to handle such conversations.
In such uncertain times, everyone’s a little worried about their job security and rightly so. Be transparent: Tell them what’s expected of them in the coming weeks and how they will be compensated for their efforts. To do this,
- Communicate via 1:1 and group video calls to address their concerns.
- Know exactly who’s coming back to work for you and when
- Make your expectations clear. Since, you’ll not be immediately going back to old schedules, tell them how many hours they have to work, how much they will be paid, and the additional work they’ll have to do to follow safety recommendations for gyms and fitness centers after reopening.
- Be very specific about your employee benefits and future protocols in case of a lockdown
Most staff members will be worried about ending their unemployment benefits as they come back to work. Listen to their POV and try and come to the next step that is mutually beneficial for the staff member and for your business.
3. Member sentiment
As a few gyms across the country have opened, they’ve seen a mixed bag of responses from it’s members.
Knowing how your members feel about coming back to the gym is an important factor in your decision to reopen. Knowing the pulse of your customer base can help you determine what kind of traction you can expect once you reopen.
To do this, talk to your members, patrons and clients and understand their concerns. The question you need answered is whether they feel safe and comfortable in returning.
Discuss with your members about the various steps that you can take to make them feel more comfortable in coming to your center. You can even incorporate the practical changes suggested by them.
The bottom line is that you need to assess your business vitals and determine if you are ready to reopen.
You can also make your own timeline about how to go about things and when would be the best time for your gym or fitness center to reopen.
If you feel confident that you can get through this phase, get set to carpe diem!
But if you don’t feel comfortable, sitting out the first wave of reopening and learning from what other business owners are doing is a completely fair option too.
If you are not reopening, what can you do instead?
Let’s say that you’ve weighed all your options and decide to not reopen your gym just yet.
It could be the overwhelming cases of the Coronavirus in your community or lack of financial stability that forced your hand. Well don’t worry, the Coronavirus can’t keep you down and out for very long.
What you can do instead is to invest your efforts in preparing your reopening for when you do. This could mean:
- Collecting information on how others have reopened,
- Reading articles of the challenges they faced
- Envisioning what those same steps mean for your gym
- Collecting sanitizers, disinfectants, towels and wipes
- Investing time in rearranging your workspace to make it abide by social distancing guidelines
Take the time you have and start researching on what your reopening should look like. You can avoid any roadblocks that you didn’t foresee by planning long ahead. To get a headstart on planning, jump directly to this section.
If you have already reopened, how can you benefit from this blog?
If you’ve opened up your gym to customers already, congratulations! You’re slowly but surely, going to get back on your feet and start running.
As a business owner, you have already experienced the new normal that the fitness industry is going to face. However, you can use this blog as a guide and a checklist just to be sure that you’re doing everything possible to mitigate the spread of the contagion.
If you are going to reopen, how should you do it?
You have decided that you are going to open your doors to customers. That’s great!
But you still need to plan and strategize the process. After all, the foundation of a successful endeavour is a good strategy and plan.
Let’s just take a minute to dive into the tips on how you should reopen:
1. Set the vision
Decide how you envision your reopening. Having a vision helps set the path to your goals. Ask yourself the following questions:
- Where do you see yourself and your business two weeks from today, a month from today, two months from today, etc.?
- Do you want a variety of in-person and online members?
- What are the steps you’re going to take to prevent the spread of the virus within your premises.
These questions need to be thought of, not from a business perspective but from the perspective of COVID prevention. At the end of the day, your business is currently being shaped by COVID.
Your answers to these questions are going to define your next steps to combat the virus.
2. Draw up the strategies
Now that you’ve set the vision for your gym, it’s time to draw up your game plan. Bust out the whiteboard and markers, let’s get strategizing.
Retaining members with active subscriptions
Your first step needs to be outlining the ways by which you can keep your active members from cancelling their memberships.
Some of your members will return to the gym happily. But some might be reluctant to come back just now leading them to canceling their memberships.
One thing you can do to ensure this doesn’t happen is calm your members’ anxieties over safety. Educate them that you’re taking all the steps that you can to deter the spread of the virus.
Releasing a newsletter and/or emailing your members about the various steps you’re going to implement to ensure their health and safety is an ideal way to start.
If communicating with your members still doesn’t bear any fruit, then it is always a good idea to convert them to online members. Outline what value you can provide to them if they continue with the same plans. You can add in on-demand video classes, live streams, free online consultations, renting equipment, online classes and more as benefits in your memberships so that customers can derive the same value as they used to and are happy paying you even when they are unable to attend because they still can use these when at home.
Attracting new members
If the Coronavirus has taught us anything, it is the importance of being fit and healthy.
With people more aware of their health and looking for ways to boost their immunity, you can highlight the importance of leading a healthy lifestyle by working out using your social media channels to attract new members.
This is the time you can increase your social media marketing efforts and tell your potential clients of various exercises and diets they can follow to build a strong immune system.
This will showcase your ability as a gym to be up to date with what’s going on in the world and increase brand awareness among potential customers.
3. Execute the tactics
Now that we’ve strategized our efforts, it’s time to put all of it into action.
Discuss the plan and it’s steps with your team. It is important for them to be onboarded on this too. Have dry-runs and be prepared with all possible scenarios that might occur. This will help you be one step ahead of any roadblocks.
You can jump to this section directly for tips on what to do when you reopen your gym or fitness center during Covid-19.
Take a print and keep it with you while you get started on the planning. All these points are described in detail in the coming sections.
What do the owners of gyms and fitness centers need to think about before reopening business post Covid-19?
1. Rules and regulations set out by your local authorities
Uncertain times call for tough decisions. These tough decisions come in the form of rules, regulations and guidelines released by governments. As a business owner and a team leader, it is your responsibility to understand and follow these guidelines to a T.
Always keep an eye out for the latest information that comes out from your local government. Visit your state’s website for latest bulletin updates or call the local authorities to be completely sure of the rules and regulations that apply to you.
Stay updated on the latest updates and ensure you follow them at your gyms and fitness centers to avoid any risk of infection or trouble with the local authorities.
2. Implementing social distancing
We’ve heard it loud and clear: The best way to control the spread of the virus is by effective social distancing.
Here are some ways in which you can implement social distancing protocols at your gym or fitness center:
- Set a limit on the number of people that are allowed in the gym within a particular time slot. This way, the gym management is in complete control of the number of people within its premises and allows effective implementation of social distancing guidelines. You can refer to your local guidelines to understand the number of people allowed in your premises at any time.
- If you have separate spaces within your gym (such as resistance/weight training area, cardio area, and spin class area) you can calculate and implement their capacities separately as well.
However, implementing a capacity on the occupancy of your gym might lead to some members of your gym not being able to take appointments at all. You can combat this by applying the following booking restrictions:
- Only allow active members to book initially, slowly opening it for new members when rules are relaxed
- Request members to pre-book an appointment and/or sign-up for a class online. Avoid walk-in members/pay as you go members.
- Strictly enforce appointment times. Restrict workout time to avoid overcrowding.
This will also give the staff members plenty of time to sanitize the machines and benches in between and minimize client overlap.
Taking the example of China helps us understand how effective such a solution can be: When clubs in China first opened, members could reserve access to the club in 90-minute time blocks, and staff cleaned the club for an hour between these appointments.
Setting effective and smart staff availability
As is customary in a gymnasium, trainers are always on call whether it be to help newcomers get used to an intimidating space or to spot members on the bench.
Communicate with your staff and split the entire day into multiple smaller shifts. Spread your team evenly between the times that you are open.
With a fewer number of members coming into your premises, you will not always need a 100% of your workforce to be present at all times. This way you can spread out the availability of your staff evenly so that you’re indirectly also helping reduce overcrowding within your premises.
Offer your members the option of online classes/on-demand workouts
Even before the government enforced restrictions were put in place, most fitness studios had been mindful of the risk that a gym environment would pose.
Hence, they started shifting to online means of imparting exercise classes and coaching through free Youtube videos and paid subscription models early on.
Even after reopening, you can continue using this mode of training or start doing it now with examples from other businesses that were successful at it.
Customers who do not feel comfortable in returning and would rather work out at home can use the online pre-recorded and live workouts. You can also schedule classes and one-on-one sessions with trainers using a video chat service such as Zoom.
Combining online appointments with online video conferencing platforms can help you achieve this with ease. You can simply ask customers to book an online fitness class and send them the joining information. Online scheduling software like Appointy also do this automatically with their integration with popular video conferencing platforms like Zoom.
Investing time and effort into developing online classes and on-demand video content for you members is going to go a long way in future proofing your revenue streams and keep your members interested in coming back to your gym once you do reopen.
Contactless check-in and check-out
The check-in process in many gyms requires you to enter using your fingerprint or show your physical ID to a staff member that validates it before allowing you to avail the facilities of the gym.
However, using a fingerprint scanner creates a new shared surface between customers that we want to avoid as much as possible. Not only that, coming into close proximity (in this case, a staff member to validate your ID) with a person also adds to the problem.
Replace this with a contactless check-in process.
When a customer comes into your studio, opt for a virtual check-in process. You check in your customer from a distance by searching their name or contact details in your customer database using a PC, laptop, tablet or mobile device. Use the same device to check them out, once they are done for the day.
One of the things that a gymnasium owns is a space. The other is the equipment within that space.
It is very important to be smart about managing the equipment and their usage. By doing so you are able to restrict the over use of a particular equipment over others.
For example, if you have 5 treadmills, you can make sure that all your members use all 5 treadmills evenly so that there isn’t a heavy usage concentration on a particular treadmill.
You can also internally assign equipment to members when they visit or ask them to schedule equipment beforehand.
In the worst case scenario, if any of your members turns out to be Covid-positive and had visited the gym a few days before, it will be very helpful to track the equipment that was used by them on that day.
This way, you as an owner can get in touch with people who possibly used the same equipment and pre-empt their chances of contracting the virus or giving it to someone else.
3. Customer screening
Screening members before they visit your gym or fitness center can help you minimize the chances of infection for other customers or staff members.
You can ask your members to fill a simple questionnaire that collects relevant member information such as:
- Applicable medical history,
- Any pre-existing conditions (that makes them a part of at-risk group of COVID-19)
- Their age group
- If they’ve suffered any symptoms similar to the one presented by the Coronavirus in the past 14 days
Based on the information that a client provides, owners and gym managers can choose to accept or decline the appointment. This way you can protect your gym, its staff, and patrons.
For an added layer of safety, everyone that enters the premises must undergo a mandatory temperature check and the temperature should be noted down and maintained.
You can also make your members sign waivers once they arrive for their workout slot. For example, boutique fitness studio chains like Xponential Fitness-owned Pure Barre, YogaSix and Club Pilates will make members sign Coronavirus-specific waivers of liability.
4. Frequent sanitation
The biggest concern across everybody’s mind is how they can avoid coming in contact with potentially contaminated surfaces.
A thorough and frequent sanitation process is imperative as gym equipment can be difficult to sanitize with their weird shapes and innumerable places that a person could grasp it.
It is important to wipe down high touch surfaces such as barbells, elliptical handles and cycle bars as these could be the breeding grounds for the Coronavirus.
Keep track of the equipment and machines that are being used in a particular appointment slot. Make sure that the entire team cleans all the surfaces properly even if they “seem” clean. Research has shown that droplets can remain in the air for up to three hours, and droplets on stainless steel or plastic surfaces can linger for up to 72 hours. So you can never be too careful.
Also give the staff members plenty of time to sanitize the machines and benches in between and minimize client overlap.
The benefit of accepting members through appointments only is that you can space out appointment slots in such a way that the staff members of the gym can sanitize the equipment thoroughly and frequently.
5. Contactless payments
Throughout the journey of a patron, from them entering the gym to purchasing an item from your retail store on their way out, you should opt for a contactless process.
We’ve already explored contactless check-ins and check-outs. But as a business owner, you should keep looking to make the environment as safe as possible for everybody.
One of the ways you can do this is by opting for virtual payments. For example, if a member wants to refill their protein powder from your retail store, opt for virtual payments through Square or Stripe. Once you do start accepting walk-in and ‘Pay as you Go’ customers, you can also ask them to pay through virtual methods.
Strictly say no to cash or card because they too can be highly contaminated. This way you’re moving with the times and also staying ahead of the curve. A research, relevant now more than ever, shows that even money can be a source of communicable disease.
Some gyms like Worcester Fitness, have gone above and beyond to minimize the chances of spreading the contagion. They’ve even examined the tiniest details including how the gym should handle pens and pencils that members use to sign in.
6. Redesigning gym space
An inherent task that comes with making your space social distancing ready is reimagining it. After all, the implementation of social distancing is only possible where there is enough space between.
You can use these floor plan templates to make your gym social distancing ready.
Here are a few more ways you can redesign your space:
- Most gyms keep cardio equipment such as treadmills, elliptical and rowing machines close to each other. Plug out every other cardio equipment so that members using these equipment do not come in contact with each other. Doing this will also mean that your staff members will have less equipment to sanitize.
- Remove and/or cover any areas used by members to rest between strength sets or cardio sessions such as benches or chairs. Limit the exposure of a member to only the equipment that they book an appointment for.
- Close the locker rooms or atleast make every two lockers inaccessible to ensure that proper social distancing is followed. You can also place hand sanitizers at frequent member touch points such as near the cardio area or the water dispenser. This will encourage your members to sanitize their hands frequently.
- Finally, to make sure that all your measures take hold, put up posters across the various workout areas informing people of the rules and regulations employed by you.
7. Designing business-specific safety guidelines
With all the information around safety guidelines for physical fitness centers, it’s imperative for you to make your own standard operating procedures/SOPs that are shared with your team and even your customers.
Everybody on your team should know how to handle tough situations, who to reach out to, and how to escalate the case.
This is very useful when you have some difficult customers who don’t follow guidelines. Also, clearly outline your next steps to prepare for the worst case scenario of an infection in your gym.
While everyone agrees on enforcing the use of gloves within the gym, a heavy debate rages on whether the use of masks should also be enforced. While nobody can deny the effectiveness of even the most basic form of PPE, detractors argue that exercising with a mask can prove to be difficult.
- We highly recommend asking your members to at least use gloves during their sweat session. Orangetheory fitness is going to start making people wear masks in it’s fitness studios and gyms in Georgia. Staff will wear surgical masks whereas members will have to at least wear a cloth face mask.
- Staff members can also take frequent rounds of the gym politely reminding people of the guidelines that they must follow.
What are other gyms and fitness studios doing?
- SoulCycle spin instructors and staffers will get temperature checks before work
- Members will also be mandated to temperature checks before they enter in states that require it, according to its website
- Staff will be mandated to wear gloves and though the guidelines don’t require them to wear face masks, the chain says it’s “strongly encouraged.”
- Used equipment like bike shoe rentals, will be rotated so that they’re never worn two classes in a row. We’ll only rent them out once they’re entirely disinfected and dry
- And the free amenities included in the $34 class like gum, complimentary phone charging and razors will no longer be available to limit “hand-to-hand” contact
- First thing that’s required is a temperature reading. Followed by a prepared statement recited by an employee on Coronavirus symptoms.
- The gym’s locker rooms are still closed to patrons and there are no group workout classes.
- Trophy Fitness members were happy to return on opening day, although the gym didn’t reach its full occupancy limit.
At Body Renew Alaska, a fitness studio in South Anchorage, Alaska, gym goers have to reserve a 45 minute time slot. In each appointment slot only 40 members are allowed. The gym closes at 45 minutes every hour for a 15-minute deep clean.
Conclusion: Making educated decisions is the key to reopen like a champ!
Let’s set the record straight: reopening your gym and/or fitness studio is not going to be a piece of cake. However, proper foresight, planning and strategy will definitely make it relatively easier.
We want to make sure that you are able to adapt and transition to this new and uncertain world that we now live in.
The transition is made easier by the abundance of tools at your disposal. In the digital age, there is a tool to help resolve all your problems.
We at Appointy have been receiving hundreds of requests from gyms, fitness studios and physical training centers to set up appointment scheduling for their businesses over the last few weeks.
Being an easy-to-use, online scheduling software, Appointy can help you implement social distancing guidelines, adapt to the post COVID-19 world and run your fitness center smoothly.
With our professional support team by your side, we can have you up and running in just 15 minutes!
It is always better to be one step ahead and lead the race, instead of being two steps behind and playing catch-up.
So, are you ready to keep your team ahead in the game?
Let’s explore Appointy together. Book a demo with us.
Disclaimer: The information which is summarised herein does not constitute medical or other professional advice and is general in nature. It does not take into account your specific circumstances and should not be acted on without full understanding of your current situation and future goals and objectives. In doing so you risk making commitment to a strategy that may not be suitable to your needs. Whilst we have tried to ensure the accuracy and completeness of the contents of this website, you should verify all information and facts independently.
We at Appointy, help business owners grow and run their businesses with our online scheduling software. This blog was a part of our ‘Manage your Business’ category, where we provide expert tips, resources, or simply talk about the challenges that small and medium business face every day.
If you have any thoughts on this blog, or would like to chat about your business struggles and achievements, let us know in the comments below.
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