Stage Two: Preparation

Coronavirus: What’s Next?

Sometime in the not too distant future, gyms will reopen. When they do, we need to be ready to hit the ground running.


Despite the massive upheaval that the Coronavirus has brought to our businesses (and the global economy), the model at the heart of the Modern Training Gym hasn’t really changed: we’re still aiming for pristine gyms, well turned-out staff, and an innovative product.

What HAS changed though, is that the public are going to be highly sensitised to all these measures of quality, in a way that most weren’t before. This means people will be expecting extra measures around cleanliness, infection control, and hygiene; they’re also going to be demanding excellent value for money as purse strings tighten across the nation.

All of this means that if you’re not excellent, and if you don’t have a plan in place to pre-empt people’s changing mindsets and expectations, you’ll be knocked off their list of essential outgoings for the month – and your business will struggle to stay afloat.

On the plus side, this situation could be a real opportunity for smaller, owner-operator gyms working in a Small Group Personal Training model to step to the forefront. We’re working on a value-for-money model, serving fewer clients in a setting that’s much more conducive to social distancing. Our positioning at the premium end of the market and focus on client care makes it more attractive than a £40 a month membership that most people pay for and don’t use – or that packs people into tight, sweaty spaces like sardines.

So what can we do to get a step ahead of the competition and be primed for reopening?

“There are three pillars to a successful reopening plan: the Place, the Product, and the Messaging.”

Without a doubt, strong leadership is essential, as is clear and intelligent communication with our clients. Those who are willing to roll up their sleeves will have good things to look forward to; those who don’t will find themselves swimming against the current.

So here’s the strategy that we’ve chosen for the IFBA flagship gym, W10 – and that can be adjusted to suit the different needs of our IFBA member gyms and beyond.

Make a timeline

This is impossible to do accurately – at the moment, all we can do is make an informed guess. Stay abreast of IFBA communications (we keep people informed of any changes in official messaging in our Leadership Group) and tune into both government guidelines and industry bodies regularly to keep up to date with the latest stance. The important thing here is that you have a tentative date to work towards. This can always change, but without an estimation of when your doors will reopen, you’ll find it difficult to plan effectively.

Create a pre-opening mobilisation plan

Think of re-opening in the same way as you would opening a gym for the first time. You need to work backward from your estimated re-opening date and lay out the steps you need to execute to start operating at a functional speed immediately. As with opening a new gym, there are three key pillars to this plan: the Place, the Product, and the Messaging.

Your pre-opening mobilisation plan doesn’t only give structure to your own tasks and objectives over the next few weeks. It also gives you a clear framework for communicating that plan to your members, who should be kept informed of where you’re at.

The Place

One of the biggest barriers to success in this situation is consumer confidence. We need to earn people’s trust, convincing them that our gym is the best place to be. Where some people will return to the gym naturally, others will need significantly more reassurance that it’s a safe place to spend time. If you can’t guarantee cleanliness, people will go elsewhere.

The key here is to do everything we can to make sure that the gym is clean, serene, and sanitised. Begin by walking your customer journey end to end, identifying every single point at which you can clean, sanitise, or improve the appearance of the gym. Attend to the weeds on the pavement outside, refresh the decals on the door, look at the door-opening mechanism, what happens at the stairs, how people get in and out of changing rooms, how they use the towels, what they need to do to use the toilet, how they touch the toilet roll, the lockers, the showers, the spacing of equipment on the gym floor, the windows, the staff room.

What can you do at every point to make sure that the customer journey is sanitised?

“We always have the chance to see opportunity where others see adversity.”

Think outside the box here, starting with the most extreme solution and working backwards to something that feels manageable. Contamination control will take centre stage in businesses across the world in the coming months – this is your opportunity to get ahead of the curve, establishing medical grade cleanliness and going above and beyond people’s expectations.

Repainting your gym entirely, for example, is a great first start and will get rid of grubby finger marks and a general feeling of being tired and dirty. Getting the entire gym sprayed with a decontaminating chemical (and refreshed regularly) is another good step – ensure you get a certificate declaring your gym clean and safe from the virus and display it in a prominent place (and on your website). Ask staff to keep a set of trainers that they only wear in the gym; install hand sanitiser at key points; add fresh flowers; in short, give the gym a complete overhaul so it feels absolutely spotless.

As we mentioned above, the SGPT model lends itself well to social distancing as this allows roughly 100 square foot per client anyway – only minor tweaks will be needed to bring our spaces in line with these rules. Because of this, our gyms can become the go-to place for safe, clean training that already falls in line with government guidance around contact and exercise. Done right, it’s a significant opportunity to increase your membership base.

The Product

Running alongside the plans for your facility, you need to have a clear strategy in place for your Product – the coaching itself.

For many of us, the bread and butter of this will not change – our product is tried and tested, and works. But this is an opportunity to take our service offering to the next level and ensure that when people are cleaning house of all unnecessary outgoings, their membership with us is considered great value for money and indispensable.

Here are some of the things we’re adding at the IFBA flagship gym, W10:
• Added value at every tier. What can we do for the VIP members, for example?
• Creating an app to give a 360-degree digital wraparound including online training sessions as well as offerings on nutrition, mindset, and community. This will continue once doors re-open to give members provision if they’re on holiday or travelling, but will be a complement to (not replacement for) face-to-face training in a bricks and mortar setting – which is at the heart of the Modern Training Gym model.
• Using the time when the doors are shut to invest in the development of our staff. All our coaches, for example, will have done at least eight weeks of continuous professional development when gyms reopen. This includes the PFCA course on being a successful modern coaching professional, and a book club structuring reading of key texts in the fitness and leadership areas.
• Hiring an outdoor training facility to prepare for open-air sessions once restrictions are lifted.

The Messaging

Everything we’ve spoken about above will lay a strong foundation for making your gym a trusted destination in the months after lockdown. But the key to actually making all these measures work for you is to communicate them effectively. You need to be shouting from the rooftops about the measures you’re putting in place to keep your members safe and healthy. Transparency about what’s involved in your pre-opening mobilisation plan will bring people on the journey with you, helping you create hype around the re-opening and keeping the gym top of mind.

There are four potential audiences to consider when it comes to your messaging:

Existing customers
Stay in touch with your current members with frequent updates on what you’re up to, building their confidence that you’re prioritising their wellbeing in all your decisions. Let them know that their continued investment and support is valuable and that the community is thriving, even online.

Friends of members
Now is the time to start building a pipeline of referrals to feed your business with qualified leads. Friends and family of members are the best source for these, as you’re already a known and trusted quantity, so a lot of the marketing and sales work has been done. You can get started with this immediately, by offering free online memberships to one friend or family member of every client; this sets you up to get feedback on this free membership – and to gift them a free 30-day trial voucher to come into the gym and try the in-person experience for themselves.

Lapsed members
Lapsed members are another valuable source of leads. Again, they know and trust the gym already, and their circumstances may have changed – or perhaps they just need the nudge it takes to come back to the premium service you’re offering. The best way to handle this is with a sequence of communications that could include text, email, or phone call, depending on your unique client population. Again, you want to be telling people what you’re up to and how amazing things will be once you reopen, pre-selling memberships before the doors are even open.

Many fitness establishments are firmly in survival mode at this time, either focusing entirely on an online offering or with their heads in the sand waiting out the storm. This means that the online marketing space is fairly empty, giving you an opportunity to do some low-cost awareness building in preparation for reopening. This is also a good time to review your website to make sure it feels current and makes sense in the light of recent events. You could highlight the work you’re doing to keep clients safe and healthy, as well as emphasising the value that people will find most important in light of current events – community, trust, and holistic health, for example.

There’s no doubt that times like these will test us – as people, as leaders, and as businesses. But however tough things are, we always have the chance to see opportunity where others see only adversity. With the right approach, this situation could be a blessing in disguise, allowing gym owners to stand out from the competition and emerge as leaders in the field.

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