By Daniel Sama
Wednesday June 17th, 2020. 10:30 AM. Our eyes are glued to our television screens. After 94 days of our gyms being shut down, the government is finally going to announce our reopening.
We are finally going to get confirmation of the protocols that will need to be followed. Our questions will be answered. We will be able to set up a timeline for what needs to be done to get ready in time. Sure, we have been proactive and have already ordered some of the essentials that we know we will be needing: extra towels to sell, spray bottles for sanitizing product, stickers for signage – LOTS of stickers for signage.
We have already gone ahead and redesigned our floor plan – some cardio machines have been turned off to only make one out of every two available, all resistance training equipment has been spaced out to ensure at least two meter distance, benches have been also spaced and bolted down so that distancing can be respected. But is it enough? How much is left to do before we can say we are COVID-ready? This is the press conference we have been waiting for to find out.
It does not take long – two minutes into the press conference to be exact – Minister Isabelle Charest announces that gyms across Quebec will be able to start operating as of the 22nd of June!
Finally, the wait is over! Finally, members will fill up our group classes, dumbbells will be lifted, rowers will be rowed! And it all starts Monday! Wait… Monday? Monday as in this Monday? As “in FOUR days” Monday??!
And thus, the clock started ticking.
The first thing we addressed was getting in touch with our staff. If we were going to get this done – preparing and integrating the new protocols – we needed everyone to be on board. After all, the members of our staff were the ones who are on the front line, offering the service our members come to Gym Fit Forme for. We were quite happy to learn that most of our team members, personal trainers and group class instructors were eager to get back in the gym and do what they do best – help people. Of course, there were some questions, some concerns, but the consensus was the same across our three locations: let’s get back in the gym!
Then we addressed our members. Gym Fit Forme gyms are high-volume, so getting through to everyone is best done through email and social media. The issue with that form of communication is that it leaves a lot of questions up in the air. It leads to replies, and replies need to be answered. Again, at the volume of emails we sent out, that would be a lot of clients to answer.
So, we produced a 3-minute video that we incorporated in those emails and on those social media posts. The video can still be seen as soon as you visit our website – www.gymfitforme.com. By putting the message through video we were able to make it clearer and have less questions to answer.
When the gyms finally opened the thing we were most grateful for was that we made the decision from the beginning to stop processing payments for the period that we would be closed. It was a gutsy decision to make. Not knowing how long we would be shut down for, not having any idea what kind of support our governments would provide our industry,we obviously left ourselves in a vulnerable state. Nevertheless we felt that it was an occasion to show our clients that in time of need, Gym Fit Forme puts its clients first. We definitely did not feel comfortable taking payment from our members when we were not able to provide them with the services they signed up for. Ultimately, it was the right decision.
In terms of public perception, our members appreciated that Gym Fit Forme took this position. Had we continued to take payments over such a long period of time – over three months – our members would most likely have felt that we were taking advantage of an extraordinary situation.
When it came to logistics, freezing payments and memberships saved us a tremendous number of headaches and cancellations. It took a full month before our management teams were finally able to catch up on emails and messages. We can only imagine how this work would have been increased if we had to deal with frustrated members writing us “why are you processing payments?”.
We have now been operating for seven weeks and things are looking good.
In terms of volume, we have lost many memberships to COVID. What is encouraging however is that the feedback has been consistently “goodbye for now”. Our inboxes have been flooded with messages stating that when the situation comes back to normal – or to whatever the new normal will be – most of them are looking forward to coming back.
What has also been very encouraging is the influx of new members. To keep our costs low, we have not invested much in marketing – we decided to focus our resources on offering the best possible service to our current members before focusing on recruiting new members. And yet, in our first 2 months back in business, we have seen an increased number of new memberships in comparison to the same period in 2019.
Our members have spoken, and the message is clear: high volume gyms can still go strong. Offering services – group classes, personal training, small group training – puts faces on our brand and this is where our strength lies when faced with adversity. It is these faces that people trust. The measures we have taken are great in theory but having people who are making sure that members are applying the protocols is what is keeping the environment safe. It is also those faces that our members turn to give us feedback.
Of course, we can never be COVID-proof – no public space can be – but the teams in the different Gym Fit Forme locations have been the reason why the return to the gym has been possible. We have adapted our protocols slightly when we realized certain things were not optimal or did not work. The human contact with our teams is the reason why our gyms will continue to work.