Fitness Industry Veteran on the Opportunity for a Fresh Start

“Pushing the reset button and planning your revival will help ensure a successful future,” writes Brent Darden to gyms struggling during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Written by Brent Darden, principal of Brent Darden Consulting.

COVID-19...that says it all right now.

Leaders at all levels of the organization are challenged with ever-changing circumstances and navigating uncharted territory. Significant decisions about the community, the business, the employees, and the members are demanded on a daily basis. Within this context, perhaps more than ever, leadership itself is about doing the right thing at the right time.

This awful crisis reminds us all that there are things more important than owning and operating a health club. The health and well-being of people around the world is not a new calling for our industry—it’s just one that’s taken on a louder, broader, and more urgent voice.

At the same time, it offers a rare and unique opportunity to evaluate our club’s value proposition and revisit “how we do things” big and small. There is widespread consensus that the future of gyms will be changed forever. This prediction is counterbalanced with the reality that although there may be some shifting related to how services are delivered and priced, clubs will essentially return to traditional practices.

Remember how all the pundits proclaimed air travel would never be the same after 9/11, and yet airlines have set record numbers in recent years.

How exactly clubs will adapt going forward is yet to be determined and no doubt will evolve and result in innovative outcomes we have yet to consider. For example: until now, serving as a resource for health and fitness beyond the walls of our facilities was generally hit and miss. Now it has become a common necessity, which, as they say, is the mother of all invention.

Darden Brent Cycling Bikes Column

As we contemplate and anticipate reopening our club doors in celebration with team members and club members, here are just a few things you might consider during this holding pattern:

Do you need to reevaluate your business strategy?

Should you reinvent segments of your club, double down on your core competencies, eschew offerings that you can’t be the best at, etc.?

Does your current brand framework fit your envisioned future?

Think about your brand framework—your purpose, vision, mission, and values. Should you update, modify, add to, or simplify?

How can you be a better leader and build better leaders?

Consider self-awareness/assessment, soliciting feedback, leadership development, and coaching programs.

Are your membership options appropriate and strategic?

Evaluate whether your membership options are aligned with current needs and trends. Perhaps you should consolidate options, do away with some outdated categories, or rework definitions (couple, family, corporate, etc.).

Should you discontinue any profit centers?

Are there revenue contributors that are “loss leaders” and, when overhead costs are considered, are breakeven at best?

Are there ancillary services you wish you had never offered in the first place?

This may be your chance to eliminate services that aren’t needed. Reevaluate towel service, locker room amenities, complimentary yoga mats, iced water and free coffee with disposable cups.

Are there employees who may no longer be a fit for your club culture?

Before rehiring commences, determine if any employees or contractors aren’t in line with your culture. A common question during staffing seminars is, “Knowing what you know now, would you hire this person again?”

Do your employee job descriptions need to be updated?

Look at updating the format, core responsibilities, new expected outcomes, club-wide commitments, etc.

Do your compensation plans need to be updated?

What about compensation plans that you may have “lived with” over time, knowing there were outliers, but were hesitant to revise? Do you have long-term employees who benefited from compensation creep and now earn more than the job justifies? Consider commission structures for sales, trainers, teaching pros, etc.

Are there any faltering classes or programs you can end?

Is it time to discontinue a few group exercise classes or programs that were faltering and/or catering to a fringe contingent?

Are there any pieces of equipment that should go?

Are there select pieces of outdated cardiovascular or strength equipment that really should have been discarded years ago, but were kept to appease a vocal minority of members?

Can any hard-to-clean equipment be removed or updated?

Consider removing or refurbishing equipment and surfaces that are hard to sanitize. Think about communal yoga blankets, group activity mats, exercise ropes, chairs and benches with cloth coverings, etc.

Have you started planning for enhanced cleaning procedures?

Have you begun to plan for “conspicuous cleaning” procedures, policies, and systems? Order supplies and double your budget for this category while you’re at it.

Have you mapped the customer journey to help with sanitation?

Would you benefit from “mapping the journey of the customer” in your club related to safety and sanitation? What are the touchpoints, specifically through the lens of what customers are physically touching? E.g., check-in, opening doors, hand sanitizers, equipment, and other high touch areas.

The current situation is dire indeed and there will be fallout in our industry affecting clubs and members. So many clubs are worried about just surviving by any means possible, and rightly so. Adopting a mindset that you will make it through this and thrive when it is over is a positive start. Pushing the reset button and planning your revival will help ensure a successful future.

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