Originally published March 12, 2020
I have had an enormous number of emails about the virus and how it is affecting businesses.
Here are my thoughts, which are based as the situation is today, on what you can do to protect your business.
The first rule is to provide leadership. Your clients, if left without a constant stream of contact from you, tend to make up things in their own head.
You have to take control of the narrative on social media every day. You should be posting several times day letting your people know what is going on and why the gym is a safe place to be. You need to emphasize that the gym is being professionally cleaned every single day and sanitized. Professionally does not mean the kids who work in the gym are the cleaners. The last thing you want to do is run a post of a young male, who is not recognized by the community as an icon of cleanliness, wiping down the equipment with a spray bottle of “who knows what” chemicals.
Get a professional cleaning company to do your gym daily. Yes, you need to figure out how to pay for this. Post pictures of the cleaning, cite their reputation as professionals, and let your clients know you are on this.
You need to get a member to say that this gym is one of the cleanest places you could ever visit, and she is impressed by how on top of it you are. This must be a female since males have such a low standard of cleanliness (think back to your dorm days) and it would help if she is a medical person, such as a nurse or doctor. Take it seriously but emphasize that you, the client, still need to work out, you still need to move to help keep the virus at bay by keeping your immune system up, and that your gym is one of the cleanest places you could ever find-- we wipe down between workouts, the gym is sanitized three times per day, etc.
Post daily about exercise and nutrition as a way to keep the immune system intact. You must take a positive lead and take control quickly. This may last for at least another month but you can fight back.
Here is a sample letter from Hilton management that is nicely done, which might give you some ideas:
In these uncertain times, I wanted to reach out to you personally about what we are doing here at Hilton to support you and your travel plans. As the situation around novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) continues to evolve, we are doing everything we can to ensure your travel safety and provide maximum flexibility.
As it has always been, the safety and security of our guests and team members remains our highest priority. We take great pride in maintaining the highest standards of cleanliness and hygiene. In response to the coronavirus, we have taken additional measures developed in consultation with global and local public health authorities (including the WHO and CDC) to make our cleaning and hygiene protocols even more rigorous:
Our hotel teams are receiving ongoing briefings and enhanced operating protocols.
We have increased the frequency of cleaning our public areas (including lobbies, elevators, door handles, public bathrooms, etc.) and have continued the use of hospital-grade disinfectant.
We will continue to adjust food and beverage service in accordance with current food safety recommendations. We have increased the deployment of antibacterial hand sanitizers.
We have activated our regional and global response teams to provide around-the- clock assistance to our hotels and are prepared to act swiftly should we be alerted to a case of coronavirus at one of our properties.
SHOULD I FREEZE MEMBERSHIPS?
This is the toughest of questions. If I do all the above, I would not freeze except for medical, defined as you are in the hospital. If we freeze for a cold or the flu, then half our membership would freeze every winter.
If you have to freeze, you are doing it correctly by getting the payments over 12 months and adding time at the end of the client’s memberships. This is, by the way, why I so heavily advocate 12-month memberships instead of month-to-month or packages. You have time to fight back if you have a receivable base, but you could lose an entire month’s business, or more, if the client pays as he or she goes.
Remember, for every member that wants to stay at home there will be one that has to get out of the house and is looking for a safe haven, which you have to create the perception that you are.
We can adjust as needed if the situation changes.
I do not know how this will end, but as small business owners the fight begins today to protect your business.
Yours in fitness, Thom