4 Things to Consider When Reopening Your Gym

reopening your gym
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I own South Loop Strength & Conditioning in downtown Chicago, and every time I think I’ve completed this article, new guidance emerges from our state and city government that necessitates a rewrite.

Before COVID-19, we had hundreds of members and a staff of over 20 employees.

We closed for business in the middle of March at the same time Illinois mandated the close of bars and restaurants.

In April, we took a 41% revenue hit and May is certainly going to be worse.

We wanted to share some of the scenarios we are planning for in hopes that will help other people going through the reopening process.

Everyone already knows we’re going to need updated sanitation protocols, hard caps on class size, and social distancing within the gym, so I won’t spend any time on those things.

Instead, I’ll try to share some less obvious plans we are making.

Our State’s Current Guidelines

The recommendations for Illinois are unclear at the moment.

We are sheltering in place until at least the end of May, and when we move into the next phase of reopening, we will be able to do some in-person training.

The way things are currently worded, it seems like we may only be able to offer personal training in the gym while we may be able to do classes of less than 10 people outdoors.

But, these guidelines leave us with more questions than answers:

  • Does doing personal training mean we can have two people in the gym, as in a Coach and a client?
  • Does it mean we can have five personal training sessions going on — five pairs of one Coach and one client?
  • Or, does it mean we can have 10 total people in the gym at a time, all potentially doing a class?

Here are some of our thoughts for these different potential options:

Staggering Classes with Open Gym Hours

If we are only allowed to have two people in the gym at a time, there’s not much to plan for. 

If this is the case, we will need to quickly shift our membership options away from monthly class memberships to a personal training model.

We will likely continue to bill some sort of monthly membership fee and allow members to purchase one-on-one sessions on top of that.

If we are allowed to have more than two people in the gym, we plan to block off different types of timeslots throughout the day.

We will have slots for people to do the group workout of the day that is programmed for our online classes, slots for people to do their own training or follow individualized programs, and slots for people to do one-on-one sessions.

If the requirement is everyone training is working one-on-one with a Coach, we will offer options for personal training based upon doing either customized versions of the class workouts or doing fully individualized sessions.

We will also need to budget in time for staff training — especially since some of our staff are high level competitors with serious training obligations.

Our goal is to cater to each of our primary markets — group class members, individualized programming clients and personal training clients — while adhering to restrictions and maintaining some semblance of logistical control over what’s going on.

Offering a Hybrid of Online Classes, Outdoor Workouts and In-Person Training

Given that significant restrictions on the number of people in the gym is going to be necessary in all scenarios, we will continue to offer online options similar to those we’ve been providing for the last two months.

Plus, many of our members will be continuing to work from home and some will not feel comfortable training with others.

We have no idea what the optimal blend of online and in-person activities looks like, nor do we have any idea what our members’ training schedules will look like based upon their work situations.

Before rolling out a new schedule, we will take a survey of our members’ preferences regarding online classes, in-gym classes and outdoor workouts. 

We will also let them know we plan to update the schedule on a weekly basis.

By setting expectations up front that things are dynamic, we hope to both elicit regular feedback from members — many of whom have opinions but don’t speak up most of the time since they assume their input is not wanted or will be ignored — as well as reduce complaints if someone’s favorite Zoom workout is canceled or moved.

Reclaiming Equipment

Like most gyms, we loaned out pretty much every valuable piece of equipment in our gym — except the bike erg because that thing is super fragile.

As we resume some in-person operations, we need a plan reclaiming equipment back from members.

  • Do we set a date that everything must be returned by?
  • Do we allow people to keep equipment if they are training at home but require them to bring it back if they are training at the gym?
  • Do we potentially start charging a rental fee for equipment that is not returned? We have been letting members keep equipment for free.

I’m partial to the rental fee option since that both allows members to keep equipment at home if it’s important to them, and it gives the gym some much-needed revenue.

Even a nominal fee often filters effectively for people who actually value having the equipment versus those who would just keep equipment out of convenience or inertia.

Restructuring Membership Options

We’ve kept our monthly membership structure the same while we’ve been closed, and some members have switched over to paying half of their normal membership fee.

I think it’s unlikely we will be able to resume anything resembling “normal” operations before September 1 — and I think it’s plausible restrictions will be in place for much longer than that, or that a second wave of infections results in another round of sheltering in place. So, we will have to consider how we plan to bill members going forward. 

During normal operations, we were able to have roughly 35 people training at once during our busiest times. It seems like we will be operating at less than one-third of our normal capacity for several more months.

As most of you reading this know, the fitness business is already relatively low margin, so we will potentially have to restructure the way our memberships work and lean more into one-on-one coaching models. 

Can we generate additional revenue through ongoing individualized programming services? Will more people be willing to hire a Coach to customize a program for them and engage in ongoing check-ins? Will the typical CrossFit client become more interested in health and longevity rather than intensity and performance?

We don’t have answers to any of these questions currently and I don’t think the market is quite ready yet to start searching for new services. But, as people realize their previous routines will not be coming back for awhile, I think new lanes will open up. 

Todd Nief
Todd Nief is the owner of South Loop Strength & Conditioning, located in downtown Chicago. He also coaches athletes through Legion Strength & Conditioning, a coaching company focused on individualized coaching and programming.