If you’re lucky, your city, county or state has given specific, actionable recommendations for reopening gyms.
In other cases, gym owners are left to click through the bowels of confusing government websites, guessing at which PDFs may actually apply to them.
I’ve seen a lot of gym owners either publicly flouting recommendations — and in some cases posting about doing so on social media — and in other cases privately expressing contempt and disdain for regulations behind closed doors.
Some of the regulations also don’t make a whole lot of sense given what we know about the spread of COVID-19, and some are probably not much more than a bit of theater to make people feel like something is being done.
It’s not my goal to convince anyone in this article to change their stance on COVID-19. Instead, my goal is to explain why businesses should take COVID-19 regulations seriously, even if the owners individually think the whole thing is kind of overrated.
Gyms have been hit hard for the last several months, and people are excited to get back to their regular training.
Additionally, gyms that have taken a financial beating are chomping at the bit to potentially reclaim members who canceled or put their memberships on hold due to COVID-19. And some are even signing up new members.
Still, as we return to the gym, our current and potential new clients will fall into three buckets with respect to COVID-19:
These people either think COVID-19 was a hoax or it’s not much more of a threat to them and their families than a case of influenza. They are unconcerned with regulations and likely to be irritated by them.
These people are likely concerned with the larger implications of the further spread of the virus on society, they are worried COVID-19 would significantly impact their own health, or they are worried they will be a vector for spreading the disease to others. Still, they feel comfortable engaging in activity they feel is safe, well-managed and in compliance with government recommendations.
These people may have pre-existing health conditions, or they may live with others who do. They are not going back to public places with people breathing heavily any time soon, no matter what the regulations are.
In these three groups, there is not much you can do as a gym owner to change the opinions or the behaviors of people in Bucket One or Bucket Three.
The people in Bucket Two, however, are the most malleable.
These individuals expect you to set the tone for how your gym will handle reopening, and their desire to return will be dependent on them feeling like you’re doing a good job.
If they feel your gym is not taking the situation seriously enough, they are likely to delay coming back in and potentially cancel memberships as they lose trust in your leadership. And in more damning and dangerous cases, they may report your business to health inspectors, or speak badly about it to their friends and family or publicly on social media.
So, the downside risk of not taking regulations seriously involves potential fines for your business at a time when few fitness businesses have extra cash lying around. The more likely risk is even more people will cancel at a time when gyms need every single member they can get.
What is the risk of being strict with regulation? Not much more than creating a minor irritation for some of the more cavalier members who just want to work out without having to social distance or use hand sanitizer.
At such a precarious time for the fitness industry, every business needs to be thinking about capping the downside risk of their decisions.
Even if you personally roll your eyes at the whole COVID-19 “thing,” can your business handle thousands of dollars of fines right now? Can it handle losing 10 or 20 more members?
We are likely to make it through the current phase of restrictions relatively quickly provided there is not a large spike in case numbers. The friction of complying with regulations will seem minor in retrospect if we are able to keep our businesses intact as we make it through to the next phase.