Don't Blame Coronavirus, Turn It To Your Advantage In These 3 Phases

Coronavirus might be making you close your gym for good, but it's not a virus's fault that your members are leaving you. Use this painful situation for what it is; a valuable teaching tool.

Now, this might be the first real gut check you've head as a gym owner. It's leaving you questioning yourself and why you got into this business in the first place. Members are canceling left and right or asking to be put on a hold for multiple months. The first real place to look for answers is yourself. Look in the mirror if you want a glimpse as to why they are leaving right when you needed them the most.

Let's talk about some ways you can set yourself up for success so this can just be a blip on the radar. As the old adage goes, the best time to plant a tree is twenty years ago, the second best time is now.

The Basics

Workouts & Classes

Workouts and class offerings are what draw new members to your facility. The workouts you provide and the class types you are offering are your bread and butter, they are what bring new people in and keep help current members engaged.

You need to make sure you're constantly innovating; offering more than a single class type, be creative in your class types and time offerings if you hope to see a flood of new members. The same can be said for workouts, if you're programming the same workouts that they can find on the internet for half the price of your membership, you're already losing. Because guess what, the amount of free workouts they can access right now is truly limitless. Program something that will show intent, creativity, and hopefully is something that can be measured, repeated and improved upon. Members need goals just as much as they need enjoyment.

You must also think about yours offerings with with your clients in mind. i.e. the build it and they will come attitude. Members need to be bought in, but they also need to enjoy it enough to tell their friends about it. If they are having tons of fun and no results, or incredible results but no fun, they'll find some place new. You need to find a middle ground, if you have, you've struck gold. Keep doing whatever that is.




Does your gym have values? Does it stand for something like Women's empowerment? No complaining? Community with positivity? Do you want to be super inclusive, with no leaderboards or scores other than their personal note books?

If you don't hold yourself and your gym to a strict moral code, it can cause more harm than good. Take the time, let it drive itself naturally but also be there to guide it. Work on messaging and branding, make sure everything you say, do and post has your gym's values at heart. Having a set of strong, definable, actionable values builds incredible community.

Community is the backbone of your facility; if you don't have members, you don't have a gym at all. You need to keep the community buzzing with life. Do you know everyone's names and/or birthdays? Are you checking in with your members weekly or monthly? Do they all have your cell phone number? Do you know when they haven't been to the gym in a while? Do you ask them about their latest vacation? If you don't invest in your gym's community, you're no better than a multi-million dollar chain.

Your workouts can be what draws people in, your community is what keeps them.


Personal Touch

How often do you check in with members? Do you have them list out goals when they stat in your facility? Do you post about them on social media? Do you have a monthly goal whiteboard hanging in the gym for all to see?

While it's important to make sure people are getting a great workout and enjoying the class, you need to unlock the next level of buy-in, solving for them individually. Members may not care what their mile time is what their 1RM back squat is, but they love the workouts and just want to be able to chase their kids around the yard again or be able to wake up in the morning without being in terrible pain. Adding personal connection, personal touch and personal goals for each and every member will help you walk a fine line of solving for the masses while solving for the individual.

This could be as simple as knowing their goals/injuries and giving them a personal scale or goal for each workout when they come to class. Your members just want to be healthy, not everyone wants or needs to look like a fitness model. 

Do you want to solve your member retention issue? Look in the mirror and prove your value to your clients. 

Advanced Tactics

Have a Real Budget

Do you operate your business at or above break even? Can you handle not running classes or getting membership payments for a week? A month? 6 months? Fund your gym just like you would fund your own bank account. Do you have an emergency fund account with a minimum of 3 months net revenue built up? If you save some each month, and put in a rainy day fund and never tap into it, someday you soon you might just be there. Maybe it takes a 6 months, maybe a year, or even longer. But you should always be working below break even (in the green) and storing some funds away just in case. 

How do you do this? This might mean taking a look at the equipment you're buying, this usually is one of the biggest culprit for gyms.

Gym equipment is just like an old car, if your equipment is well maintained you don't need the latest and greatest. You need enough to satisfy your members and your programming. That means take a look at your class size averages, and what you're programming. If you average 8 people per class and already have 8 rowers, you don't need 10 more rowers.

You shouldn't be buying things just because it looks cool. You know what is cool? Not having to worry that money won't come in for 6 months and your lifestyle doesn't have to change.


Prove Your Value

Your members come for the workouts and stay because of you. Members can get workouts online for free or $20/month form just about anyone these days. What are you doing to warrant them spending $100+/month for a membership. This also extends to your staff and coaches. Why you? Why do they chose your facility? Are you fully bought in and helping members and staff/coaches so they can reach their full potential? If you don't have the skill set needed, you need to look external to bring in the person/people that can.  

Much like making sure your members are bought in to your vision, you also need to empower your staff. Make sure they are empowered to go after initiatives they are passionate about, and this might be a tough pill to swallow but they also need to make a real living working at facility. If you don't empower them, they will leave faster than your clients, which will cause you more trouble and headache than if you lost 20 members overnight.

Your value could be your connections in the industry, it could be the creative workouts, or it could be your marketing ideas. These can be said for your staff as well, find both your and their strengths and double down on those. 

But just because you've found a niche and have found some success (seeing a revenue uptick), doesn't mean it'll last forever. If you stop looking to improve yourself, your facility, your staff or your community, then people will begin to look elsewhere. Always push the limit, always try a new tactic, always A/B test and look for the next way to improve. The day your business dies is the day you stop learning. 

Never get stagnant.


Speciality Offerings

Empowering your staff might lead you to certain offerings you couldn't unlock before. You or your staff might be able to offer 1-on-1 nutrition coaching for clients. You might be able to run a new speciality class, like running or weightlifting. These offerings also could have a price tag attached to them, which might help you boost your revenue and open up new doors for your business. Especially things like nutrition, these can quickly bring in a quick stream of cash and if successful, they can also be a real financial security blanket. 

You might also consider a mentorship program for clients looking to take their fitness experience to the next level and get into coaching. Can you guide them through learning the ropes, or do you know someone who might? Hiring and developing from within should always be the goal if at all possible. If you have clients that want to learn from you and other coaches and want to become coaches themselves, it's one of the highest honors in the industry. Take a victory lap.



Multiple Revenue Streams:

Virtual coaching is the name of the game right now. This phrase means  a couple of things, but in it's truest sense means virtual 1-on-1 coaching with clients. This means they get workouts delivered right to their phones/computers that you create for them, while helping them meet their very specific goals. You're truly solving for the individual here. If solving for your clients needs and taking their health and fitness to the next level, you're unlocked the highest retention path in the industry. 

If you're able to tap into this, by conducting personal training, either in person or virtually (ideally both), this opens up a potentially truly unlimited revenue stream for you. The amount of people switching from group training entirely, or adding personal training to their rotation is happening at an alarming rate. This should be treated like being told to buy Amazon stock in 1997. It's a sure thing, make sure you don't miss out.

What about events? A 6-12week health and fitness challenge?  Are you or your connections an expert in a field in the fitness industry? Are you able to host or co-host a seminar? Maybe a clinic? Host a speciality course? If you can market your speciality and get people to show up with money in hand you'll be on to something. 

Just like your personal portfolio, the more you can diversify your income streams, the better off you'll be if something like a global lockdown shows up. Because your success can not and should not be tied to a singular stream.



3-5 Year Plan:

So now that you're operating well within your means and sticking to your budget, let's talk long term. Are you currently renting your space in your building? If yes, do you want to do that forever? 

Let's use that budget and expand it out once you have filled up emergency rainy day fund we mentioned earlier. Start putting some of that money to use, or store away with a different goal in mind. Why not save up for a new location, a second location, or save up to building your own space and make it truly your own.

That being said though, you need to always "work in the green". Every month you should be operating in such a way you are guaranteeing to be making money. After all if you're operating at break even or worse, losing money each month, a 1, 3 or 5 year plan might be rapidly disappearing in front of you. Save that money, and reduce any worry you might have the next time your gym is forced to close it's doors for an extended period of time. 

When you think and plan about these 3-5 year goals they should make you uncomfortable. They should be lofty, and they should put some fear in you. If they don't, then you aren't aiming high enough.


Strategic Partnerships:

Are you super personable? Posting amazing content on social media? Industry expert? Have you thought about jumping on a podcast or a webinar with likeminded individuals? If not you should. Podcasts and webinars are a very cost effective way to spread your message, and your passion to the masses. The larger your reach (or their reach), the more clients you have the chance to interact with. Podcasts and webinars are the 2020 version of word of mouth. Use them to your advantage.

Do you have a small business collective in your neighborhood? If so, you should join it. Cross marketing with them is a great way to get your brand in front of people you might not normally have access to. It could be something as simple as a flyer out front of your favorite restaurant. You could take it up and partner with a local restaurant and create an item on their menu and get a revenue share out of it. Subliminal marketing is a very power tool. Get in your prospective clients heads as often as possible and then subconsciously it'll begin to shift their narrative towards looking at joining your facility.

Turning lastly back into the events world, if you can market your speciality and get people to show up with money in hand you'll be on to something. These vents could be a nutrition challenge, a 6 week get fit challenge on your facility's Instagram account or hosting a competition or anything in between! If you're passionate about it, there is an event about it and there are people willing to pay the price of admission.

Regardless of where you're at in this journey, there is always something to improve upon. You could work on getting bettering social media content and cheaper acquisition costs. You could also look at tightening your budgeting and starting a rainy day fund. You might also finally say yes to getting on a podcast and putting your face and voice out into the world.

Just make sure you're always coming back to the core of this whole journey. This is your passion, but make a living out of it. If you can't turn the lights on, your dream dies.

Don't be a statistic, be a success story.

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Ian Senge