How 3 Fitness Studios Shifted Strategies During COVID-19

Shelter-in-place and social distancing measures have hit gyms and studios hard as the COVID-19 pandemic continues. How are fitness facilities – particularly small businesses – adapting to avoid closure and serve their clients?  

On April 29, ACE convened 3 industry experts for the live panel “How 3 Fitness Studios Shifted Strategies During COVID-19.” Panelists included Ashley Selman, MA, CSCS, founder of Evolution Trainers and owner of Thrive Studio Coaching; Mike Deibler, MS, ACE Certified Personal Trainer, owner of San Diego Premier Training, and ACE Subject Matter Expert; and Dan Kleckner, owner of Kutting Edge Fitness in Washington state and ACE Subject Matter Expert with more than 15 years of experience in the fitness industry;. Key points from the discussion are summarized here. 

Move online  

If you haven’t already, move sessions and workout options online. This allows clients to continue to get their workouts and connect with trainers – and it provides businesses with a continued revenue source. Panelists shared they have tiered pricing for their clients where live, interactive coaching and group sessions cost more than their pre-recorded workouts. Many fitness gyms and studios also share workout ideas online via social media outlets and emails. To mix up content, consider partnering with other leaders and experts in the community. For example, Dan collaborated with other exercise professionals to host joint webinars for clients. In addition, Dan’s team will monitor client virtual participation and email open rates. If a regular client hasn’t been to virtual sessions and are not opening up their emails to access recorded workouts, a team member will call the client to check-in. 

Enhance communication with clients and staff 

All panelists agreed – communication is vital during this time. With clients, all experts recommend regular communication to share workout options, get feedback on existing options and even share info about non-fitness virtual gatherings. Mike’s business hosts regular happy hour events on Zoom where participants play games, reconnect, and share stories.  

With staff, panelists regularly communicate with their teams, sharing business revenue numbers, anticipated next steps for the business, and state and federal financial options (e.g., small business loan options for contractors, unemployment info for employees). Ashley hosts virtual staff-only happy hours to connect with her team, share stories, and remind her team that leadership has their back; they are in this together. Dan agrees – with a small business, it’s hard to find quality employees, so it’s important to support and keep existing employees. He works with each trainer individually to determine which hours make the most sense to them, so he can provide as close to normal pay as possible and based on a trainer’s availability during this time. For Mike’s team, trainers create basic exercise instructional videos (e.g., how to use a kettlebell swing correctly) to earn administrative pay if there are reduced client sessions. These videos have been something the studio had been meaning to do for a while, so it’s an opportunity to build the studio’s online resources while supporting staff. 

Prepare for the future with flexibility 

With regulation updates announced regularly, all three panelists emphasized the importance of being flexible to adapt to changes quickly and being prepared for what’s to come. States are beginning to open up again, the panelists shared preparations they are making to re-open their studios including:  

  • Share any updated sanitation protocols and new social distancing procedures with clients, so they are informed and feel safe.  
  • Re-evaluate entrances. If you have two entrances, consider closing one to better monitor the number of people in the gym, or consider one entrance for one type of client (e.g., clients in semi-private sessions) and use the other entrance for other clients (e.g., general gym users). 
  • Use a staggered scheduling system so there are not too many trainers and clients in the space at the same time. Some gyms may add an extra buffer time between time slots so clients coming and going are not in close contact.  
  • Space equipment out or develop a system where individuals can use machines while still social distancing.

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