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The Challenges and Successes of Reopening


While some clubs are still waiting for the greenlight to reopen, other clubs have been back operating, learning what works and what challenges are arising. One of those clubs is the Little Rock Athletic Club in Little Rock, Arkansas.

“When we opened rates were in the 30% range, slow and steady as we called it,” said Frank Lawrence, the CEO of Little Rock Athletic Club. “We had very limited services and very limited classes. One month into opening, we have more classes, pools are open at limited capacity, and most, but not all, services are going. We are now trending 70% to 75% of check-ins versus same-day last year.”

While attendance rates are rising, the club has had some challenges, one of those being encouraging members to follow the protocols in their reopening plan. Lawrence said while it has been a challenge, the majority of members are following protocols and he credits that to his employees and staff executing their plan well.

“We began working on our plan long before we closed and that helped us when we got the go ahead to open,” said Lawrence. “We worked hard to view the plan through the members’ eyes and make sure we kept them and the staff safe, yet it still felt like the club or home to the member. We reflected upon our values and worked hard to stay true to that.”

Another club that is getting back into the swing of operations is The Houstonian Club in Houston, Texas.

The Houstonian Club had a more gradual opening process. They reopened their racquet sports program on May 1, their outdoor pool complex on May 4 and the entire club on May 18. Cher Harris, the club general manager, said they have seen a gradual rise in their attendance from 25% to 58%. 

Like the Little Rock Athletic Club, The Houstonian has also faced some challenges since reopening. “Our biggest challenge has been members complaining about paying full dues when the services we are offering are limited due to the restrictions placed upon us by governmental entities who are trying to keep our members and the public safe,” said Harris.

Despite this, Harris said she has enjoyed seeing all of their team and their members in person for the first time in a couple of months. Additionally, everyone has been appreciative to be back to the club and their Houstonian family.  

Lisa Gorsline, the president and general manager of the Corpus Christi Athletic Club, has also enjoyed being back with her members inside of her club walls.

The Corpus Christi Athletic Club opened on May 18 and saw 34% of their normal attendance. Within the first week of June, the club started seeing 63% of their normal attendance, slowly increasing each day. 

One of the things that prepared members for the reopening was a member journey mapping guide the club created. “We walked through the club and we tried to eliminate all the touch points for our members, then we defined our policies and procedures to keep our members and employees safe,” said Gorsline. “We also created three videos. The first was a guideline on what to expect when our members came back to the club, the second was a how to clean the equipment video, and the third was how to stay safe in the club.”

Gorsline said the videos displayed a good visual so the members felt like they were part of the solution. The club sent the videos out to the membership a week prior to opening, as well as posted on their Facebook page.

“Another fun component we did was put up a brick paneling wall on our lobby asking what the members missed most about the club,” said Gorsline. “Each member is writing on each brick wall saying what they missed most, and it’s really exciting and interesting to see what our members are writing. It’s a part of our club history now.”

While waiting for your club to reopen can be frustrating and seem never-ending, it is also an opportunity to learn what is working well for others in the industry. Below, each industry leader share their advice for reopening:

Cher Harris:

My advice to club operators is to over prepare. For example, I thought I was being paranoid about ordering Plexiglas shields for over 15 locations in the club in late March, and I asked a colleague I trust immensely, and he told me it’s better to be over prepared then underprepared. He was right. It is very difficult to get Plexiglas shields or even the material in Houston now.  

Frank Lawrence:  

1. Work with local state/city to shape club guidelines.
2. Look at your plan through the lens of keeping staff and members safe, while staying true to who you are.  
3. Film it and study it. Adjust, adapt and innovate as you do so.  
4. Focus on the details.
5. Enjoy the process, and know the industry is part of the solution to get, keep and make people prepared to fight COVID-19 and all diseases out there.  

Lisa Gorsline:

Practice, practice and practice before you reopen. We had an all staff meeting where we walked all our employees through a training on what the club would look like on opening day, what the new responsibilities would be for cleaning, customer service training, sensitivity training, what to do when someone comes in for a hug, what to do if a member refuses to follow the new governor guidelines, etc. I think this was really important to get everyone back on the same page and feeling comfortable in our new work environment. And most of all we listened. We conducted a third-party survey called Medallia and we had surveys go out when we closed to see how we handled the closing, and another survey upon reopening and asked how we did, how clean we were, how the members felt coming back, etc. We can learn a lot from our members if we ask the questions and then really listen to their answers, suggestions and comments. At times we think we know what the members’ needs are, but until we ask, we truly don’t know.

Taylor Brown

Taylor Brown is the assistant editor for Club Solutions Magazine. She can be reached at taylor@peakemedia.com

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