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What COVID-19 Taught Us About Club Culture

club culture

“Club culture” — we throw this term around and read about it everywhere. There is really no direct metric to track it, which really is scary when you think about the importance it plays when you aren’t the cheapest option in town. Imagine not being able to track the performance of your marketing campaigns or personal training clients’ progress.

Sure, you can point to attrition and assume your club culture plays a role, but you can’t really isolate the variable. That is, of course, until you’re forced to close for two months and all other variables, metrics and revenue disappear.

With the door locked, the lights turned off and members quarantined at home, there was a tremendous amount of uncertainty moving through what became two and a half months. As the light at the end of the tunnel appeared and we were given the green light to reopen, there was one thing that was certain: We knew exactly how important club culture was to navigating this unprecedented time.

In Fall 2019, we launched private members-only Facebook groups for each of our locations. I’d like to say this was because I predicted a future where this virtual community would be the only “club” we had for several months, but you probably already know that would be a lie. 

After listening to fitness professional advisor Thomas Plummer and Mike Gelfgot, the co-owner of Anytime Fitness in Piqua, Ohio, speak at a regional Anytime Fitness conference, we started putting a focus on really pushing our culture forward through fun events, raising money for charity, and creating these online groups where members could interact and help each other.

What transpired next let us know this renewed effort was paying off at a crucial time. Members, with a little encouragement from staff, began posting screenshots of their workouts at home, sharing recipes and acknowledging their struggles. We created chains where members took a selfie while they were out on a walk and tagged two other members to do the same. 

Messages and comments poured in from members surprised by how much they missed their gym. I can promise none of these messages said “Man, I really miss that two-way pec fly and rear delt machine.” Members talked about how much they missed seeing other members and the staff. Some pointed to how they never thought they would miss going to the gym as much as they did. Others scheduled times to meet up and walk with people they met and became friends with through small group and team trainings.

Culture is the most important factor in retention — I’d argue it’s even more important than results, as indicated by those who aren’t achieving results being there year after year because it has become their community and that important “third place” outside of work and home. The pandemic brought culture from intangible to tangible. A strong club culture allowed us to keep our members engaged and gave us a foundation to build excitement for reopening.

If you aren’t doing so already — or haven’t to the level you should — I encourage everyone to use reopening as a fresh start toward building the type of community atmosphere in your facility that members will covet.

Ryan O’Toole is the regional manager of Anytime Fitness Cheswick, Leechburg, and an upcoming third location in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He can be reached at rotoole@mccoolhq.com.

Ryan O'Toole

Ryan O'Toole is the regional manager for Anytime Fitness Cheswick, Leechburg and Kittanning, and the founder of Culture First Fitness. He can be reached at ryan@culturefirstfitness.com.

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