Midtown ‘Levels Up’ Throughout Pandemic, Invests in Future
When the clubs had to shut down due to the pandemic, Jon Brady, the president of Midtown Athletic Clubs, said they asked themselves, “Do we stop everything? Or do we take this as an opportunity and push harder, and give the construction team free reign of the whole building?”
Prior to the shutdown they had set up temporary spaces for members and the construction team was having to work around that.
“We thought a lot about it and chose to dive in with both feet,” said Brady. “We had the funding and believed in the long-term investment. We believe in what we built at [our flagship] Midtown Chicago location, wanted to replicate that experience, and believed we could come out of this better and stronger by these investments.”
The three locations that were renovated were Willowbrook, Bannockburn and Rochester. Brady said they rallied their facilities and construction team and architect who worked on the Chicago project. The teams started sketching things out and worked as their own construction team, taking the lead and bringing in sub-contractors to help.
“This allowed us to completely overhaul Willowbrook, for example, in an incredible timeframe and open the club when we did, in July, as a brand-new facility,” explained Brady. “The feedback has been outstanding. We’ve had fewer cancels there than our other clubs and we’ve had more people come off hold. Our check-in percentage is some of the highest across the company. So, members have taken to it very positively.”
The Bannockburn and Rochester locations reopened in mid-September, but the renovations won’t be fully complete until mid-October.
When renovating the clubs, Midtown Athletic Club took the pandemic into consideration when it came to design decisions. For example, Brady said small indoor cycling studios might not have been well received by members post-COVID, so they knocked down the walls and expanded the space.
Additionally, they installed a very high-tech cleaning system called AIRPYX, which is a hospital-operating standard pathogen killer that runs 24-hours a day and has a 99.9% kill rate.
“We decided to invest heavily in technology which is cutting-edge,” said Brady. “It certainly wasn’t inexpensive. But some of the feedback has been positive surrounding the fact we took this so seriously and built these systems into our clubs. It’s not just about having disinfecting wipes or more housekeepers, which we have done as well. It’s looking at the systems that are available that can keep you safe all the time.”
Brady said they learned many lessons while undergoing three renovations during a global pandemic, one being the importance of communication. “Communication is crucial when you’re working on tight timeframes,” he said. “We were meeting twice a day, and informally throughout. Decisions had to be made quickly and often in real time. We formalized our meeting structure with one at 8 a.m. and one at 3 p.m., when the construction crews would generally flip.”
Additionally, Brady had to properly communicate to his staff members who were furloughed. In the two clubs in particular — Bannockburn and Rochester — he had to consider what the staff were going to think about the fact they were investing all this money in the clubs, but furloughed the employees.
“We had to be cognizant of how people are thinking about their situation, and how people are thinking about our decision-making process,” said Brady. “And, we had to be very clear that we only had access to the renovation money because it was through the bank, and couldn’t be used for anything else. It’s not money we can then take and use for payroll. It’s a construction loan. So, we explained that to people, how the funding works.”
Brady hosted Zoom calls with associates and had open house conversations with them. He explained the projects required a multi-pronged approach from a communications level and was a huge learning curve for all of them. Despite the challenges, Brady believes the renovations will pay off in the long run.
“It’s been a whirlwind and a crash course in management and leadership with a small skeleton crew of people,” said Brady. “We’re really pleased with the outcome and thrilled with the product we’ve been able to show members. I think it positions us really strongly for the future. At a time where people are feeling more confident to come back to the clubs, feeling more confident in the environment — I think we’re going to be in a strong position to take advantage of that.”