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2021: Moving the Industry Forward

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Industry leaders share lessons they learned in 2020 and how the industry can move forward into 2021. 

Gale 2021

Gale Landers, the founder and CEO of Fitness Formula Clubs (FFC)

A lot of club operators are struggling — what’s the best piece of advice or words of encouragement you can provide?

For years our industry’s good friend Rick Caro would circulate an annual survey questionnaire to club owners and one of the questions has been, “What is a major threat to your business?” And my answer for years has been the same: government intervention. The COVID-19 pandemic has brought this to a new level. There will be huge business and personal tax revenue shortfalls across the country. History repeats itself, just in a different form. A recession or geopolitical event comes along in this world every 10 years or so that shakes things up. This pandemic is one of those. Becoming active in a united voice of advocacy with the decision makers of government is critical. Being adaptable, resilient and not overleveraged are keys to thriving once again.

What are your strategies for having a successful 2021?

The pandemic has made us all take a fresh look at sifting the wheat from the chaff as it relates to operating cost essentials versus non-essentials. As we move deeper through the arc of the pandemic, we are in the process of shifting from the early reopening mindset and hyper focus on “operations and service” to an elevated focus on “service and sales.” This includes laser execution revolving around enhanced member segmentation within our 11 club location markets. This will be critical to rebuilding certain revenue-generating departments, which will define future earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization metrics going forward.

Larry 2021

Larry Conner, the president and general manager of Stone Creek Club & Spa

What do you feel was the biggest learning lesson as a result of the pandemic for the industry at large? 

The value of networking and being heard. Together so much more can be accomplished than by ourselves. We must work together with other clubs to educate local and national government leaders on why health clubs should be an essential business in healthcare.

A lot of club operators are struggling — what’s the best piece of advice or words of encouragement you can provide? 

Health and fitness will be in higher demand than ever in 2021. Yes, home fitness has grown and will be a better fit for some people, but if we do this right and focus on the experience we provide to our members, demand will grow and we will all benefit. I have been through many different crises during my 30-plus years in this industry and each time our industry came back stronger. We need to listen to what is being asked for and deliver. Provide that “unique” experience.

Do you have any creative revenue-generating ideas for rebounding post-COVID? 

During these times, cash is king. When we needed cash quickly, we would do a one-day gift card sale. For every $100 in gift cards purchased, we gave them an additional free $20 gift card. The key to success with this is to be hassle free — don’t have severe limitations on what they can use these cards on and allow them to buy as much as they want. Let them use them as they see fit to say thank you for their membership and their support. This will generate some goodwill and can get people to try different programs or services, which could lead to additional revenue in the future. Best of all, it generates cash now when you need it.

Carol

Carol Nalevanko, the president of Village Health Clubs & Spas

What are your strategies for having a successful 2021? 

First determine how deep of a hole we are in and then create a plan to dig our way out. Since the economic and pandemic situation changes often, it will be important to continue to do financial forecasting. Expense control remains essential. We will try and grow our revenue to at least break even in 2021. A strong focus on getting the freeze members to reactivate remains a key element to our success.

Do you have any creative revenue-generating ideas for rebounding post-COVID? 

The Village Health Clubs are known for their social element. The restrictions such as physical distancing and occupancy limits have severely curtailed any social programs at our clubs since March 2020. We will be offering more social programs, while maintaining social distancing, to invite our freeze members back to the club and add the social component to our active members. Some examples of these social programs include hikes, cooking classes out by our pools, virtual fitness challenges, small group circuit training, etc.

Chez 2021

Chez Misko, the COO of Wisconsin Athletic Club

What was the biggest learning lesson from your business specifically?

The importance of leadership, your reputation and having flexibility on your focus areas. Other business items are the importance of innovation, execution and having enough cash on hand for emergencies.

A lot of club operators are struggling — what’s the best piece of advice or words of encouragement you can provide?

  • Re-evaluate every aspect of your business.
  • Brace yourself for another challenging 12 to 24 months.

What are your strategies for having a successful 2021?

Evaluate and add various revenue streams. Evaluate and reduce all nonessential costs. COVID-19 has caused us to re-evaluate everything we have been doing for the past 44 years. As a result, we have been able to make significant changes to our program offerings and increase pricing.

Andrew

Andrew Alfano, the CEO of Retro Fitness

What do you feel was the biggest learning lesson as a result of the pandemic for the industry at large? 

The biggest realization we have come to at Retro Fitness is we are not just gyms — we are health clubs and we are an extension of the healthcare system. Exercise is medicine, and the best vaccine anyone could have is being fit and healthy.  

People need health clubs for both their physical and mental health. People need to be fit, but people also need people. They need a sense of community and belonging. This is what we offer better than anyone.

We also learned while the fitness journey starts at your local health club, maintaining a healthy lifestyle happens outside of the club as well. This is why we focus on health and wellness as a whole: from inspiring people to take the stairs and get in those additional steps, to healthy cooking, nutrition and even the importance of sleep.

What are your strategies for having a successful 2021? 

Our overall focus is on health, wellness and innovation, combined with continuing to improve the member experience. We are becoming more of a lifestyle brand advocating for fitness in simple ways. We have moved away from taking the fitness journey with our members only when they are in the club. We will begin offering additional services by rolling out partnerships with professional chefs and other experts to help members focus on nutrition and mental health, rather than just workouts inside the four walls of a Retro Fitness location. 

Paula 2021

Paula Neubert, the president and general manager of Club Greenwood

What do you feel was the biggest learning lesson as a result of the pandemic for the industry at large? 

The fitness industry is packed full of inspiring, motivating and very knowledgeable individuals. We have learned how important it is for us to work together, to be united in our efforts to serve our communities and be a strong voice working with state and local health departments as an essential part of keeping people healthy.

What are your strategies for having a successful 2021? 

Realize and know where our bottom landed in 2020 and prepare a well-thought-out plan for when and how to get back to pre-COVID numbers. That plan needs to be realistic with small goals along the way. There will be setbacks, but we need to take small steps and be prepared to modify at any point. We are looking to revamp many departments. What was once a productive way to operate may need to change and look at those changes as opportunities to do something new, fresh and unique. Keep expenses tight and be smart with personnel. Make sure you have the right people on your team who want to work together to serve your members and help grow your company. 

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Taylor Brown

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

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