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A Reopening Strategy in the Face of Uncertainty

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Reopening Strategy

Let’s take a moment to recognize both the significant challenges we have faced as an industry, and the enormous opportunities we have in front of us before addressing a reopening strategy in the face of uncertainty

Despite our fears around disruption and innovation – COVID-19, fitness wearables, Peloton, other online fitness offerings, etc., will certainly not be the death of the “traditional” health and wellness industry. Looking back, we can see the television did not decimate the movie theater business. The radio did not usher in the end of the live-concert era and the microwave has not ended the near-daily use of an oven in our homes. Nor will these aforementioned disruptors and innovators harken the end of all fitness career professionals.

What those disruptions and innovations did do, however, was move entire industries to reevaluate the quality of their member experiences though. Much like what we should all be considering right now.

For example:

  • Netflix did not kill Blockbuster – unreasonable late fees did.
  • Uber did not kill the taxi cab business – limited access and fares did. 
  • Amazon did not kill other retailers – poor customer service and experience did. 
  • Airbnb isn’t killing the hotel industry – limited availability and pricing options are. 

Not being customer-centric is always the biggest threat to any business. So now, as an industry when we are all coming out of some of the strictest of mandated closures, why is it the largest portion of our industry continues to see such incredibly slow returns to pre-covid engagement levels?

Many outside experts believe disruption and innovation have permanently wrecked our brick-and-mortar model and our members have forever migrated to online platforms or at-home solutions. Although I do believe it is fair to concede a number of early adopters likely will continue to prefer those options, I would argue our opportunity ahead of us right now is far-greater than the challenges we have faced.

For well over a decade now, the U.S. based health and wellness club membership participation rates have remained in the low 20th percentiles. I submit for your consideration one of the few favors this pandemic has done for our industry however, is launch a renaissance like new interest in one’s own healthy lifestyle our marketing efforts were never been able to do. The pandemic has educated, mobilized and ultimately attracted an incredible new interest in the health and wellness sector to a great many of our categories including wearables and overall increased activity.

So why are we not realizing this great surge of new-member traffic? Personally, I believe it is because many of our old ways of marketing to prospective members pre-pandemic was not great anyways and will almost certainly no longer work in a post-pandemic world. 

As an industry we have been mostly mistaken that in the past, our primary competition was other fitness offerings. The real challenge we have always faced has truly been our industry’s perception in the public eye.

We were lumped into the categories of bars, restaurants, bowling alleys, etc. When government was making choices about what is too dangerous to remain open and to what degree, our brick-and-mortar health clubs didn’t even get a second look. We were all shut down as, “super spreader hot-spots.”

Our industry was, and is still to this day, perceived as anything other than “essential.” Thankfully, under Brent Darden’s visionary leadership at IHRSA we are finally planting the seeds of a better tomorrow today. But if we all expect to eventually change the perception of an entire industry, then we all need to share in the PR blitz that will rewrite our profiles through the lenses of government, media and the public eye.

A potential reopening strategy could look like:

  • Take in restoration of any programs or program areas to ensure you have effectively implemented and are prepared to effectively message the robust precautions taken to ensure member safety. 
  • Then evaluate based on your locations mandated protocols, what programs you can safely offer that both maximally drive members through the door and maximally drive revenue through the door. 
  • Next, launch a marketing campaign around how your location is the absolute best place to help prospective members achieve their health and wellness goals in 2021.
  • On a daily basis, measure, monitor and manage aspirations versus expectations around relevant metrics like: 
    • Memberships coming off freeze
    • New-member acquisitions
    • Program participation
    • Overall fitness facility traffic
    • Effectiveness of any win-back campaign messaging

Personally, I believe the next six months are critical to both our success as individual operators and as the aspirations of becoming an essential industry in the wellness spectrum. As vaccines continue to roll out, and cases drop, I anticipate we will begin to see monthly-membership business volumes return to pre-covid rates by no later than the fall.

There is more innovation ahead of us than behind us. Success is not a happy accident my fitness friends.

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Jason R. Stowell

Jason R. Stowell is recognized as one of the highest-grossing sales performers over the last 25 years in the health and wellness industry. As an award-winning leader, Jason provides strategic planning, talent management and expert-level sales training through his Empowered Fitness Sales System workshops and industry-leading sales presentations at conferences internationally. Connect with him now on LinkedIn here

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