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Leading Through a Crisis

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Leading Through a Crisis

Industry leaders share their biggest learning lessons from the pandemic and tips for leading through a crisis.

The COVID-19 pandemic put the gym industry and its leaders through countless challenges month after month. Here, four industry leaders discuss their biggest learning lessons from the pandemic and the advice they have for other leaders who are continuing to fight. 

Leading Through a Crisis

Rodney Steven II, the owner of Genesis Health Clubs

Gym leaders have had a crash-course in crisis management because of the COVID-19 pandemic. What was your biggest learning lesson?

RS: Roll with the punches. You get hit and keep focused. Let it hit your shoulders and roll right off; don’t let it weigh you down. We have work to do and progress to make.

What advice can you offer other gym leaders about leading through a crisis?

RS: Keep on trucking. Do what you do best and keep it up. The one positive momentum you can control is your attitude and your intensity. Keep moving forward. You have two choices: cry about it and get depressed — who knows where that will take you. Or keep moving forward, do what you do best and stay consistent and strong. You will prevail with that attitude — keep on trucking.

Leading Through a Crisis

Craig Cote, the CEO of Mountainside Fitness

Gym leaders have had a crash-course in crisis management because of the COVID-19 pandemic. What was your biggest learning lesson?

CC: You ask a very good question as we look back on the past 19 months. It does feel like a small career has elapsed during this pandemic. Our senior management team at Mountainside Fitness rallied behind the concept of leadership and our organizational structure as a 19-club operator. Leadership is an “active” process and can influence your team to maximize their efforts toward a common goal. Our senior team met often — daily, every other day or weekly — and provided written plans of action to each department — operations, marketing, human resources, accounting — which were clearly communicated to the club-level managers and staff. All of us were living within a new world and information was key to our mental state. As I look back on the past 19 months, I believe most everyone wanted leadership and direction in order to feel safer and as a strategy to move forward. I am thankful for both our senior management team and our club-level management team as they all took to heart the pre-pandemic structure and processes which we had in place to “lead” their staff during a difficult time.

What advice can you offer other gym leaders about leading through a crisis?

CC:My advice to offer other leaders in regards to leading through a crisis is to build a leadership team, strategy and process as on-going business practice. Have weekly, consistent meetings with the senior management team in which each department has an opportunity to report on their weekly/monthly initiatives and responsibilities. Similarly, have club-level management — operations, childcare, personal training, group fitness, maintenance — meet consistently one time per month to understand the responsibility of leadership with their staff. Leadership can feel heavy at times, and I believe management teams should embrace the concept to provide their staff with consistent information and direction, which will help during times of crisis such as a pandemic.

Leading Through a Crisis

Kay Aplin, the CEO of Family Fitness

Gym leaders have had a crash-course in crisis management because of the COVID-19 pandemic. What was your biggest learning lesson?KA: Early in my fitness career, a very successful business mentor one day said to me, “Kay, if I am going to go broke, I want to go ahead and get it over with, so I can come back and do it better.” His sage advice about courage — and a healthy fear — guided me during this pandemic crisis.

After 22 years of a consistent market share, Family Fitness’ revenue disappeared along with our members after the pandemic. However, the corporate debt, payroll and maintenance on the 3.5-acre campus did not. There was only one decision: sell it or make it better. No guarantees.

Standard government disaster assistance funding, or lack thereof, did not address the unique contribution fitness operators bring to the health and mental wellness in their communities or to their workforce.

Therefore, our team put everything on “the pass line” and made a winning bet on doing it better. Retirement savings, credit lines and cash reserves took a serious depletion, but we could literally feel the excitement building about our update of facilities and programs. The power of going back to daily management yourself is amazing.

Our membership base — now 68% family — recognizes exercise is medicine. Finally, “underlying conditions” have become buzzwords in our normal conversation; and the public is listening. Our corporation remains active in Texas politics as we are committed to erasing state taxes on fitness memberships and pushing for congressional approval of the National GYMs Act.

What advice can you offer other gym leaders about leading through a crisis?KA: My advice to a new fitness operator in these times is to join industry organizations immediately for professional support from seasoned colleagues. Pick your team wisely and get involved in community activities that promote your wellness brand. Bet on yourself to succeed.

Leading Through a Crisis

Alan Leach, the CEO and director of sales and marketing at West Wood Club

Gym leaders have had a crash-course in crisis management because of the COVID-19 pandemic. What was your biggest learning lesson?

AL: No 1. Changing your business model because of something that only happened twice in 100 years is madness. We can use it to learn how to improve the way we do business, but we will not be operating in a global pandemic forever.

No 2. The importance of cash reserves and good relationships with your bank, landlord and suppliers. Fitness clubs with no cash reserves, an unfriendly bank manager and an unsympathetic landlord are in a completely different situation than a club owner who has good relationships with their bank manager, landlord and suppliers. This is something club owners and managers will need to manage going forward.

No 3. Outdoor fitness will be the biggest “phoenix rising from the ashes” outcome from COVID-19. Why? Because restrictions on group fitness due to COVID-19 forced many club owners and managers to be creative about where they can offer group fitness. The only place was outside in carparks, driveways, tennis courts and unused space at the back of the club. And we quickly realized members just couldn’t get enough of these outdoor classes. They loved the outside. We have invested nearly $700,000 in outdoor fitness studios. These will now be permanent. And my belief is that most clubs, with the space, will have outdoor spaces permanently.

What advice can you offer other gym leaders about leading through a crisis?

AL: Do all the digital marketing activities you never get time to do. Update your website for maximum SEO performance. Stockpile content for your blog — again, this is invaluable for good SEO. We prepared over 150 blog articles for our website; we never would have got this time when open. Do an audit of all your website copy. Is it the right copy for your target market? Is it dated? Does it need new copy/content?

Also, prepare to come out stronger and more efficient than ever before. If you can’t come out of the pandemic with more knowledge, expertise and readiness for success, then you never will. 

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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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