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The Most Important Requirement for Re-Opening

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Sumit SethSumit Seth

Re-opening a gym during a global pandemic seems to be even more difficult than opening a gym the first time you started your business. This is primarily because of this truly being unprecedented, a new territory for all of us. None of the uncertainty that we face today has ever been successfully overcome by any other, with the result being there is no seminar or cookbook that lists out the secret recipe one needs to follow to come out triumphant on the other side.

What we do have, are plenty of varying opinions and advice for what to do tactically as you open your gym. The one thing that is universal in all said information is also the one that has stood the test of time and has really never wavered: TRUST!

TRUST laid the very foundation of your gym business prior to COVID-19. It built your relationship with the member, made them take the steps in their fitness journey with you and eventually was the glue that built your community. And, now more than ever, it is the same thing that will help you to rebuild your gym business. You now have the unique opportunity to not only welcome clients back and get your business on track but to have a direct tangible impact on starting the recovery process for your entire community by cultivating a genuine human connection with each of your clients.

There are two quotes that are especially appropriate for what we are dealing with today.

One is the wisdom of a French horse-riding master named Antoine de Pluvinel of the 16th century who said, "You can never rely on a horse that is educated by fear! There will always be something that he fears more than you. But, when he trusts you, he will ask you what to do when he is afraid."

The Second is by Dan Brown, "Men go to far greater lengths to avoid what they fear than to obtain what they desire."

In today's world, the one thing that is spreading even faster than COVID-19 is FEAR. There is of course the fear of the pandemic and the economic crisis, but then, we have the current socio-political situation, which is exacerbating the burden of the unknown.

Our job, then, as essential local service providers, is to develop TRUST with our community. When we can establish our trustworthiness, we can begin to make a real difference in the lives of people who simply want to know what to do now that they are afraid.

In the case of gym members, the shutdown brings out some specific fears. They are afraid of regressing physically after so many hard-fought gains. They are afraid of being permanently disconnected from their community, their accountability and support groups. They are afraid of forced budget constraints and difficult decisions regarding their lifestyles. They are afraid of getting sick, or perhaps even worse, spreading sickness to others.

All of these fears are valid. But, all of them can and need to be overcome.

TRUST starts with truth. In the 24-hour news cycle world we live in, it can be difficult to discern truth. Everybody seems to have an angle or an agenda. Your clients will be looking to you for not just the information about safely working out and staying fit but for the application of that information. If you do not fill that information void, they will either receive blatant misinformation or continue to sit in a vacuum stewing in the fears we discussed earlier. Neither is acceptable.

The first thing we need to do after consuming the information --action plans, requirements, phases, etc.-- being mandated by the local government is to translate them into digestible, understandable truths that mean something to your clients. For, even though the same broader information is being received by your clients, they crave for the experts' (yours) translation and the effect it would have on their lives. It can take various forms, such as:

  • We would require you to reserve your spot for group classes as we will limit the class sizes.
  • We would cut down the session time from an hour to 45 mins to account for an extra deep cleaning in between sessions.
  • You would need to work out in masks.

Your translations have to be clear, fair, reasonable, and at the crux, need to come from a place of wanting to help, educate and be part of the broader solution. Of course, they will never trust you if they don't hear you. Trust also comes through communication. And, for communication to be effective in gaining the client's trust, it needs to be clear and consistent.

All of the expertise and education we shared earlier needs to be discussed with your clients. These need to be sent via all possible channels --text messages, video clips, emails, snail mail, websites, social media-- for everyone consumes information differently. The more personal the touches, the better. Clients need to see, feel and know that you can be relied upon, are on top of things like safety and cleanliness, and above all, have their best interest in mind. From a tactical perspective, it can take forms, such as:

  • Calling and Texting individually to check in with each client (it's not really that hard, folks).
  • Doing a video walkthrough of your facility to account for social distancing.
  • Demonstrating the cleaning process and location of sanitization stations and masks.
  • Creating a FAQ document that addresses questions that your clients are pondering.

Not all of your communications in these times should be about Government mandates, safety protocols or delayed start dates. Use your passion, expertise and friendliness to spread some good cheer and inspiration! When your clients repeatedly get nudged by a combination of such truths, positivity and check-ins, it calms down their fears, and they know that, through these changes and options you've made, you genuinely care about them and are invested in their success.

This approach will not only help you to weather the current storm but also set you up for massive success in the future when things return to normalcy for you would have demonstrated tremendous trustworthiness.

One last thing to remember is that your communications should not be purely transactional; they have to be personal. I know of so many gym owners who have automated their communication to the point that it seems they have forgotten that we're in the people business. My humble request, especially during this time when there is an insatiable demand for being connected, is to please shut off routine transactional messages (the ones where they get payment reminders via texts or mass texts informing them about the same standing zoom live meetings). It's the best way to kill the process of building solid personal relationships.

Be that, and you will be loved forever.

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