Fitness gyms and facilities have been shut down for months now on government orders.  This is a tough time to be a gym owner considering that we’ll be probably last to be able to open up again. During these last few months, we’ve seen many gyms close down and/or have filed for bankruptcy. Landlords are still charging their tenants, and mortgages do not seem to have any concrete as of yet.

For those fortunate enough to be able to open up again, here are my top things (if you are a boutique gym owner) you must be aware of and prepare to prevent the spread of COVID and/or future outbreaks, and win back the confidence of your past, present, and future members.

Readers Note: These are not all my ideas, but a collection of ideas and experience because I sit as a board member of an amazing group of successful gym owners, and business owners globally in 150+ countries.  I have been able to draw upon experience from those who are already opening, those around me who are in public health, and those around me who are on the front lines dealing with COVID patients.

My recommendations below are for small boutique gym owners only, so if that’s not you, you can check out some great examples from big box gyms like Equinox, Soul Cycle, and/or learn from Mark Fisher from Business for Unicorns.


Clear Concise Cleaning Standards

You notice that I didn’t just write a cleaning protocol, I wrote a clear concise cleaning standard.  This means for your team and your members.  It will be economically not feasible for your team or a cleaning crew to be cleaning after each person, so this will require training your members to also be responsible.  This should be clearly spelled out, and enforced.

And it goes without saying that cleaning is going to be table-stakes when it comes to re-opening.  If you do not have adequate cleaning, you will not survive in this new normal.

It has to be OBVIOUS that you’re taking incredible measures to keep people safe. Members need to SEE what you’re doing.  This doesn’t necessarily mean you are faking it, it just needs to be visible.  Because its more than just cleaning, its about confidence.

What are we doing?

  • Top-grade disinfectant & more frequent cleaning – We will use a disinfectant proven to kill viruses like COVID-19 in all common areas before and after check-ins.
  • Clean often – We will double up on the frequency of cleaning.
  • Train members to be clean – We’re giving each member a personal bottle of disinfectant when they come in that they can use to clean before and after their use of equipment, and this is mandatory.
  • Rethink all the touchpoints and high-touch surfaces – Map out everything that everyone can possibly touch, and make sure there is a cleaning checklist that the cleaning team sign off on them.  We’ll disinfect doorknobs, handles, rails, light switches, sanitizing stations, lockers, bathrooms, sinks, toilets, benches, locker keys, the front desk, keyboards, computers, phones, and equipment.
  • Use of Foggers – there are a few companies out there that sell foggers which you can clean 5000 sq. ft in less than 1 hour where you go around spraying a fog mist of cleaning mist that will help disinfect equipment that are hard to clean fully (dumbells, weights, machines, etc.)


Automatic / Hands-free Where Possible

Creating electronic open doors is completely out of our budget at this point in time. However, there are smaller things that can be installed or things that can be reimagined in order to help prevent the spread.  We understand from the research and studies that the spread is typically through contact via hands to your face or face to your hands to equipment/areas.  Here can be some possible things you can do, that we’re already re-making:

  • Hands-free paper towel dispensers for bathrooms
  • Hands-free sanitizer dispensers
  • Hands-free doors (operated by foot)
  • Hands-free trash cans (operated by foot, or completely open)
  • Door pads so that people can open and close doors with their foot
  • Hands-free automated temperature controls for temperature, lights, fans, etc.


Prescreening Measures & Protective Gear

Where there is no concrete scientific evidence or Public Health recommendation for temperature reading as a detection method for COVID-19, going above and beyond will create a sense of safety.  In many parts of Asia where gyms are allowed to be reopened, they have temperature controls right at the front door, this way if there was a case, they have the ability to collect the data and help trace back to where else that person has been to.  Often times, someone with a high fever temperature should not be training anyway, so it’s a good way for us gym owners just to take that extra precaution.

What we are doing? We are researching some of the best and more accurate thermometer guns.  They range from $90 – $300 per unit.  You probably only need 2 units, and I recommend ones that you can charge with a USB cable to save on environmental waste (batteries).

With regards to masks, it is recommended by Public Health and has been proven to help prevent the spread of any viral diseases.  Whether that is COVID, flu, cold, etc.  We have done tests where we have tried working out with a mask, it’s tough, but not impossible.  So for us, we made a recommendation to our members to wear a mask, but not mandatory.  But for our staff, it is mandatory because this will protect them, and also protect the members.

What are we doing? We’ve invested in Barbarian Masks for all of our team members.  These are very high grade, reusable masks that have a rating of BFE 90% (Bacterial & Viral Filtration Efficiency).  These are the best you can get that are completely reusable.


Business Financial & Operations Preparations

With an increased cost for cleaning and new protocols, the financial and operational impact is quite significant.  There will not be any models people can follow, you have to actually do the math!   I strongly advise you over budget and overestimate because coming out of this pandemic, cleaning supplies & cleaning companies are on an average of 3x increase from their original pricing pre-COVID.

Another big factor that I’ve learned coming from this is the insurance does not cover pandemics by default, it is something that needs to be purchased and asked.  While it’s extremely rare that pandemics happen, some organizations have been extremely prepared to profit from this.

What are we doing?

  • Extending the break between sessions from 5 mins to 15 mins to allow for adequate cleaning.
  • Limting the number of people in the gym at any given time.
  • Making it by-appointment only and strict times.
  • Review our insurance policies.
  • Review our pricing model to account for the increased in operational cost, and decrease in number of members allowed in the gym.
  • Declutter the space as much as possible to improve the flow of traffic so they are at least 6 feet apart for social distancing.
  • Buying new stronger filtration filters for our HVAC.


Be Firm With Your Rules

One of the biggest mistakes I’ve made in my life is letting things go when I should have called it out. When we let something slide, what happens is that we create a bad habit, and we create the impression that it’s OK to not be protective.  By not calling out a situation, we’re basically telling everyone else around them that it is OK.  Not to mention, it gets exponentially harder to say something when you didn’t say it the first time.

You have worked too hard to make sure we can open again, don’t let one screw up or one bad apple ruin it for everyone else.

What are we doing?

  • Create a safe environment and protocol for the team members to pull a member aside to let them know about improper protocols
  • Draw a line in the sand where even if it’s a high paying member, and they don’t follow, they can’t belong.  Don’t let one person ruin your reputation and brand.
  • Give people warnings, lead by example, and act quickly to let people know you are serious.
  • Install security cameras so we can playback an incident, so it’s clear to people what happened.  The last thing you want is false accusations.
  • Communicate these rules often, and this is part of our onboarding process (e-mails, calls, etc.)
  • Post them on the wall where it’s visible.


Promote Your Safety Measures

It’s more important than ever to really let people know how you are making them feel safe to train at your facility.

What are we doing?

We produced a quick 2 minutes video to explain to members and potential members what we plan on doing, and why it will keep them protected.  We’re going above and beyond the recommended measures from the Ontario government, because we believe it’s not about what you are doing at the gym, it’s about how you make them feel that will gain the confidence for them to stay as members.

You can watch the video below here produced by Matt Milliere Productions:

Final Shares & Recommendations

These are tough times we’re dealing with, and unprecedented. How you come out of this and how you market yourself will be a differentiating factor for someone to choose you in the future.  Here are some final recommendations:

Avoid pre-selling gift cards

Unless you are absolutely certain you will still have a place, then OK.  Don’t go selling something you may not be able to promise to deliver is going to ruin not only your brand, but your personal reputation.

I believe trust is the only currency that matters when all is lost.  If you don’t have that, you don’t have anything.

Don’t end up like this guy.

Be a part of a community of like-minded professionals

If you are in Canada, string together to help fight the fight so that everyone comes out of this better.  In a short period of time, this coalition has been instrumental in making CEBA now accept independent contractors, and influence CERCA to also allow for non-mortgage landlords.

You may think, “what can one person do?”, that’s why if you pool together, one person x 1000 can do a lot.

Build consumer confidence

This is the biggest single focus we all must focus on.  I can’t stress this enough!  People are not lined up to go back into the gym as some experts would say.  Just because we’re given a green light to open in the future does not necessarily mean that people will come right back.

Many would have lost their jobs, many would still be scared to come back to the gym.

That is why it’s critical you go above and beyond the requirements to demonstrate to people that it is safe for them to come back, and you have their #1 concerns addressed.

Keep doing what you are good at

Money is often a driving factor for decisions, but money clouds your judgment. Do what you do best, don’t start selling different things (masks, sprays, etc.) just to make a buck.

If I was doing this for money, I would have done another business.  The business of building extraordinary athletes is a passion of mine, and it stemmed deep from when I wanted to be a professional basketball player, and now a professional golfer.

Focus on your craft, and the money will follow.

Challenge yourself to reinvent

I used to think that it’s impossible to replicate what we do online, and it’s still partially true.

We used to think it’s impossible to do an assessment if they aren’t in the facility, we resolved that by easily creating a learning module teaching the member how to shoot the video, the exercises they need to go through, and recording it to send us to review.  It’s not 100%, but it’s 95%. And we can work with 95%.

We used to say it’s impossible to replicate the intensity online, but with live video coaching, we can cue the athletes in what we expect, and give them the ammunition to become better leaders by training them to think for themselves.

Ask for help

And lastly, I’ve found throughout my journey as an entrepreneur, asking for help has to be the hardest thing.  Pride and ego always get in the way, but over the years I’ve come to realize that if you are genuinely a good person, and you have genuinely good friends around you, they will help.

They want to help.

They take pride in helping you, and they want to see you succeed.  Because once you succeed, you bring that ladder down and you help others up.  That’s what great human beings do.

In summary, I’m very excited about these new times, and for when we’re allowed to reopen. We are reinventing, recreating, rethinking what’s possible, and challenging the impossible.