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Going the distance: The post-pandemic gym in Canada

Temporary shutdown of select cardio machinery will allow for appropriate physical distancing measures.
Temporary shutdown of select cardio machinery will allow for appropriate physical distancing measures.

By McCall Gosselin

The spread of the coronavirus has forced the fitness industry, from big-box clubs to boutique studios, to pivot business operations and facilities to support members’ desire for a healthy and happy lifestyle.

Over the past few months, businesses have integrated on-demand or online workout offerings to reach Canadians within their living rooms.

As safety restrictions loosen and provinces re-open, the fitness industry is preparing to re-enter the market and welcome back members with open arms.

But during the lockdown, Canadians began experiencing the convenience of online fitness classes, particularly the amount of time saved from having to commute to the nearest.

The pandemic has also increased financial and social anxiety, and people of all ages have been conditioned to be cautious about sharing space with a large group of people. This has forced the industry to consider how business and operations will have to adapt to brace against this sentiment.

Gyms are relying on their most loyal members to lead the drive back into the club. And even though it is early days, fitness outfits that have adopted measures to address post-pandemic anxiety are beginning to not only welcome back the regular clientele, but those first-time gym-goers who are hyper-aware of health conditions due to this pandemic and are seeking an atmosphere where they can focus on a healthier lifestyle.

While the public has enjoyed the convenience and time-saving benefits of digital workouts, they have missed the sense of an inclusive community a gym environment brings.

On the other hand, people have been working out at home for long enough that they will not rush back into a restrictive, expensive, or high-commitment membership unless it gives them some genuine benefits that a workout in the comfort of their own home cannot provide.

Franchise fitness club owners now have the opportunity to win people back and grow their membership base, as long as they incorporate the appropriate post-pandemic measures and offer gym-goers a perfect combination of community, affordability, and convenience.

Cleanliness is king

If there is one major takeaway the world has gained from the COVID-19 lockdown, it is that cleanliness and hygiene are king. Though the fitness industry has always had hygiene and sanitation at the core of its business operations, the population is focused on the appropriate state of cleanliness as a result of the recent crisis.

This is an opportunity for business owners to not only strengthen cleanliness policies and procedures, but also communicate these regular and improved standards to members.

Fitness centres will need to implement COVID-19-specific cleaning training for employees—a new industry standard—focusing on provincial health recommendations and procedures set by Health Canada. Educating staff on updated cleanliness and sanitization policies will be necessary for survival. Franchise owners should ensure all employees complete this newly implemented training prior to opening facilities.

More frequent and stringent cleaning procedures will be required to create a safe environment for the community at the gym. Management should conduct staff cleaning protocols before opening facilities and prior to closing for the evening, with walkthrough times being no less than 20 minutes depending on the size of the facility. This is important for larger gyms as regular 20-minute walkarounds for cleaning will create a safer environment for members and staff.

Fitness centres should also look at increasing the amount of hand sanitizing stations they have for their members to encourage responsible and clean equipment usage. These stations should be set up in high-traffic areas such as the entrance and near change room facilities.

Franchisees should also use on-site signage to encourage members to clean up after themselves, while also communicating the new sanitization guidelines they will now need to abide by. Members may already going to be wary about coming back to the gym, so signage communication should be engaging, as well as instructional.

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