Leisure facilities across the UK are preparing for a possible reopening soon having been closed since 20 March. From engaging and enticing members back, to future-proofing your membership options, this article outlines key tips for building a strong reopening strategy.
We are here to help and want to make life easier for you to quickly get up and running. To assist with your planning, we are sharing some actionable strategies to help you achieve a smooth and successful reopening when the time finally comes.
Tip #1: Let Members Know Your Opening Plans
Don’t leave it until you are able to reopen to communicate your reopening plans.
Explain what you are doing to prepare for reopening and what to expect. Some members may be concerned about returning, so highlighting new operational practices and social distancing measures you are putting in place will provide reassurance.
Don’t forget to let members know what will happen with their membership if any freezes or changes have been made during the closure.
A successful strategy for reopening will make use of all channels available to you to reach as many members as possible. Some options include using:
- Your website
- Social media channels
- SMS/text message
- Push notifications via your app
- Direct mail
- Banners and/or signs outside your facility
Aim to go beyond reassuring members that it will be safe to return when you reopen – get creative to generate excitement that will encourage members through your doors!
Tip #2: Prepare For All Possible Social Distancing Restrictions
As lockdown measures are gradually relaxed, many social distancing measures remain and we are continuing to see how different industries are adapting to ensure adherence. There is also much to learn from the way fitness operators have adjusted elsewhere in the world where facilities have reopened, as well as the likes of Finland and Sweden where gyms remained open with measures in place.
If you have multiple sites, consider how restrictions may differ by location. Permitted reopening dates may differ between England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, or certain cities or counties may require temporary closures.
Social distancing restrictions may include reduced capacity, enhanced cleaning practices, layout changes, additional signage and floor markings, and provision of hand sanitiser or wipes.
Investigate your business management software to ensure you know what features it offers to help you adhere to likely measures. Explore alternative providers where key gaps exist.
Many industry bodies and organisations are publishing guidance on adapting to new requirements.
- ukactive has created operational guidance and a framework for the reopening of gyms, leisure centres and the wider fitness industry.
- CIMSPA has a range of tools focused on helping operators of all types reopen successfully and safely. These have been developed by CIMSPA and its industry partners.
- Sport England, IHRSA and EuropeActive are some of the many organisations which have developed resources for operators.
Tip #3: Re-Engage Members Who Cancelled During The Closure
During the closure period, even if memberships were frozen, your members may have cancelled their Direct Debit Mandate, perhaps due to uncertainty around the future or financial concerns.
Once you can open, and when payments are resumed, these members may be unable to access your site(s). You can view these members in client login.
Now is the time to re-engage these members, to let them know your plans for reopening and encourage them to re-instate their Direct Debit Mandate where needed.
You may consider offering those members who are uncomfortable or unable to return the option of freezing their membership for a period once you reopen.
Tip #4: Evaluate Your Membership Packages
Evaluate and futureproof your membership options for existing and new members to better serve even those who are uncertain about returning.
The ukactive COVID-19 Impact Report highlights that reopening may receive a mixed reception by members. For example, a Leisure-net survey of gym and leisure centre members reported that 88% were likely to continue their membership upon reopening, whereas YouGov research reported that only 30% of members will be comfortable visiting their gym once restrictions are lifted.
Against this backdrop, many members will have formed new habits during the lockdown – from working out in the great outdoors to taking on home workouts – so may be looking to use your site(s) differently in the future.
Now is the ideal time to evaluate and futureproof your membership options for existing and new members to better serve even those who are uncertain about returning. You may wish to consider:
- Digital fitness services as part of your core packages
- Purely digital or virtual membership options
- Peak and off-peak options
Tip #5: Build your pipeline of new members
In the fight against COVID-19, the importance of fitness has been emphasised, driving activity levels and interest in fitness memberships up.
27% of people who are not a member of a gym or leisure centre are interested in joining once facilities reopen, Sport England & Savanta ComRes research found.
The opportunity exists to reach prospective members and grow your membership base when you reopen.
Running a reopening campaign targeting new members, as well as those who have previously held memberships, will help ensure you come back fighting. Campaign options could include:
- Pre-sale and/or reopening offers, such as a discounted membership rates or the removal of joining or administration fees
- A reopening event that will encourage new members to join up in advance to be a part of it, for example free giveaways, prize draws or refreshments for those visiting on reopening day
- Advertising and PR activity targeting local publications and other influencers to show how you are adapting to new operating requirements and what is on offer for new and existing members
Tip #6: Offer Financial Support To Help Members Maintain Their Membership
You may wish to help members continue to pay their membership where they are experiencing financial hardship – or have accrued arrears before or during the closure.
Here are two possible options for you to consider.
- Implement a backdated freeze which will provide members with ‘free time’ on their membership when you reopen. Where they are contracted to a set period (for example, 12 months), the total contract value will not be affected with this option.
- Let members choose to freeze their membership free of charge for an agreed period. This provides flexibility for them to stay a member for the future when they can better afford the membership cost.