By Lindsay Morris, contributor via the Underground Group
⏰ 4-minute read
Two locations in Georgia gym chain Bodyplex Fitness Adventure have reopened after the state lifted business restrictions.
An emergency savings fund and small business loan helped the gyms keep employees on payroll while closed. The gyms offered virtual training, froze membership fees and lent out equipment free of charge.
Now, the businesses’ owners have shifted focus from member recruitment to restoring confidence.
As several state governors begin to ease stay-at-home restrictions, some small businesses are opening back up. Among them are two Georgia-based Bodyplex Fitness Adventure gyms.
Franchise co-owners Mike Martino and Adam Shields have been working day and night along with their staff to reopen the gyms in Milledgeville and Grayson, both within two hours’ drive of Atlanta. But with the coronavirus still impacting Americans’ day-to-day, that means operating in a new normal.
Ready to hit the ground running
Not every business was ready or willing to open its doors when Georgia Governor Brian Kemp announced that gyms, bowling alleys, tattoo parlors, barbershops, beauty salons, spas and other select businesses would be able to return to work on April 24.
👉 Martino and Shields said they were ready to hit restart because they’d planned ahead.
By mid-April, with the gyms closed, the team had set up the gyms to adopt many of the practices that are in the governor's reopening guidelines for gyms and fitness centers, which include frequently sanitizing locker rooms and bathrooms.
“We were doing certain things already that we weren’t required to do,” Martino said. “Like right when this started, in January or February, we had gotten a hydrostatic sprayer we were using for both clubs. We literally were spraying the whole club.”
Even while their gyms were closed, owners Mike Martino and Adam Shields rigorously sanitized the facilities.
When the gyms closed in late March after Governor Kemp banned gatherings of over 10 people, Martino and Shields stayed positive.
- They had an emergency fund, a checking account in which they had regularly placed a portion of all profits for the past 10 years.
- That, along with a small business loan from their local branch of Truist Bank, helped them keep regular staff on payroll. (The business applied for a loan from the government’s Paycheck Protection Program, but it has not yet received one.)
They froze all memberships for April so members didn’t have to pay for time they weren’t able to spend in the gyms.
👉 Empty gyms gave the owners room to renovate, a project they’d planned before the outbreak.
Returning members are now seeing some changes to locker rooms and flooring, although the work remains in progress.
“When this happened, we went full force, because there was obviously nobody in the club,” said Martino. “We used to be 24-hours, 365-day open; now the gyms were closed, which never happens.”
The gym owners said closures gave them time and space with which to renovate.
Meanwhile, the Bodyplex Milledgeville and Grayson staffs remained in contact with gym members through email and social media.
- Group instructors led workouts over Facebook Live.
- The gym loaned out thousands of dollars worth of equipment — such as kettlebells and weights — free of charge for home use.
- The gyms’ personal training clients were also able to continue exercising remotely by accessing workout plans on an app called Trainerize.
Some of these clients were already paying for online-only memberships before the coronavirus prevented in-person training sessions.
“It’s not a huge number in comparison to our in-person [members], but it is another revenue stream that we have,” Martino said. “Because that’s one thing we’ve learned through business is adding additional revenue streams. They may not be things that would support a whole business by itself, but when you add multiple revenue streams, it adds up.”
"One thing we’ve learned through business is [the value of] additional revenue streams."
Easing back in a new normal
On April 24, the gyms’ first day back in business, members were greeted with:
- a requirement that they wear masks. If they didn’t have their own, they could purchase one.
- After checking in, each was handed a spray bottle for sanitizing every piece of equipment they used during their workouts.
- Signs marked which machines were off-limits in an effort to maintain social distance, per the governor’s guidelines.
- Group classes were canceled, and employees started their shifts with a temperature check.
Upon reentering the gym, members were greeted with a requirement they wear masks.
It will take some time before the staff is ready to relaunch group classes or supervised childcare. Both would be too hard to manage with social distancing rules still in effect — plus, the governor’s guidelines say they should remain paused until May 13.
👉 For the next few weeks, the gyms will also not be open 24 hours as usual.
Instead, shorter days will translate into staggered work schedules for employees and more time for cleaning when gym-goers leave the buildings.
During this period, which Martino calls a "soft opening," focus has shifted from member recruitment to rebuilding confidence among his community. In the first week, up to 129 people a day visited the Grayson gym, and more than 60 visited Milledgeville. It’s significantly fewer than the 300 to 500 members they would regularly see daily, but Martino realizes that it will take time before the vast majority are willing to return to the gyms.
“We told our members, look, you don’t have to come back,” he said. “If you don’t feel comfortable, don’t come back yet. But we do want to start this gradual process just so we can at least get some of our employees back in.”
“We told our members, look, you don’t have to come back. But we do want to start this gradual process just so we can at least get some of our employees back in.”
“Tough times never last”
Martino estimates the gyms took a $250,000 hit due to the coronavirus. Additionally, a small percentage of monthly members and personal training clients chose not to continue.
For now, Martino sees the owners’ role as one of maintaining positivity and motivation. Emblematic of that commitment is a new T-shirt the team recently introduced for sale on Facebook, bearing the words “Tough times never last, but tough people do.”
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