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Reopening advice from a gym owner

Hilary Achauer

Carl Penney is the general manager of CrossFit El Cid in West Palm Beach, Florida. The gym, which opened in 2017, had about 270 members between their different programs, which included CrossFit, personal training, nutrition coaching, a kids program, and Olympic weightlifting.

When gyms in Florida were allowed to reopen on May 18, CrossFit El Cid had been closed for nine weeks. During that time Carl said they had about 30 to 40 cancellations.

After one week of being open, Carl has words of advice — and encouragement — for other gym owners.

Start Early

Carl said the guidelines for gyms in Florida were vague, so he had to make a lot of his own decisions when preparing to reopen.

“I try to take that seriously when I’m responsible for a couple hundred people and the thousands of other people they are going to come in contact with over the course of the next couple of days,” Carl said.

First, Carl modified the schedule to include a 15-minute buffer between classes to clean the equipment and the facility. He created workout spaces for each person on the floor with tape, but didn’t like how it looked, so he ordered floor decals from SignsRx, which he said were very affordable.

CrossFit El Cid also instituted a class reservation system, only allowing 15 people in the gym at a time. Although he’s only filled up two 15-person classes so far, he doesn’t want to budge on the 15-person rule even if only five people show up. If someone doesn't sign up, they can't work out.

“Our class reservation system is pretty strict,” Carl said, "so if you’re not registered and there’s 10 open spaces, I don’t really care. You’re an adult, sign in. I want people to be used to that indefinitely,” he said.

Carl also rearranged the gym so that when people walk in they grab whatever dumbbells, kettlebells, or other equipment they might need for the warmup and workout. Their barbells are laid out in their space and the weights distributed around the floor so people can grab them without walking across the gym.

Once he saw how well this system worked, Carl decided these changes will be permanent.

“The flow of classes is so much better because it’s not like, 'Hey, go grab a dumbbell to warm up, bring it back, warm up, now take it away now go back to grab bumper plates.' All the talking and wandering around to check your Instagram — gone. It just runs the class smoother, which is not something I anticipated,” he said.

Carl decided to not use the pull-up rig when he reopened, because the bars are not six feet apart. As a result he’s had to modify the gym's programming.

“If people want to use a pull-up rig they can come in during open gym, but if we have to maintain six feet of separation and I tell people to get on the pull-up rig where they are closer than six feet, I think I am putting out the message of putting people at risk, and that’s not something I’m comfortable with,” Carl said.

Over-communicate

Carl said the overwhelming response from his members has been positive.

“A large majority are saying we’ve done a good job, I feel comfortable, I feel safe here,” he said.  

Carl has a group of moms who used to come with their kids, and the children would hang out in the waiting area while the moms worked out. He got rid of the waiting area, and was worried the members who were used to bringing their kids would be upset with him. Then Carl talked to one of the women.

“We totally get it,” she told Carl, “you’re doing the right thing. That’s not a problem.”

Carl said he appreciated her words of support.

“It was nice to hear. It’s a very high stress time for a lot of gym owners and business owners. Last week, any negative feedback I would have gotten would have crushed me,” he said.

In the first week Carl said they had one or two members come in, but he decided to hold off on any serious marketing efforts for the first two weeks.

“I'm trying to get the kinks ironed out, but next week I want to start putting a little more effort into that because there are people that want to join,” Carl said.

(CrossFit El Cid just signed on with the brand-new UpLaunch Agency to update his website and bring in leads.)

“As the class procedures get normal and people get used to checking in it gets easier,” he said.

After going through the reopening process himself, Carl said his number one piece of advice to fellow gym owners is to over-communicate everything.

“To the point where you hate talking,” he said with a laugh.

“We’ve done mostly emails and Facebook group posts, but I could have done three times as much as that and it wouldn’t have been enough,” he said.  

When you do communicate with members, Carl said it's important to reassure them that their health and safety is your top concern at all times.

"This is a great opportunity to either build or destroy trust. I would rather overdo it and build it than people think we are not being responsible,” Carl said.

If you need help communicating with members, leads, and former members while reopening, the Reopening Framework is a targeted version of UpLaunch that includes everything you need to reopen. The platform will help you market your gym to former members, transition existing members back to regular training, and encourage new members as they establish healthy new habits. It’s a cost-effective way for you to try a scaled version of the UpLaunch platform before transitioning to the full version. Get in touch if you'd like more information about UpLaunch or the Reopening Framework! 

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