COVID-19 is still dominating the headlines. What has been its impact on GO fit?
Huge credit and respect to GO fit president Gabriel Saez, because there wasn’t a playbook on how to handle this situation. Even before his hand was forced, he took the call that we were going to shut all 19 of our clubs across Spain and Portugal for the safety of staff and customers.
We told everyone we would only reopen when it was safe and that we wouldn’t charge customers while we were closed physically.
We reassured everyone we’d be with them throughout the crisis in fundamental ways. For staff, that meant protecting their jobs and topping up their salaries – fronting up the contributions before any sort of help came from the state. We also placed a big focus on the constant development of the team.
For members, it primarily meant a digital response to lockdown: we went into this crisis as a leading facility operator; our vision is to end it as one of the best digital wellbeing providers, as well.
Three days after lockdown, we already had our own studio creating video content on-demand, which soon turned into live streaming, constant contact and engagement with customers.
We’ve also set up a tele-support centre, enabling people to contact us for 1:1 plans, nutritional support or just a chat. We’ve been building the plane while we’ve been flying it, but it’s worked well. The studio is creating some great content – I believe it’s as good as anything out there – and our customers absolutely love it. We’ve had nearly 3m views now, a 400 per cent growth in follower numbers on social media, and our customer satisfaction metrics are really very strong.
This challenge has given our organisation a chance – in a very testing time – to show how seriously we believe in our mission and our purpose. When we’ve been tested the most, we’ve stuck true to our principles and our values.
Once clubs open, will you charge for digital content?
I wouldn’t want to be a digital-only operator at this time, having to think about how I’m going to monetise my offer post-lockdown when the world is flooded with content.
For us, first and foremost, digital is about serving, supporting, engaging and adding value for existing customers. We’re not really bothered about whether we monetise it today. For the energy and level of investment we put into it, and the value it’s bringing back, it’s sustainable – without charging for it – as part of the overwhelming value proposition we want to provide.
Beyond that, it’s also a new vehicle to help us move towards our company mission: to get to a proposition that could serve 100 per cent of the population.
To illustrate that point, just as an example, we have one club in Madrid with 27,500 customers and 20,000 people on a waiting list that takes two years. We can’t even serve 100 per cent of the people in the catchment of the club who already want to use our service. Digital is therefore a critical part of expanding our capabilities to fulfil our mission as an organisation.
And the crisis has delivered some fantastic new opportunities in this respect. We’re now working with Madrid, Seville and Malaga City Councils, as well as many others, all of whom have been integrating our digital response into the support they’ve been offering the residents of their cities during the crisis. These new digital partnerships complement our existing relationships with them as facility operator.
Can you tell us more about your digital plans moving forward?
This moment of crisis accelerated the opportunity to reach into people’s homes, and our response has already brought great energy to the brand and put us in the window for everyone. There will be no going back. This will just be the norm, something we do – and we’ll be doing even more of it, at even higher quality.
We have a lot of plans, most of which are under wraps, but one thing I can already talk about is the continued evolution of our work using technology to better understand our customers at a holistic level, and then personalise our service around their needs.
We use validated, academically tested surveys and questions to assess individuals physiologically, psychologically and emotionally. This culminates in a GO fit Happiness Score, which is an evidence-based way of understanding where our customers are now. Off the back of this, we aim to automate the personalisation of evidence-based exercise and lifestyle programmes, based on specific outcomes.
We want to be able to personalise the experience for each member in an evidence-based way, so this is a system we’re continuing to grow and develop. It’s a job that will never be complete – there’s always more to do, further to go.
What are your plans as clubs begin to emerge from lockdown?
The first thing to say is that we don’t define the end of this crisis as being when clubs start to re-open. The timeframe we’ve set ourselves isn’t about dealing with the crisis over the next few months. It’s about the role we play in society through to the other side of having a vaccine, however long that may take to develop.
We’re sticking to our “not a second too soon” principle and have been very careful in assessing our readiness to re-open, which may be during June in some areas of Spain. It certainly hasn’t been a case of trying to find the minimum level protocol to persuade regulators to let us open and begin trading.
We set about identifying absolutely everything we could do to create the safest possible environment for our customers – one in which they feel genuinely safe and comfortable in this moment of great anxiety and stress.
There hasn’t been a single measure that’s been rejected because of cost. We’ve done what we felt we had to do to fulfil our responsibility to customers and staff. Some people will look at what we’ve done and think we’ve gone over the top: we’ve worked with epidemiologists, academic experts, we’ve installed air filtration systems on a par with those in intensive care units and we totally recycle the air out of our buildings eight times an hour.
We’re putting in automatic temperature scanning, disinfectant pads for shoes on the way in, personalised areas in the changing rooms, all the technology needed to book workout slots.
There’s not one measure we’ve shied away from and every single touchpoint has been scored out of eight – eight being as safe as if there were no virus. Our certified, aggregated score across all of the areas of measures we’ve put in place is 7.4/8, making our clubs significantly safer than any other public service.
We’ve also tried to figure out what more we can do to help across the whole customer journey. We’re changing the timetable to focus on activities that strengthen rather than degrade immune systems and resilience. We’re putting in programmes specifically around mental health and wellbeing, recovering muscle loss, strengthening immune systems, supporting weight loss. We’re trying to help people feel better after a very tough period of lockdown.
But in spite of all this, we understand that there’s still a lot of fear and concern out there, and we’re supporting our members through this. Even when we’ve re-opened our clubs, we won’t charge our members until they feel ready to come back. In the meantime, they can continue to use all the great digital content we’re producing on a daily basis. We’re still there for them as a central part of their lives.
What is the likely long-term impact of COVID-19 on the GO fit business?
I believe there’s a long way to go in this crisis – a lot of twists and turns to come – and we’re by no means complacent about any of that. It’s going to be tough.
But I feel we’ve had a ‘good crisis’ so far, in terms of how we’ve reacted. As yet, there isn’t anything we’ve put on hold or frozen. If anything, some of the big projects we were doing – team development, strategy development, technology systems migration – have accelerated during lockdown because we had the space to do them.
And we’re a long-term minded organisation: we enter into very long-term partnerships with the landlords, local authorities, community groups and so on that we work with. If this is a 12-, 18- or 24-month situation, we’re alright with that. Our company was born in the aftermath of the 2008 crisis; our team knows what it’s like to operate in a crisis.
Our goal is to ride this turbulence and be in the same position on 1 June 2021 as we were on 1 March 2020. That said, we are in no doubt that, if we do it well, there are significant opportunities to strengthen and grow during this time as well.
What are your growth plans?
Moving forward, we see ourselves as a truly European player. We’re analysing France, Germany, Italy and the UK for development and we definitely think the model has huge potential in all of those areas.
We do something that’s genuinely world-class and different from what’s out there currently. PwC produces an annual audit for us which shows €170m social value produced as a result of our activities in Spain alone – and uniquely for a public service, we bring 100 per cent of the capital and take 100 per cent of the risk. I don’t for a second think we will be short of opportunity elsewhere.
But we aren’t in a rush as an organisation. We will study and wait for the right time, the right places, the right partners. If better opportunities arise in Spain first, that’s fine. We feel no pressure to be in certain markets by a certain point.
What’s your advice to other operators?
As an industry, we have to show a new level of commitment to addressing the current situation. We’re putting out a message of reassurance about our commitment to public health and safety, but the reality is we can’t afford to pay lip service to it. We have a responsibility to actually deliver, on the ground.
When the time comes for clubs to re-open, we’ll be in the spotlight. We will not be out of the woods – the virus is still going to be around and we won’t yet have a vaccine. Let’s not be the sector that contributes to this situation getting worse again.
I want us to make sure we’re still the go-to sector with the greatest power to improve health and wellbeing in society. We absolutely must not abdicate that opportunity.