Insight from China
The light at the end of the coronavirus tunnel

China is still ahead of many parts of the world in the lifecycle of the pandemic, with clubs open again and some semblance of normality resuming. We gathered insights from both operator and supplier perspectives


After at least two months of closure, Chinese operators are now in a gradual reopening phase. This varies from province to province and all gyms are facing stringent measures to enforce social distancing and cleanliness.

Despite having to shut for two months, many Chinese clubs are reporting they were not only able to survive, but have thrived during lockdown, building a digital presence that is still transforming their businesses.

Will Wang, President and founder of Will’s Gym
Will’s Gym is a strongly established operator with more than 150 sites in China and over 600,000 members. L.Catterton Asia invested in Will’s Gym in 2018

When lockdown first commenced, we communicated details of closure to existing members via staff, to make it as personal as possible. We also put an official notice on the entrance to be sure people knew the closure was based on government health guidance, and that when we re-opened would also be dictated by the government.

As all our memberships are annual pre-pay and some are multi-year, we committed to extending all memberships, free of charge, for the period of closure. It’s testament to how committed our personal trainers are that most of them posted home workout tips through their personal online video streaming apps.

As a chain we also shared home workout tips plus food and nutrition advice online, to ensure we were connecting and interacting with members.

The way I saw it, our business was paused, not dead, so we needed to keep good staff on board to ensure we bounced back when lockdown lifted. We provided a basic salary and also some 1:1 support and reassurance from directors and managers.

We also conducted online staff training, focusing on the member welcome process, club cleaning, personal hygiene and personal health management. Our managers used the time to study government health updates, so we would be well prepared for reopening.

To ensure we stayed afloat financially, we cut marketing costs dramatically and negotiated with landlords to discount rental costs.

Different landlords had different terms but we were fortunate we could negotiate future longer-term partnerships to ensure landlords’ support during the closure. We also received support from the Chinese government – club operators could apply for a bank loan, delay payment and staff social benefits, and taxes can be paid up to six months later.

I learned many things during lockdown, but what stands out is that healthy cashflow is vitally important.

We have an LED broadcaster in each club to reiterate the importance of keeping 1.5m apart

I also realised very quickly that although online streaming cannot replace the real club experience, it was truly important for improving member interaction and retention during lockdown, for keeping members engaged and encouraging them to return.

We had to apply to local government and be inspected before being allowed to reopen. There are strict guidelines to adhere to. When we knew lockdown was being lifted we sent an official opening announcement to members, picturing the protections we’d put in place and demonstrating hygiene measures we’d employed to build confidence that a workout with us would be safe. Assuming lots of our members would be financially struggling we offered discounts of up to 20 per cent.

‘We’ve opened at less than 50 per cent our usual capacity and we complete routine cleaning using disinfectants every two to three hours.

Our fitness areas are open but we have yet to restart all our classes or the spa and swimming pools. Showers are closed. Every member must make an online appointment before entering the gym. This makes it easier to restrict numbers. We also have an app that allows members to check in real time how busy their gym is.

We check each member’s ID and temperature before they enter, ensure they use hand sanitiser and are wearing a mask, and have an LED broadcaster in every club reiterating the importance of wearing masks, hand washing and – most importantly – keeping 1.5m apart.

From our experience, people gained weight and got stiff after two months at home. When the virus had been contained, we saw a surge in people looking for PT guidance; it was even more in demand than before, and usage picked up quickly – our check-ins are at about 90 per cent of the level we were at before closures.

Our new openings plan for 2020 has of course been delayed, and we will not open as many new sites as planned this year, but the return to our clubs has been positive and we will open at least 50 per cent in the second half of the year.  

Will’s Gym is backed by investor L. Catterton, part of luxury conglomerate, LVMH
Lei Liang, Co-Founder and COO of small boutique, Life Turbo
Located in Chongqing, the brand – which first opened its doors in 2018 – launched a second site in May, as China came out of lockdown

During the prevention period of China’s COVID-19 pandemic almost all gyms in China were closed. As a small boutique studio, we were lucky that our members are very ‘sticky’ – this is the big advantage of the boutique offering that we benefitted from throughout this time.

In order to maintain customer relationships, we worked out a home training plan. Each of our PTs took it in turns to create the daily plan, send it to each member and supervise their training by getting them to clock in online. I spent lockdown thinking about how to inspire members to join us in our new flagship site and how to expand diversified revenue when and if offline stagnation occurred. For us, lockdown was all about finding our own core competitiveness, ready for what may be a crisis-prone future.

I believe this epidemic is an opportunity. It will accelerate the reform of China’s fitness industry. Fitness and health have once again become national social topics – the pandemic is a strong motivator for being fit and healthy – and the same will happen in the UK. Home workouts have enabled millions of families to participate in fitness, even total beginners, with no intimidation factor. As a result, fitness will play a supporting role in the rebuilding of infrastructure following this crisis. I believe we will gain more members as a result of this in the next few months.

We returned to work a month ago and we’ve already restored 70% of our members

We returned to work a month ago and data shows we’ve restored about 70 per cent of our members. Online media was our link to customers during the epidemic and we are one of the few clubs in China that already offered an online training camp, which has over eight million followers on social media. In my opinion, the internet attribute of the global fitness industry is relatively weak compared with other industries. But there is a very strong sense that many operators will continue with online offerings, even when their clubs reopen, to better connect with and understand their customers, and use the digital offering to better enhance their offline experiences.

But it can never replace real life training. Nothing online can compare with the high-quality life experience members get from their fitness space and from a certified professional coaching team. This is why they’ll come back.

Life Turbo has built an online training camp with eight million social media followers
Thomas Ding, Business director, Precor Asia

As a supplier, we focused on keeping in contact with our key accounts to understand their situation and maintain relationships. We also organised online training, to take advantage of the lockdown period to build our team’s capabilities to prepare to strengthen our position for reopening.

We created some live streaming ‘at home’ workouts to deliver to customers of Precor’s home range.

Clubs started to reopen on 15 March here in China and by the beginning of April, approximately 15-20 per cent had reopened their doors.

Visits are down 30 per cent compared with the same period last year, but in a survey by McKinsey – China, Cautiously optimistic: Chinese consumer behavior post-COVID-19 – published at the end of March, 70 per cent of the 2,500 respondents said they’d strive to reinforce their immunity after lockdown by exercising more.

Schools also reopened in May in China and I believe this will have a positive impact on the industry, given that parents now have more time to go to the clubs.

Gyms here have learned that it helps to prepare a detailed process of club operations while in lockdown, to be sure members are well protected when you’re allowed to reopen.

There should be temperature checks and antiviral hand sanitiser for every member and equipment will need to be cleaned and sterilised every two hours.

There should also be a limit to the number of members in the gym at any one time, they should wear masks and keep a minimum distance from each other.

Put these plans in place prior to reopening and your members will feel confident they are safe to return to your facility to start enjoying the benefits of exercise again.

 


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SELECTED ISSUE
Health Club Management
2020 issue 5

View issue contents

Leisure Management - The light at the end of the coronavirus tunnel

Insight from China

The light at the end of the coronavirus tunnel


China is still ahead of many parts of the world in the lifecycle of the pandemic, with clubs open again and some semblance of normality resuming. We gathered insights from both operator and supplier perspectives

Chinese boutique operator Life Turbo focused on maintaining strong links with its tribe during lockdown

After at least two months of closure, Chinese operators are now in a gradual reopening phase. This varies from province to province and all gyms are facing stringent measures to enforce social distancing and cleanliness.

Despite having to shut for two months, many Chinese clubs are reporting they were not only able to survive, but have thrived during lockdown, building a digital presence that is still transforming their businesses.

Will Wang, President and founder of Will’s Gym
Will’s Gym is a strongly established operator with more than 150 sites in China and over 600,000 members. L.Catterton Asia invested in Will’s Gym in 2018

When lockdown first commenced, we communicated details of closure to existing members via staff, to make it as personal as possible. We also put an official notice on the entrance to be sure people knew the closure was based on government health guidance, and that when we re-opened would also be dictated by the government.

As all our memberships are annual pre-pay and some are multi-year, we committed to extending all memberships, free of charge, for the period of closure. It’s testament to how committed our personal trainers are that most of them posted home workout tips through their personal online video streaming apps.

As a chain we also shared home workout tips plus food and nutrition advice online, to ensure we were connecting and interacting with members.

The way I saw it, our business was paused, not dead, so we needed to keep good staff on board to ensure we bounced back when lockdown lifted. We provided a basic salary and also some 1:1 support and reassurance from directors and managers.

We also conducted online staff training, focusing on the member welcome process, club cleaning, personal hygiene and personal health management. Our managers used the time to study government health updates, so we would be well prepared for reopening.

To ensure we stayed afloat financially, we cut marketing costs dramatically and negotiated with landlords to discount rental costs.

Different landlords had different terms but we were fortunate we could negotiate future longer-term partnerships to ensure landlords’ support during the closure. We also received support from the Chinese government – club operators could apply for a bank loan, delay payment and staff social benefits, and taxes can be paid up to six months later.

I learned many things during lockdown, but what stands out is that healthy cashflow is vitally important.

We have an LED broadcaster in each club to reiterate the importance of keeping 1.5m apart

I also realised very quickly that although online streaming cannot replace the real club experience, it was truly important for improving member interaction and retention during lockdown, for keeping members engaged and encouraging them to return.

We had to apply to local government and be inspected before being allowed to reopen. There are strict guidelines to adhere to. When we knew lockdown was being lifted we sent an official opening announcement to members, picturing the protections we’d put in place and demonstrating hygiene measures we’d employed to build confidence that a workout with us would be safe. Assuming lots of our members would be financially struggling we offered discounts of up to 20 per cent.

‘We’ve opened at less than 50 per cent our usual capacity and we complete routine cleaning using disinfectants every two to three hours.

Our fitness areas are open but we have yet to restart all our classes or the spa and swimming pools. Showers are closed. Every member must make an online appointment before entering the gym. This makes it easier to restrict numbers. We also have an app that allows members to check in real time how busy their gym is.

We check each member’s ID and temperature before they enter, ensure they use hand sanitiser and are wearing a mask, and have an LED broadcaster in every club reiterating the importance of wearing masks, hand washing and – most importantly – keeping 1.5m apart.

From our experience, people gained weight and got stiff after two months at home. When the virus had been contained, we saw a surge in people looking for PT guidance; it was even more in demand than before, and usage picked up quickly – our check-ins are at about 90 per cent of the level we were at before closures.

Our new openings plan for 2020 has of course been delayed, and we will not open as many new sites as planned this year, but the return to our clubs has been positive and we will open at least 50 per cent in the second half of the year.  

Will’s Gym is backed by investor L. Catterton, part of luxury conglomerate, LVMH
Lei Liang, Co-Founder and COO of small boutique, Life Turbo
Located in Chongqing, the brand – which first opened its doors in 2018 – launched a second site in May, as China came out of lockdown

During the prevention period of China’s COVID-19 pandemic almost all gyms in China were closed. As a small boutique studio, we were lucky that our members are very ‘sticky’ – this is the big advantage of the boutique offering that we benefitted from throughout this time.

In order to maintain customer relationships, we worked out a home training plan. Each of our PTs took it in turns to create the daily plan, send it to each member and supervise their training by getting them to clock in online. I spent lockdown thinking about how to inspire members to join us in our new flagship site and how to expand diversified revenue when and if offline stagnation occurred. For us, lockdown was all about finding our own core competitiveness, ready for what may be a crisis-prone future.

I believe this epidemic is an opportunity. It will accelerate the reform of China’s fitness industry. Fitness and health have once again become national social topics – the pandemic is a strong motivator for being fit and healthy – and the same will happen in the UK. Home workouts have enabled millions of families to participate in fitness, even total beginners, with no intimidation factor. As a result, fitness will play a supporting role in the rebuilding of infrastructure following this crisis. I believe we will gain more members as a result of this in the next few months.

We returned to work a month ago and we’ve already restored 70% of our members

We returned to work a month ago and data shows we’ve restored about 70 per cent of our members. Online media was our link to customers during the epidemic and we are one of the few clubs in China that already offered an online training camp, which has over eight million followers on social media. In my opinion, the internet attribute of the global fitness industry is relatively weak compared with other industries. But there is a very strong sense that many operators will continue with online offerings, even when their clubs reopen, to better connect with and understand their customers, and use the digital offering to better enhance their offline experiences.

But it can never replace real life training. Nothing online can compare with the high-quality life experience members get from their fitness space and from a certified professional coaching team. This is why they’ll come back.

Life Turbo has built an online training camp with eight million social media followers
Thomas Ding, Business director, Precor Asia

As a supplier, we focused on keeping in contact with our key accounts to understand their situation and maintain relationships. We also organised online training, to take advantage of the lockdown period to build our team’s capabilities to prepare to strengthen our position for reopening.

We created some live streaming ‘at home’ workouts to deliver to customers of Precor’s home range.

Clubs started to reopen on 15 March here in China and by the beginning of April, approximately 15-20 per cent had reopened their doors.

Visits are down 30 per cent compared with the same period last year, but in a survey by McKinsey – China, Cautiously optimistic: Chinese consumer behavior post-COVID-19 – published at the end of March, 70 per cent of the 2,500 respondents said they’d strive to reinforce their immunity after lockdown by exercising more.

Schools also reopened in May in China and I believe this will have a positive impact on the industry, given that parents now have more time to go to the clubs.

Gyms here have learned that it helps to prepare a detailed process of club operations while in lockdown, to be sure members are well protected when you’re allowed to reopen.

There should be temperature checks and antiviral hand sanitiser for every member and equipment will need to be cleaned and sterilised every two hours.

There should also be a limit to the number of members in the gym at any one time, they should wear masks and keep a minimum distance from each other.

Put these plans in place prior to reopening and your members will feel confident they are safe to return to your facility to start enjoying the benefits of exercise again.


Originally published in Health Club Management 2020 issue 5

Published by Leisure Media Tel: +44 (0)1462 431385 | Contact us | About us | © Cybertrek Ltd