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
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.