How to Reopen Your Gym: Step-by-Step Instructions

Picture of Chris Cooper with text reading "Reopen Your Gym"

Andrew (00:02):

The fitness world is in turmoil. Some gyms are open and some are still closed and some are in danger of being forced to close again. In this episode of Two-Brain Radio, Chris Cooper presents the step-by-step guide, “How to Reopen Your Gym.” He’ll tell you exactly what to do if you’re planning to reopen your gym, if you’re open but struggling, or if you want to get plans in place before a second wave of closure. To download a free version of this guide in PDF form, click the link in the show notes. And now here’s Two-Brain Business, founder, Chris Cooper.

Chris (00:33):

Hi guys, Chris Cooper here. Two-Brain Radio is brought to you by Forever Fierce. Reach out to them to sell more apparel or retail items. Matt Albrizio and his team will save you time with templates. They’ll provide ideas and tell you what’s selling best. And they’ll supply marketing material and preorder sheets. If you want to get serious about apparel and retail, visit There’s no real end in sight to the COVID crisis. Some governments have reopened nonessential businesses such as gyms, but others have kept them closed. And some areas like Arizona are being hit with a second wave of closures. Here’s what’s clear. First, when you are allowed to reopen, it will almost certainly be with restrictions. Each area will have its own set of rules, but at this point, we have a good idea how to navigate them based on the operations of gyms that have already reopened successfully.

Chris (01:25):

Second, you should have a plan for an extended closure as well as a second closure and reopening. No one knows how everything will play out, but you can be prepared for any of these scenarios. My purpose is always to bring clarity, not to add to the noise. So today I’m going to give you a clear plan to reopen your business, whether you’re able to do that in a week or six months. And if you’re shut down again, you can circle back to in the plan with more speed if you lay the groundwork properly the first time. I’m also going to help you determine if you even want to reopen your bricks and mortar facility when you’re allowed to do so. The overall goal as always is to help you achieve the profitability and stability that will allow you to live the life you want. Now I’m going to cover a lot of things today.

Chris (02:14):

I’m going to be talking and using a lot of data. I’m going to be pointing to some very specific examples, and I don’t want you to miss anything. So you can actually download a free copy of how to reopen your gym, the Two-Brain Business step by step guide from our website. And I’ll post a link in the show notes, but in case you don’t have it just Google, how to reopen your gym and you’ll come right upon it. And you can download the guide for free and you can follow along. You won’t miss a single thing. When we build a plan for anything, we do it on three levels. First is the vision level. The top. We define the end goal really clearly. Second is the strategy level, the broad strokes. So here are the things that we’re going to do get there.

Chris (03:01):

Third is the tactical level. Here are the specific actions we’re going to take one by one. When you think about all the things that you could do, mostly tactics and ideas, you can feel paralyzed and overwhelmed. Starting with the vision will guide us to the correct tactics. Then you focus only on the things that will get you over the finish line. So here’s your vision. When it reopens, your gym will have a mix of in-person clients and online training clients. This vision will help with attendance limitations, and it will add a new revenue stream. Now here’s the strategy. We will achieve this vision in four steps. The first step is online only, which is where a lot of you listening are right now. The second step is what we call flex training with small groups. So people are coming in, they’re training in small groups, and they’re doing some homework online too.

Chris (03:54):

The third step is flex training in public spaces. And the fourth step is a fully open facility. Now I’m going to break down the next section here, the best tactics for each strategy. But first, a lot of gurus are making noise right now. And a lot of ideas are being thrown around. So why should you listen to me? I built the Two-Brain Business mentorship practice to be a two way street. We collect data and best practices from gyms around the world. We test it and filter it against what we already teach. And then we share that, distillate with everyone else. The ideas are great, but the science is really in the filtering because what matters is proof and everyone benefits from proof. It’s made gyms far more profitable, saved gyms from bankruptcy and saved everyone years of trial and error because of this systematic approach, many gyms in Europe and Asia, even Africa have been able to see into the future using our data. Now, these gyms are actually way further ahead than when we were at the same point in gym ownership, they’re benefiting from a flatter learning curve. They don’t have to repeat the mistakes that I made in Canada or a lot of our early gyms made in the US. But coronavirus has flipped that script. So North American gym owner has benefited from the hard work of these gyms on the front lines in Asia, Africa, and Europe. The Two-Brain gyms in Italy and China gave us daily feedback on what was working when they closed. And then when Berlin closed down in March, we had strategies to share that were already proven because they had just been battle tested. And then when North America started to shut down, we were ready.

Chris (05:33):

As gyms responded worldwide, we collected more data and information. We’ll continue to share the best strategies as we find them. And we’ll also tell you the best path to recovery as we rebuild our businesses and adapt to the new conditions. Our database of information and experience doesn’t exist anywhere else in the fitness world. It costs me 1.2 million so far to build and it’s working. So with that data supporting us, here’s the step by step plan with proven data on what’s worked in actual gyms to help you reopen your bricks and mortar gym. Chris Cooper here, have you got a website designer, a marketer, a landing page software, a calendar, a CRM, and a form builder, communication platform and connecting software? You can get rid of all of it by switching to Gym Lead Machine. I use this platform along with 60% of the Two-Brain mentorship team. The average gym owner saves over 300 bucks a month with Gym Lead Machine and they’ll waive the thousand dollars set-up fee for Two-Brain Radio listeners. Switching is easy and you can go live in a week, visit gymlead to watch a demo and book a sales call.

Chris (06:41):

Stage one: online, where most of you are now. Before the COVID crisis forced the shutdown of most gyms in North America, we published our guide “How to Add Online Training in 24 Hours.” And you can click the link in our show notes to get that guide for free. Thousands of gym owners downloaded the ebook and they made this critical pivot. Most of the fitness industry did not. Some of the major brands like 24-Hour Fitness considered bankruptcy, some even filed for chapter 11. For most gym owners though the switch to online coaching has one simple goal.

Chris (07:16):

Keep people around until your bricks and mortar can reopen and then retain them again if gyms were forced to close the second time. So with that in mind, the top tactics for online training are number one, customize your group programming for your members, or upgrade them to personalize programming, offer a virtual group gathering every day or two. It can be a group workout, but it doesn’t have to be. A key note here is that you can’t just run Zoom classes and expect to keep people for long. You’re not just putting what you used to do on a screen and expecting it to work. The second tactic for online training is to ask your top clients, what do you need most from me right now? And then tailor your service depending on their answers. Some of them might say, Oh, I need help sticking to my diet or Hey, I need help getting my mindset right.

Chris (08:07):

Or even I need help getting to bed on time and you can help with that because you’re their coach. Third, you can start attracting new customers using affinity marketing, and then turning organic marketing online and then learn how to use paid ads. Don’t just jump straight to the last one. You know, Facebook ads, because it seems sexy and you can actually download our affinity marketing guide for free in the show notes too. The fourth tactic for online training is to stay in contact with the members who cancel, text them every week and ask how you feeling, how can I help you right now? Keep that communication open. That’s your safety net to bringing them back when you can reopen. So here’s our recommendations for pricing, delivery and tools when you’re coaching online. Level one, price, this level to be slightly more expensive than your most popular group rate. During COVID-19 offer it at the same rate they’re paying, but make sure they know it’s a more expensive service so that they understand its value. Delivery at this level is just group programming, customized to each client individually. Text each client twice a day before and after the workout, tell them

Chris (09:15):

Here’s why this workout is important to you. Here are the goals that I’d like you to achieve. Get back to me when it’s done. And the tools you need, you just text clients a video or step up with a software platform like True Coach, but that’s totally optional. A lot of the best coaches in the world just use an Excel spreadsheet. Your level two offer online should be priced to be about 33% more than your base package. So if you sold your base package at 199, this package should be around 260, 269. This delivery is group programming, customized to each client individually, same as above, but nutrition plans and nutrition tracking too. The tools you’d use for this level is something like MyFitnessPal. And I’ve even got an article linked in the show notes that’ll tell you how to use fitness pal as a coach for free, and then just text and email.

Chris (10:03):

There’s no video necessary other than that, that you use to conduct nutrition meetings. Level three, online delivery should be priced about to be about twice as much as your base package. So if your base package is 199, this should be priced around $400. The delivery of this level is personalized programming and a personalized nutrition package with regular online video goal reviews and nutrition plan updates. In other words, meetings. Add a third element like habits tracking or mindset programming. And this is especially valuable during times of uncertainty or crisis. I’ll tell you from my experience, I have a cycling coach. He programs for me online. He tracks all my data. It gets uploaded from my bike computer automatically. He uses that data to build new workouts. It’s a pretty scientific process, but when COVID hit, I found myself down to about four hours of sleep a night as I tried to build things that would help gym owners and have conversations with payment processors and insurance companies.

Chris (11:01):

And everybody you can imagine. And after the first week or two, he said, why aren’t you doing your workouts? Yeah, I was getting out on my bike, but I was just kind of riding. And I’d say, you know, Josh, I’m struggling here with intensity. Like I’m exhausted all the time. I just, my heart rate’s high when I get on the bike. I have a feeling my cortisol level is through the roof. I’m stress eating. I’m having way too much caffeine. And he said, OK, well, let’s pivot what I do for you. Then let’s change to, I’m going to text you every single morning. I’m going to send you a video and I’m going to tell you exactly what to do. And for the first 30 days, we’re just going to focus on your mindset. And that’s what we did. I won’t tell you what he charges me, but it’s right in line with the numbers that I just gave you.

Chris (11:44):

And I got more value from that than I would from cycling coaching during that same period. We like to project what we want, or we would find value onto our clients. But during COVID, everything’s topsy turvy, people need different things. And instead of guessing what people need or what you can sell them, your best bet is to just ask. So this level of service is really tailored to what the client needs, and you’re going to have to use something like maybe motivational interviewing to figure out what that is, make a prescription to help them, and then tell them the price. You’re going to use tools like my fitness pal, text, email, and maybe zoom for one-on-one calls. Stage two of reopening is flex training in small groups or one-on-one. So in their bids to reopen non-essential spaces like gyms, most governments are restricting group class sizes.

Chris (12:35):

And this is happening in a lot of gyms right now, for example, Northern Utah issued a number of guidelines for gyms like the Bear River health department order requires the facilities to screen all employees and customers for symptoms prior to entering the building. Only one person per a hundred square feet, eliminate all group activities and the use of locker rooms and showers and disinfect equipment after use. If your state allows one person per hundred square feet, and you have a thousand square feet of workout space, your group size might be capped at nine plus the coach. Other states are banning group activities, but allowing one on one training and the number of classes you can run will also decrease. If you’re running online group classes from your gym, those will still count as a class in their membership. On April 20th, Georgia announced that some businesses would be able to reopen with conditions by the 24th, like four days later, but they were subject to specific restrictions, including adherence to minimum basic operations, social distancing and regular sanitation.

Chris (13:35):

Since then other jurisdictions have followed suit each with its own timeline and rules. And some governments have shut gyms down again. In other areas, gyms are still closed going into the beginning of August and they don’t plan to reopen until September. Overall, reopenings are great news for personal trainers, but horrible news for the big box gym selling access. There’s never been a worse time to own a franchise or a gym that just sells access to equipment. The great news for you is that you sell coaching, not access. So while you can’t get back to the 20 people in a class model yet, you can slowly bring people back. You just can’t bring everybody back to a full class schedule. Now, when China attempted to reopen their gyms, they allowed four people to work out together, spaced six feet apart in all directions, but they also forced gyms to close every four hours for a two hour mandatory sanitization process.

Chris (14:31):

That meant a maximum of eight classes in a 12 hour day, or 32 clients trained total. And this reopen lasted less than 72 hours before gyms were shut down again. When gym owners in Georgia surveyed members before the potential reopening date, about 50% of their members said they wouldn’t yet be ready return to the gym if it opened. This split was pretty consistent in three different membership surveys. And I’ll talk about this later in stage four. The safe bet is to assume that your clients will still need to do at least some of their workouts at home for the next few months. So you have to set up a system like the flex model, which is a combination of in person and online coaching. Now we teach the flex model in depth, including pricing programming, exactly what to say and do in the Two-Brain business program.

Chris (15:21):

But I want to walk you through it from a high level so that you understand how to combine online with in person. For example, maybe your clients attend one personal training session per week, and you assign three homework workouts. The homework can be your general group programming customized to their needs. And you check in on them every day when they’re not in the gym, or maybe your clients attend two group sessions per week and complete their nutrition, homework, and three other home workouts online. The flex model is a bridge between your new online business and your old bricks and mortar business. And the service should be priced according to the amount of personalization you provide. We teach the pricing strategy behind the flex model in our mentorship program, but here are the basics. Number one, if you’re providing in-person personal training, charge personal training rates or above. Number two, don’t just give more service for less money.

Chris (16:13):

More personal attention carries more value. Group training is still your discount option. Number three, take the time to carefully determine your rates. The rate that you set now for flex programming will be very hard to change later. So here’s an example of pricing for flex services in one Two-Brain gym, adjust these prices based on your group rates and personal training rates. Also notice that these are weekly rates, not monthly. So the bronze package of this gym is $39 a week, which includes individualized programming and email communication with the coach. The silver package is 59 a week, which includes individualized programming, email communication, plus nutrition, accountability, and daily text communication. The gold package is 79 per week, which includes all the other stuff, individualized programming, email communication, nutrition accountability, and daily text communication, plus stress management, wellness coaching, and a weekly one on one goal review session like a meeting.

Chris (17:16):

Now the third stage of reopening is using flex training and working in public spaces or parking lots or parks. This is the tactic that my gym used for over a month while we were waiting for Catalyst to reopen. Public spaces like parks are likely to be reopened before non essential services are allowed to open. In some areas, gyms are allowed to offer outdoor workouts at their facilities. And that was the case with my gym. The crazy part here is that years ago to give a client some work in his construction business, I had this concrete pad poured in the back parking lot behind my gym. The rest of my parking lot is gravel except for this huge concrete pad. And my thinking back then was that I would put up an A frame rig and we would have workouts available outdoors in the summertime because our summers are so short.

Chris (18:03):

Well, we never really used the pad. And so four years later I was really questioning like, why did I pay 13,000 bucks for this concrete pad? Well, when COVID hit, that really allowed me to bring people back to the gym a lot earlier. They weren’t allowed inside the building to get equipment, but they could meet up. They could come back to a familiar space. They could see familiar faces and they could do stuff outside. If you’ve got a parking lot, if you’ve got a park nearby, you can do the same thing. Start offering group workouts as soon as you can. These workouts can replace online group workouts done over zoom, and they can be done with minimal equipment, but they will still require social distancing. So here are a few tips. First plan programming that allows lots of space between people. Ask members to bring a mat and a water bottle with them.

Chris (18:51):

Second set up an A frame sign with your gym name and website on it. Attach a bottle of hand sanitizer to the sign. Third, if you bring equipment like dumbbells, make a big deal about cleaning them thoroughly before you put them back in your car, make sure that everybody sees you, take pictures of the cleaning process. Communication through this crisis is more important than anything else. Fourth, implement a virtual high five ritual. So social distancing rules are still in play in the parks. And if people are watching you, they might be critical. So your gym is onstage. Not everybody who sees these public displays will welcome them. So make sure you’re not breaking the rules because nobody can really afford a fine or criticism right now. Come up with like a virtual high five ritual before you get there so it’s not awkward when you’re stepping in between clients.

Chris (19:39):

So like high five block. Training in parks or your parking lot won’t be enough to keep your audience engaged. You won’t be able to offer as many classes as you used to. And sometimes it’s going to rain. But it’s one step toward training people in person again, and after weeks of being locked indoors an outdoor class might be a huge relief to your clients. Plan to invite your members to a specific class once per week, in addition to their online training. And then when weather interrupts just fall back on zoom classes. The fourth stage of reopening is a fully open facility. Now, when you get to this point, you’ll be excited. This was my gym 48 hours ago. Right? So I definitely get it, but you won’t go from zero to a hundred in full operations overnight. So here’s your plan from the early stages to a time when things are at least a little closer to normal. First plan to reopen with either personal training or limited class sizes. Some governments have given a headcount limit, some have banned group gatherings, and some have given a capacity based on like fire code or square footage.

Chris (20:41):

The bottom line is that you won’t be opening with 20 people in a class and you probably won’t be able to train every client every day. Add at least 30 minutes between classes to minimize cross contamination and give you time for cleaning and set up. And again, make sure your members see you doing this and the thoroughness that you’re following. Close off your bathroom and showers if you have to. You might also be required to take client and coach temperature before classes. So make sure that you order a no touch thermometer. You will have to clean every piece of equipment after every use and clients can’t share equipment. So order some extra lacrosse balls and extra mobility bands. One good idea I heard from a gym owner was this. I’m getting small containers and everyone will have a TheraBand and a lacrosse ball for their own use with their own name on their container. Because we now have to preregister for class, I’ll be able to set these out ahead of time for everyone. That’s great advice. You should also stock up on bleach, cleaner hand sanitizer and toilet paper. You should send out a detailed email about your cleaning protocol and what you expect from your members upon returning. Tell them what to do, teach them how to do it right before they get there and you have to correct them. For a sample email from Rick Thompson at CrossFit PTC, you can look in our guide, the Two-Brain, how to reopen your gym guide. And there’s like a downloadable email there that you can use. You have to get rid of the communal chalk bucket. You have to mark out spaces for clients to use in advance. Again, teach them how to do it and make it easy for them to follow the rules instead of guessing and then trying to correct them afterward. Place equipment in each space before they arrive to avoid crowding at the racks. Limit movements where it’s hard to distance people.

Chris (22:28):

If you have a long rig, mark out spaces on your pull-up bars to adhere to government requirements. If you don’t cut out hanging movements. Make a big show of cleaning before, during and after classes. Even if you think it’s overkill, make sure people see you doing it. Then reach out to all of your members to see what they’re comfortable with and how they plan to continue training to best suit their needs. As I said earlier, some of the leading gym owners in Atlanta, Georgia surveyed their members on April 20th when they were considering reopening four days later. And so they asked questions like, do you feel comfortable returning to the physical gym for group classes or private training with a 10 to 12 person cap in the facility as soon as Friday, April 24th? I think a lot of people were surprised by the response, you know, in this gym, 48.9% of members have said yes. The rest a slight majority said, no, I’m not comfortable coming back.

Chris (23:24):

But if they hadn’t asked, what would those 50% 51% have done? Well, they wouldn’t have come back. And if the option was come back or nothing, then they would have said nothing. And that would have been a massive fall. There’s some other interesting things from the same group of Atlanta owners. First, you know, when do you plan to attend class on opening day? And a lot of people said none, which was interesting, like 60% said, I don’t plan to attend class, which was higher than the people who said, I don’t want to come back. So that meant that about 10% of people said I’m only comfortable coming back if we do it one on one. Then the gym owner said, do you still want zoom classes? And 15% of the people said, yes, I do still want zoom classes. So he’s considering on an ongoing basis how to provide these. In my gym,

Chris (24:19):

people drive up to 45 minutes to get here. Sometimes it’s just not convenient. We have a pretty brutal winter from December through March. Sometimes you don’t want to get in the car and take the chance of driving to the gym in the dark. If there’s an online class option in the evenings, why wouldn’t I do that at home? Especially because you’re paying the same rate. And then finally this same Atlanta gym owner where they don’t have snow asked his membership about their intentions. 63% said that they plan to come back fully to being in the gym physically for classes starting as soon as they could reopen. 63%. That’s great, except that you’ve got to consider that over a third of people said that they didn’t plan to come back. What they said instead was half of them said that they planned to come back a little bit in the gym and then keep going with online coaching.

Chris (25:10):

And then 20% said that they plan to stay online forever, or at least for a couple of months, until they felt confident and safe. The key here is it’s all about perception. You are not going to argue your clients into coming back. You have to ask them what they’re comfortable doing and making sure that you accommodate them. We asked these same questions to a bunch of other gym owners. And a lot of them said things like we’re 50 50 for opening day. And another guy said I’ve received about 150 responses with the same results. 51% were not ready to come back. One owner offered a key piece of advice after almost making an error. He said, please advise people to stop and ask their coaches what they’re comfortable with. Not every coach will want to return to work. So you must survey your staff to find out who is willing to do in person when you reopen. I’ll speak from my experience.

Chris (26:05):

Again, some of my full time coaches were ready, eager, and willing to come back. You know, some wanted to reopen before we could even legally do it. And we had to kind of rein them in. But then when we did reopen, a couple of coaches said, I’m really not comfortable doing this yet. And so we said, OK, well, how can we accommodate them? Maybe we shift the online classes to them, or, you know, maybe they’re doing personal training, only whatever they’re comfortable with. That’s really important. Your leadership here is critical. You can affect your long-term relationship with your staff either positively or negatively by asking them what they’re comfortable doing. So with this data in mind, plan a limited class or training schedule around the clients who respond that they want to come in to train. Don’t just go back to your old schedule. This is a great chance for you to ditch those classes that only have two people in them. Offer everybody else the opportunity to keep training online until they’re ready to come back or maybe forever. Now, what this data shows and keep in mind that these are surveys, but it tells us that not everybody is ready to come back as soon as you open. That’s important to understand. You have to avoid the temptation to make a political statement with your gym. You can’t open against government laws or guidelines or regulations. If you don’t agree with some of the regulations, like I don’t in our area, that’s a private battle between you and the governing body. Publishing your fight online is not going to help you. And it will probably hurt you. Here’s some questions that I get from gym owners about reopening all the time. First, do I need a new waiver? I called Vaughn Vernon at AGuard.

Chris (27:43):

He provided the best practices platform for centers using the CDCs and occupational safety and health administration guidelines, CDC and OSHA. Vaughn said, the feedback I’ve gotten from my carriers is not to do any changes on the waiver because should things change, he’ll notify you. Vaughn also said that a pandemic is a standard exclusion from insurance policies, because it would be very hard to pinpoint a fitness facility as being like the linchpin to COVID or any pandemic. He said, the CDC is putting out a clause where if you document cleaning to their standard, you should be buffered, but this is an uninsurable risk with or without a waiver. So basically don’t change the waiver, but document your cleaning. If you don’t want a job as a full time cleaner, don’t reopen. And as eager as you are, talk to every member in person, you can get these CDC and OSHA guidelines along with downloadable copies of posters to put up for your staff and your clients from the Two-Brain Business site.

Chris (28:42):

And I’ll post a link to that in our show notes. Now let’s talk about retention and potential new revenue streams. So far, we’ve talked about like the mitigation of risk and how to reopen carefully, but there’s a bigger opportunity here. And that means you can get new clients who don’t have any other gym to go to. You can get new clients who are excited about taking care of their health and fitness for the first time. And you can create new revenue streams. You can also get new clients who weren’t really interested in coming to your gym, but might be interested in an online option. Anyway, that’s the bright spot of this whole COVID crisis is that we’ve undergone about three years of evolution in about three months. New opportunities are opening up. The gyms who can make it through are way more valuable.

Chris (29:28):

I don’t have specific data to share with you on this because not enough gyms are reopened yet. But I do have some empirical evidence. The gyms that reopened in states where there was a clear government mandate, the government clearly gave permission to reopen, saw an uptick in revenue from five to 15%. Now, keep in mind that most of these gyms also started running a lot leaner and lighter during COVID. So they don’t have as many costs and they’re actually having their most profitable months. You know, I’ve heard that a dozen times. Other gyms and other gym owners are saying, you know what? I like this online thing. We’re going to forge a plan to do online only forever. I like the kind of lifestyle that this model provides. Other gyms are saying, we’re going to do both. We’re going to have this hybrid flex option where people can do some workouts at home, or we’re going to deliver, you know, some part of their programming to them at home.

Chris (30:18):

And they’re going to do some in person, too. All of these things are viable alternatives that have been proven by others in the market. They’re just not popular in the CrossFit and microgym and HIIT world yet. So what we do is we say, who is doing this the best in the world? We look around, we find that person, and then we pay that person to tell us how they’re doing it. That’s basically the Two-Brain model. Maybe it’s kind of cheating, but that’s what I’ve always done with mentors. So while reopening your facility might feel like a huge relief, many owners are already finding that some of their clients actually prefer the online training and other clients will be reluctant to rejoin large groups. Again, the best thing that I can always pass along after 24 years as a coach is never assume that you know what your clients want.

Chris (31:06):

Just ask them. Don’t guess. Because online training is a higher value service than group training in person, gym owners should not miss these opportunities by simply saying back to class when their doors are reopened. It’s worth the time to ask every single member what do you want now? That means your reopening is the perfect time to do a goal review session with every single member and update their prescriptions to include online training, personal training, group training, nutrition coaching, habits coaching, or whatever they need from you most. I said earlier that one of the keys to successful online training is to ask your top clients, what do you need most from me right now? And then to tailor your service depending on their answers. But that’s always been the best strategy for gym owners to follow anyway. The key to retention is not better programming or more space or more equipment or faster spinning barbells.

Chris (31:58):

The key is maintaining a one on one relationship with every client in your gym. Even if they exercise in a group. That means frequent goal review sessions. And it also means changing your service to reflect what your clients need. So as you ramp up your physical location, send each client this personalized message. Hey, Heather, I’m really excited to get back to our barbells again, but some clients have told me that they love doing some of their workouts at home. And if you are even choosing to stay online, period, what do you think would work best for you over the next few months? And after Heather responds, you respond with great. Here’s how we can do that. Provide a price. If you were careful about setting your rates for online coaching, this should be a snap. If a higher rate comes as a surprise to your clients, then you’ve anchored their expectations incorrectly.

Chris (32:51):

Get on a call with a mentor to talk about how to fix that mistake. As always, remember this: Group training with broad, inclusive programming that you apply to everyone is your discount option. After they choose their program, you respond with this: Fantastic. Can’t wait to see you. Can we plan to review your progress and preferences again in three months? Then set a date for the next goal review session. People will want and need different levels of service at different times. Then set up the new training plan and run with it. When your gym reopens, you need to start by building the feelings of belonging for a week before you start marketing to prospective members, you know, let everybody feel like the insiders are here, the tribe is secure, before you start asking strangers to join you. So first, when government restrictions allow it, set up a reunion event that’s private for your clients only.

Chris (33:44):

They’ll be excited to see everyone and get back to training. Then remember this: People don’t usually go out of their way to recruit their friends. The best time to start an initiative to capture new clients is when your current clients are feeling grateful and excited. So a week after opening, plan a bring your friend to fitness day. These free community workouts and free trials have not been effective since 2015, because they only work for self-driven early adopters. And all those people have joined gyms by now. But the COVID-19 crisis has forced a lot more of those folks out of hiding. And they’ve pushed some late adopters to take action. More people in the public will want to pursue health and fitness. And we’re seeing this in gyms all over the world. Now, many of these people will have adopted a workout routine or a diet for the first time during COVID and your physical gym can be the next step after they started their fitness journeys online. For now, there’s new low-hanging fruit on the vine and fewer pickers in the vineyard too.

Chris (34:48):

Many big chain gyms will have to reopen slowly and Facebook ad costs are currently like 2015 levels. Those opportunities won’t last long. So after you’ve taken a bit of time to reinforce your connections with your clients and you’ve shown them that they are your top priority, get back to affinity marketing, organic marketing, and paid marketing. Push hard. Special note. Don’t expect the progression from stage one to stage four to be a straight line. There’s going to certainly be some backtracking. It’s happening. We’ve seen it. Be prepared for it. And now the question that I’m getting that’s going to surprise a lot of listeners. What if I don’t want to reopen it all? In this next period, some gyms are going to reopen, some aren’t, but we’ll all have to choose. And it won’t come down to the governments or the lawyers or the other gyms in town. As always, it’s going to come down to you. Always comes down to you. For some health risks will outweigh the fiscal reality.

Chris (35:49):

You know, I don’t want to open up and expose myself and my kids to COVID. For others, it’s going to be different. You know, I can’t stay closed. Cause I got to feed my family. I get that. Some of us have the ability to choose, some don’t. We’re all trying to do the best thing here. We’re all trying to serve. Nobody is evil. Nobody is hurting anyone. So before you decide to reopen, review your hierarchy of priorities. They are your family first. Then your clients, then your staff, then your audience, the people who are paying attention, but not paying you money yet. If your values at any of those levels are compromised by serving the level below them, don’t reopen. It’s OK to protect your family while keeping your clients online. It’s OK to serve your clients even if your staff has to drive Uber for a while. I know that’s going to be an unpopular opinion, but there it is.

Chris (36:54):

It’s OK to ignore your audience because you want to serve your staff better and give them permission to stay home. It’s OK to not open at all. Your gym family trusts you. If you say I want to make absolutely sure you’re safe. So we’re going to wait. That’s fine. The key is to communicate your care. This is the worst time to be silent. Tell your staff and your members number one, why you want to wait to reopen. And it’s because of course you care about them and you don’t want to take risks with their health. Second, your plan to reopen with the options that you’ll make available. And third, that you love them and appreciate their patience. Your business exists to serve you. Not the other way around. Sometimes the sacrifices you make are determined by other people, but this is one you can control. Open on your terms, but no matter what you choose, share your plan.

Chris (37:46):

The true measure of leadership in your gym won’t be how you manage the closure of your facility, but the reopening. You will have to balance the cares and concerns of your clients against the fiscal realities. It’s the same thing politicians are wrestling with, but you’ll do it on a micro scale. And the pressure will be immediate. The best strategy is to outline your plan far in advance to your staff and your clients. Tell your people your plan, warn them that the process will take time, but that you’ll keep coaching them no matter what. Show them the worst case scenario and celebrate the small steps forward. Like really celebrate. Share the blame, but accept responsibility. You can read or listen to my simple model for leadership in a crisis that I call the calm model by clicking on the links in the reopening your gym guide, or we have a blog post called how to lead in a crisis or there’s a podcast on Two-Brain Radio outlining it too.

Chris (38:43):

This is the model that I followed through the COVID crisis. And I’m really proud to say hundreds of other gyms have adopted this model too. And they have really both grown and benefited from it. There’s a difference between average and extraordinary. Not every gym in your community will follow these plans. As hard as it is for me to accept, not every gym is going to make it through this crisis. Some secretly stayed open during the shutdown, some taped paper over their windows, and they ran classes out of desperation. They probably didn’t have a plan to do otherwise. And they made a short term decision to buck convention or break the law. Or maybe the owner didn’t personally agree with the shutdown rules and they used the business to make a political statement. Those aren’t smart moves and you serve smart people. Smart people will not react well to gyms that try to cheat. Smart people react well to cautious, optimistic leaders.

Chris (39:39):

As you try to be that leader, you might feel as if you have to keep up with the Joneses, you might feel as if you have to read every comment in every Facebook group or risk missing some vital new idea. You might feel as if you have to do everything instead of working really hard on the right things. That’s just how we’re wired. Average gym owners aren’t going to have the plan that I just laid out for you. They’re going to get overwhelmed and it’s a bad time to be average. Over the last few years, I’ve watched the gym industry polarize. The best gyms are growing faster than ever, and everyone else is falling further behind, three years ago, the average gym had about 120 members, 5,000 square feet of space. They ran only classes and they barely broke even. But that middle is disappearing.

Chris (40:25):

The average is going away and this crisis puts pressure on the whole system, causing the average to disappear even faster. What’s causing the separation? Data and best practices. While the top gyms constantly measure, test and refine, the worst gyms just try to do everything. That means the best gyms are getting ready to sprint right now. And the worst are getting ready to close. I think everybody understands this, but it’s still hard to avoid being average. It’s hard to stand out. It’s hard to differentiate yourself and say, I’m not like you, when other gym owners criticize or attack you or even copy you. It’s hard not to engage, right? Because we think we’re wandering away from the safety of the group. The group has said, just do video classes. You’ll be fine. But the best gyms don’t accept that because they hear average and they don’t want to be average.

Chris (41:17):

The group says you can’t coach someone without a barbell, but the best gyms know that isn’t true. It’s just what the average think. The bottom line is nobody’s coming to save you. It’s really up to you. You’re back in founder phase again, like the first stage of entrepreneurship. What’s that mean? It means you’re the primary service provider. It means you have to make daily contact with each of your clients. It means you have to direct all of your energy into relationships. It means you have to ask your clients, how can I help you today, and expect the answer to change every week. But it also means you’re free. It means you can start over. It means you can make up your business from scratch. It means you don’t have to adhere to dogma or perceived notions of what’s the best thing anymore. It means you can rebuild.

Chris (42:08):

And this time you can do it on a foundation of data instead of guessing. You know I’m going to say, get a mentor. All of your heroes have mentors, but if you can’t get a mentor, just ask for proof before you take any action. Now at the bottom of this guide, I’ve given you a link that you can click for a huge collection of free gym building tools. We spend about $20,000 every month building these tools and then just giving them away for free because knowledge isn’t what makes the difference. Action is. Mentors are filters that help you take action. Sometimes mentors are teachers, but there’s a lot of information out there and you can grab all the best information and a lot of our data just from downloading free tools. When somebody calls and says I get it, but I can’t afford a mentor.

Chris (42:54):

I say, download this free tool, take action on it. And you’ll make enough money to be able to afford a mentor. And that’s our whole basic premise at Two-Brain Business. There are other resources available. I mentioned earlier, some CDC posters, some OSHA posters. There are sample email templates that you can send out if you or a coach, you know, heaven forbid, contracts coronavirus, what you should do. And we’re updating these resources all the time on, just click on the COVID resources or the link in this text. To sum it all up, I want gyms to get open faster, but more important. I want them to get open better. I want you to become wealthy because that is the leverage point through which we can change the health of the world. If gyms go out of business, we lose the ability to help a thousand people in a small community at the ground floor level. Let’s stay alive. Let’s say engaged, let’s stay healthy and help others do the same.

Andrew (43:55):

This is Two-Brain Radio. If you want more great advice from Chris on a host of topics, click the link in the show notes to go to our free tools page. There you’ll find marketing guides, hiring plans, business plans and more, all for free. It’s everything you need to run a gym in one place. That’s the free tools page at


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