Before COVID-19, Hilary Harrison, the director of healthy living at the Central Virginia Y, became certified in Sprint 8 and organized an eight-week challenge for members. “Unfortunately, our closure due to COVID-19 interrupted the end of our challenge, but we plan to offer the challenge again in the future,” she said. “With the ability for members to use the self-guided Sprint 8 program on their own, it is a great way for members to get a great workout while maintaining their social distance.”
Below, Harrison and Jay Parker, the CEO of the Central Virginia Y, share their COVID-19 experience and their relationship with Matrix:
What obstacles have you faced in the previous months? What have you learned from them?
JP: Like all gyms across the state, our operations came to a halt in mid-March. With the physical closure of our facilities we immediately began to face the challenge of engaging our members without being able to interact with them in person. As a non-essential business, we continue to work through each phase of reopening, carefully crafting procedures based on restrictions and not only training our staff on new protocols, but instilling the importance of these measures to our sustainability.
We have learned to explore ideas thoroughly and get creative. We have learned our members value a relationship almost as equally as they value our services, and our members who have the ability to pay for premier services are absolutely willing to continue to do so. We have also learned there is no way to change anyone’s mind about not feeling safe coming into our facilities — which is understandable — but you must learn how to engage with these members.
Specific challenges include:
- Physical closure. We could not do much beyond the governor’s orders in our physical space, but we immediately went virtual with Facebook Live Group X classes, but as soon as we were able to gather outdoors, we instituted Healthy Outside.
- Membership loss. We are doing what we can to be as safe as possible within guidelines — showing members we care, and taking every step possible to keep them and our staff safe.
- Premier programs are holding strong. Regardless of the crisis, people are still willing to pay premium rates.
- General membership is still on the direct decline. We are exploring new ways to engage and retain members.
Have you started any new initiatives/programs/processes in light of the extended closures?
JP: We immediately began utilizing Facebook Live and YouTube to host group fitness classes for our members. We asked members who could afford to do so to continue to pay their dues as a tax-deductible donation. Our virtual reach quickly expanded beyond our membership base, and we hope to soon be offering an exclusive virtual membership.
For our premier programs and personal training sessions, we utilized Zoom where we could host private classes and one-on-one sessions that also generated income. These sessions were extremely effective because of our ability to see our members at home where we could successfully and confidently coach them through workouts. We are continuing to offer these options for members who are not ready to come back physically to our locations. Prior to reopening our facility, we offered outdoor classes and plan to expand into a fully functioning outdoor space.
How have vendor relationships, like yours with Matrix, helped you to overcome challenges, COVID-related or otherwise?
JP: Our relationship with Matrix started in 2010 when we were opening the Express Y. I had another vendor who was not able to get the equipment they promised, so I reached out and they made it happen. Matrix has always been responsive to our needs, even during the coronavirus pandemic. We are located in a smaller community and that tends to lead to service issues. Matrix has listened to my concerns about that and has responded by bringing on new maintenance techs to help get us faster service. This customer service has always made me feel comfortable with our relationship, and is why I continue to do business with them.
HH: My experience with Matrix has always been great. Trainings are fun and informative. They recently sent us Sprint 8 gear for members who loved the program but were interrupted by COVID-19.
What advice would you like to share with other community rec professionals on operations moving forward?
JP: The greatest success we have always had is engaging and building relationships with our members. They know we truly care about them and their well-being, and continue to return to use our facilities because of the relationships we create with them in addition to the services we offer. We continue to take all precautions and safety measures for our staff and members seriously, and members take note.
My best advice would be to remain vigilant in industry trends and always be ready to adapt. Members may not come back until they are ready, but creating accessible programs and engagement on social media can help to continue to stay top of mind with your members at home. Remain proactive and do everything in your power to ensure your facilities remain as safe and clean as possible to be in a position to welcome your members back.