A Reopening Success Story: Strongside
Mitchel Black opened Strongside in Woodstock, Georgia in 2013. It took him about five years to hit his stride, but once he focused on general population fitness with a sense of variety and fun, his membership took off, building to over 300 members by early 2020.
Then came COVID-19.
When gyms in Georgia were ordered to close in the spring of 2020, Strongside stayed closed for eight weeks, twice as long as mandated by the state. While they were closed, Mitchel loaned out all his equipment, ran multiple Zoom classes a day, hosted a virtual 5K, and made t-shirts with the slogan, “The Fitness Never Stops.”
“We did everything we could think of, and it was about reaching (the members) and making them feel supported. We lent out all of our equipment, we put together packages for people,” Mitchel said.
Even so, Mitchel said they lost about 25 percent of their members right away, which he said was scary. However, instead of shutting down and retreating, Mitchel took action. He began listening to his members to find out what would make them comfortable and sent out surveys every week before he reopened to understand how his members were feeling.
Once they opened, Strongside went back to their full schedule. They made deals with nearby gyms that had closed down to absorb their members.
The strategy worked.
“We will do a record amount of revenue (in November), we’re opening two locations, and we’re hiring people left and right,” Mitchel said.
“We are not through anything and I am proceeding with caution, but you have to expand into the contraction, no matter how uncomfortable it is,” he said.
Mitchel’s biggest piece of advice for gym owners facing closure or trying to figure out how to reopen is to listen to your members and actively seek out their thoughts, and keep doing everything you can to make sure you’re meeting their needs.
“We’ve gotten an insane amount of new members,” Mitchel said, “and we will end at a record amount of revenue this year.”
Many gyms around the country are not able to operate at full capacity like Strongside, but the overall trends are improving.
In general, our data from Zen Planner shows a continued uptick in overall revenue numbers, meaning members are keeping their memberships active. Nationwide, revenue is at 77% of 2019 numbers, up two percent from last month. Check-ins, however, are down seven percent from last month — they’re at 72% of the numbers from 2019. Active members are up one percent from last month to 79% of 2019’s totals.
We’re still in the fight, but the lessons to take from these numbers are to stay creative and find new ways to keep members engaged and connected with their fitness community. As we head into the holidays, you can offer special activities or incentives to encourage your members to keep their memberships active. Remember that increased COVID-19 cases might mean people opt to stay at home instead of traveling for the holidays, which means more opportunities to keep your members engaged.
Increased COVID-19 numbers may also mean attendance restrictions and more aggressive implementation of hybrid or virtual membership models. You might want to consider diversifying your program options to include a steady virtual component to help you weather any shutdowns.
Be ready to lean in and guide your community through the season by celebrating wellness and fitness!
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Hilary Achauer is a health and wellness writer with over 10 years of experience helping gym owners and small businesses tell their stories through articles and marketing content. Prior to joining UpLaunch, Zen Planner, and SugarWOD, Hilary spent seven years writing for the CrossFit Journal and covering the CrossFit Games. She’s published articles in the Washington Post, The Week, Eating Well, Greatist, and Men’s Health.