If any positives can emerge from a pandemic, one might be the further realization of just how important the athletics, fitness and recreation industries are to our collective physical and mental wellbeing. Most professionals were more than willing to shutter their storefronts and sacrifice entire playing seasons as the nation came to grips with COVID-19, but there's no denying the deep sense of loss inherent to that process — feelings exacerbated by the months of forced inactivity and isolation that followed.
It's no wonder the desire to get back to business is so strong.
Now comes the challenging work of reopening. With renewed commitment to customer service and care, industry leaders are re-examining the operational status quo like never before — and finding safer ways to deliver the most coveted of end products: good health.
These pages represent an overview of progress being made by organizations and individuals alike during this unpredictable period of transition in athletics, fitness and recreation.
David Collignon was having a conversation with a Blink Fitness member who'd just returned to one of the franchise's recently reopened locations. The member happened to be a nurse, and Collignon, senior vice president at Blink, asked her how she felt about returning to the gym amid the current pandemic.
"She told me she felt safer at Blink than she did in her work environment," Collignon says, noting that the company has worked hard to develop an 80-page playbook for reopening that considers everything from CDC guidelines to state and local regulations.
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As the company began formulating its reopening plan, employee safety was a top priority. "They have to feel comfortable when they return to work," Collignon says, noting that all employees were trained on how to protect themselves and others, a process that involved certifications in all of the company's new cleaning and mitigation protocols.
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Educating members on changes at Blink clubs was equally important, so the company created the Blink Promise, which aims to communicate five core reopening principles: all staff are certified in company protocols, every location is committed to enhanced cleaning routines, social distancing will be monitored, all gyms will be reorganized to promote social distancing, and all gyms are committed to teaching members how they can help keep themselves and others safe while inside the facility.
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For Blink, a franchise with more than 100 locations in nine states, consistency has always been a priority, and perhaps even more so now. The company has aimed to ensure that the experience is the same across all locations, which involved gathering input for its playbook from every franchisee.
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"It was really helpful to hear from all our owners during this process," Collignon says. "In the end, they have to be comfortable with what we put in place. And they've all been really supportive as we've come up with our guidelines."
While masks are recommended but not required, Blink members and staff are all given temperature checks before they enter the gym, something Collignon says has been enthusiastically received by members. Equipment has been spaced and signage has been put in place to communicate to members areas where social distancing should be observed.
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For the most part, Blink's plan falls within the framework put forth by IHRSA, which recommends a four-pronged strategy for reopening fitness clubs that involves implementing health screening measures (turning away members with a fever, cough or other symptoms); implementing mitigation strategies throughout the facility (distancing equipment, visual cues, plexiglass between staff and members at reception areas); educating staff and members on virus mitigation and safety measures; and implementing enhanced cleaning measures.
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Blink will take things very slowly as it looks toward the future. Safety measures put in place will remain as long as the CDC, as well as local and state agencies, say they're necessary. Collignon says as long as members are receptive — he emphasizes they have been — he sees no reason to rush toward easing the policies that are currently in place.
This article originally appeared in the July | August 2020 issue of Athletic Business with the title "Fitness Clubs exceed reopening expectations." Athletic Business is a free magazine for professionals in the athletic, fitness and recreation industry. Click here to subscribe.