How Affiliates are Working to Retain Clients with Closed Doors

March 27, 2020 by
Cedit: @activeliferx
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In the last seven to 10 days, dozens upon dozens of CrossFit affiliates around the world closed their doors because of the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Where we are one week later: In a sample size of close to 50 CrossFit affiliates, the majority have reported one to five membership holds or cancellations so far. A handful of others have reported between five and 10 holds or cancellations.

Better news: Eight affiliates we spoke with said they have had zero cancellations or holds thus far, meanwhile, Theo Tsekouras, the owner of CrossFit H-Town in Houston, TX has even had some members volunteer to pay for other members who have been hit hard already. Also, both Mary Hollis, the owner of Caffeinated CrossFit in Mableton, Ga. and Dave Henry, the owner of CrossFit London in Ontario, have picked up new clients who approached them after their Globo gyms closed down.

The most common remote services these affiliates are now offering include:

  • Daily at-home programming
  • Online Zoom group classes
  • Team fitness challenges (aka QuaranTeam Challenge)
  • Equipment borrow/rental

Though many affiliates have experienced positive outcomes so far, most have only been closed for seven to 10 days, and Tsekouras and others are aware of what could happen should this pandemic cause closures for many more weeks, or months.

  • “I’m a realist and fully expect if we go into month two, people will hold and cancel. It’s a large monthly payment,” he said.

This has certainly been the experience for Carlo Strati, the owner of CrossFit Varese in Italy. He has been closed since February 23, and with no end in sight, Strati’s members are no longer paying at all. Most of his members pay for three, six or 12 months up front. Right now, he’s not renewing any memberships as they become due, and his monthly payments have all been cancelled.

  • “They are paying nothing. I can’t ask them for money. This is a bad situation for all,” said Strati, who continues to offer workouts to his community through a private broadcast list on WhatsApp, hoping they’ll return when he can eventually re-open his doors.

Words from Dr. Sean Pastuch: Pastuch is a chiropractor, former owner of three gyms and the founder of the Active Life Rx. His company currently works with 60-plus CrossFit gyms and more than 1,000 coaches — mostly remotely — to help clients move better and eliminate aches and pains that doctors and physiotherapists haven’t been able to help them solve.

His advice to affiliate owners is simple: “Zoom classes will get old. Right now, they’re a great way to buy good will, but they will get old.”

Not only does he expect clients to soon grow bored, he’s also concerned about the more limited programming options coaches have access to with at-home programming.

  • “(Air) squats, burpees, lunges on repeat will lead to hip problems and people will start finding themselves with aches and pains,” he said. “Or, the opposite will happen for some. People will be so deloaded (through bodyweight movements only) and when they come back to the gym and start lifting again, they’ll feel like shit and will say, ‘I felt better in quarantine.’”

He recommends that coaches with experience in individual program design add that as a service.

People are always going to want to “check the box” that they did a hard conditioning workout, so Pastuch isn’t saying to eliminate Zoom classes, but simply to keep Zoom workouts short, and offer individual programming in addition to Zoom classes.

  • “This also introduces members to an elevated service, and will give them good reason to stay longer,” he said.

Many of Pastuch’s Active Life Rx gyms are now offering individual program design for an additional cost, and are giving back a portion of that revenue to a local business of the client’s choice. This is creating goodwill, and helping gym owners continue to pay their coaches, Pastuch explained.

  • “Coaches (in my network) are actually working harder now than they did before,” he said.

Moving forward:

Focus on the relationships: While Globo gyms, community centers, yoga facilities and Orange Theory gyms closed and immediately cancelled services and membership fees, affiliate owners are in a much better position to retain members, as they are in the relationship business, said Keoni Subiono, who hasn’t had any clients ask him to cancel or hold their membership yet.

  • “Nothing is more important than relationships. Retention comes down to maximum engagement. (Get) creative with how you’re going to add value to members during this time of isolation,” he said.

This means:

Pick up the phone and call each member: Some affiliate owners have contacted every single member on the phone to ask them how they’re doing, what they need, and how the gym can better service them in this climate.

A phone call is especially important when someone asks to hold their membership, said Henry. He managed to talk more than one client “off a ledge” and convince them to continue paying just by picking up the phone, listening to their fears, expressing empathy and reminding them of the importance of fitness.

Assign specific coaches to specific clients: Alex Cibiri, the owner of  Element CrossFit in Mississauga, Ontario, has more than 300 members, which was too many clients for him to manage personally. So, he assigned each client to one of his coaches, thus providing each client a personal accountability coach. Each of his coaches must reach out to their book of clients each day.

Other gyms — specifically those that belong to the MadLab Group, a business consulting group for small gym owners — have also divided their clients up among their coaches and are continuing to pay coaches a percentage of revenue of their clients’ monthly fees. In this sense, the gym owner doesn’t have to do it all right now, as coaches too, are invested in ensuring they retain their book of clients.

Members helping members: Some affiliates have also been paying-it-forward, doing whatever they can to help other small businesses in their area, or their members’ small businesses. For example, asking people to prepay for a haircut or color, or buy a gift card, to the hair salon owned by one of their members.

Mike Manning, the long-time owner of Harbor City CrossFit in Melbourne, FL is one of these owners: “We are joining people to our resilience challenge and suggesting donations, which buy you gift cards from local businesses that are closed, for later use. (We have) had hundreds of dollars raised within minutes,” he said.

Lower the price: Others have said they have lowered their monthly fee, or intend to lower it, should the closure carry on into a second month. Some money is better than no money, they say.

Individual lifestyle consults: Ben Kelly, the owner of BKAthletics in Fairfield, CT started offering one-on-one Zoom meetings that act as lifestyle consults, “encouraging members that, ‘This is what we train for,’” he explained.

Additional programming strands: Some affiliates are also offering more specific classes or programming options, such as nutrition consulting, mobility classes or running or endurance programs.

Similarly, Cibiri has been hosting nightly Sip n’ Stretch classes via Zoom, where his members come together for mobility with a glass of wine, or alcoholic or non-alcoholic drink of their choice. He has had as many as 31 members attend this class.

Moving forward: Like Subiono, Pastuch also believes getting through this pandemic as unscathed as possible comes down to relationships.

“Reach out to people and check in daily with members,” he said.

Though people are scared and anxious, and rightfully so, Pastuch asks affiliate owners and coaches to also recognize the opportunity in front of them.

With commercial gyms “getting smashed right now,” affiliate owners have the chance to show that we’re more than a facility with equipment.

“I think this is the best time in the history of fitness to show that we aren’t four walls and access to equipment. We are the guides who help people to be able to do the things that they believe fit people can do, and that has not changed,” Pastuch said.

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