2 Groups To Focus On First To Refill Your Gym After Your COVID-19 Shutdown Ends

(Photo by Igor Alecsander/iStock/Getty Images Plus.) After months of being closed, health club operators need to attract people back through their doors with some basic marketing efforts that are made easier when the people being wooed are in these two groups.

As more and more gyms open nationwide after COVID-10, health club operators have a new hurdle to getting more members in: communicating safety and cleanliness.

Concerns about these issues are floating around in consumers’ minds—and you need to address these before they will return and before prospects will join. Even though you have protocols in place and cool videos of people in plastic suits misting your facility—these are great ideas—people who don’t know your facility have to trust that everyone inside it is following your protocols and that cleanings are happening regularly.

However, it takes time to build that trust. So what do you do? Instead of focusing your time on new people, focus first on people who already trust you: those who were referred to you and members you can reactivate. Why? Because referrals are people who have been told by a friend they trust how great you are. By extension, they will initially trust you as well. Reactivations are people who already know you and your gym. Many stop coming not because they don’t trust you but for reasons such as scheduling issues. They may want to return when the time is right.

So here’s a step-by-step process to refilling your gym:

1. Send a referral email request. Send a simple email to your members asking them to respond. For example:
Good morning!

We’re looking for a few more great members. As you know, GYM NAME is limiting attendance to keep our high cleaning standards and to give you plenty of room. With that in mind, we’d like to start with friends of members.

Do you have a friend, family member, or co-worker who would like a free session next week to check out the gym?

By ending with a question, you’re prompting a quick reply. As a pro tip, don’t just stop with the initial email. If you don’t hear back, send one or two follow up emails. I’ve never seen an email open rate of 100 percent, so it’s always better safe than sorry when it comes to following up.

2. Post internal referral signage. A lot of gyms want to go all in on digital but forget about the valuable real estate inside their facility. Add signage by sanitation stations and/or on doors about the opportunity the member has to bring a friend to the club for free.

Make sure to get the referral’s name ahead of time so you can stay within your state’s capacity guidelines. Before COVID-19, we would use a sign-up sheet on the front desk so members would see it slowly filling up with names and be prompted to add one of their own.

I’ve seen some of the most complex gym digital automations imaginable, and I’ve seen them outperformed by hanging one sign on the bathroom towel dispenser.

Still, I’d use both for the same reason as above—you don’t know who exactly is hearing and missing your message. By delivering it in multiple ways, the likelihood of a response is higher.

3. Start a reactivation campaign. For reactivation, cast a wide net and put a few fishing lines in the water. A wide net would be something like a general email to all past members asking if they would like to return.

On top of that, you’ll want to reach out to some past rock stars individually to make them feel special. Don’t be afraid to pick up the phone and call or text.
Put a reminder on your phone to reach out to a former member once per day to check in on them.

Referrals and reactivations will be your highest-converting marketing efforts right now. The best part is that both strategies are free of ad spend and time spent writing complex ads, and split testing and guessing. There’s no fancy media required.

When times are tight for a lot of gyms after months of being closed, these both are great methods to get people in the door without breaking the bank.

Next Steps

Now that you’ve added friends of members and re-activated past members, start to build more social proof about your clean and amazing facility.

This momentum will carry over to signing up more new members. You will need the positive energy and that happy gym “vibe” buzzing around your facility as you introduce new members to your community.

With that new solid foundation of members, reactivated members and new referrals, you’ll have your gym growing again in no time.


Joe Hashey is president of Synergy Athletics, which has three locations in New York. He has a MAT in secondary education from Colgate University and is a certified strength and conditioning specialist and National Strength and Conditioning Association certified personal trainer. The Greater Binghamton (New York) Chamber of Commerce awarded him as its 2019 Small Business Person of the Year. Hashey provides free educational videos to gym owners at www.levelupyourgym.com. It’s like a free gym business master class in bite-sized videos.

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