In 2008, IHRSA published the Guide to Health Cleanliness, which highlighted the startling results of a survey: More than 90 percent of survey participants said they were more apt to renew their membership with a health club facility if the facility was clean. That might not be so surprising, but here’s the shocking part: Only slightly more than half said they would renew if the facility was not clean.
Keep in mind that this was six years ago, before the Ebola scare, before enterovirus D68, before super-strong strains of the flu were floating around. With these threats around us, and with media hype that frequently blows such threats out of proportion, it’s little wonder that health club and sports facility users are even more cautious than they used to be. Add to that the fact that we’re smack in the middle of cold season, and you’ve got potentially a lot of skittish members on your hands who want assurance that their health is protected when they’re using your facility.
What can you do to reassure them? First of all, make sure you’ve got a plan for keeping your place as clean as possible. Review your cleanliness policies and procedures. Are they up to date? Do they follow best practices? Are they generally in keeping with standards set by the Centres for Disease Controls (for example, wash hands with soap and water for 20 seconds or rub an alcohol-based sanitizer on hands for 15 seconds before and after workouts; shower after workouts; avoid walking barefoot across exercise floors and locker rooms)?
After you’ve polished up your policies, start thinking about your staff. Do they know the policies? Do they know what to do if they’re sick (best practices say they should stay home)? Do they know what tasks they should take responsibility for in order to help maintain the highest standard of cleanliness possible? Organize a mandatory staff meeting solely around these issues and make sure everyone is on board. Do frequent walkthroughs with a cleanliness checklist to make sure rules are being adhered to.
Finally, communicate directly and explicitly with your members about cleanliness in your facility. Send out an email explaining your concerns during the season, highlighting the steps your club is taking to stay as germ-free as possible, and asking members to remain aware of ways in which they can help contribute to a cleaner club environment. List specific tips, like the Centres for Disease Control standards shown above. A post on IHRSA’s blog describes an email Newtown Athletic Club recently sent to its members. Linda Mitchell, Newtown Athletic’s director of PR and Marketing, devised a letter with the subject line “Healthy Facilities Initiative.” She and her team carefully worded the letter, avoiding making any promises but being sure to explain procedures. They assured members that maintaining a clean facility is a top priority. Then they described new procedures being implemented and outlined member responsibilities. Mitchell told IHRSA that the email had an unheard-of 35 percent open rate—to her a clear indication that members were hungry for information about facility cleanliness.
Ultimately, you want to make your members feel secure, and you want them to know you welcome their questions and can answer them satisfactorily. Over and above that, you want to keep your facility as germ-free as possible — for your members’ sake, but also for your own and your staff’s. Provide a safe environment, clearly communicate the details about how you’ve done so, and keep everyone feeling strong and healthy all winter long.