A franchisor shares how they have managed their network during the coronavirus crisis, even signing master franchise agreements in the process.
When COVID-19 started to spread across the U.S., we were faced with the same questions so many businesses were forced to address: ‘How do we keep our team and our members safe? And how do we continue operating?’
Like every business owner in every industry impacted by the COVID-19 crisis, we had to innovate quickly for the health and safety of our team and our customers. In one week’s time, my company went from the world’s largest kickboxing organization to the largest online kickboxing organization.
At 9Round Fitness, we recognized that we needed to provide our members with a way to continue their workouts in some fashion as they sheltered-in-place. So we immediately rolled out digital at-home workout videos for our members across the globe.
This was a lifeline for our brand that made all the difference. And today, as many of our franchise studios have reopened their doors and welcomed members back where jurisdictions have allowed, we know one thing: no matter the industry, businesses must embrace a transformation.
9Round was founded on high fives, fist bumps and trainer-led punching. And while that has taken a hiatus for now, we are still working hard to deliver the incredible engaging service our members have come to expect, even if it looks a little different.
While we can’t predict the future of the virus, we can control how we conduct business and where we focus our efforts to weather this storm.
Prioritize health and safety above all else
The single, most important goal for business owners and operators should be to prioritize the safety of employees and customers. As restrictions have loosened up in some countries and states, and fitness centers are once again able to reopen their doors, it’s not business as usual. In order for members to feel confident returning to the gym floor, the focus needs to be on stringent health and sanitation guidelines. This includes new member conduct expectations and enhanced sanitation procedures, as well as ensuring appropriate social distancing. Luckily, our studios are set up in a circuit format, which naturally allows for this.
At 9Round we spent a lot of time thinking through a robust safety plan so that our members know that we planned well and that we care about their safety. One of the biggest changes for 9Round is a new process for members to book workouts in advance to maintain reduced capacity at clubs. This is a fundamental change to our model where we’ve always prided ourselves on offering no scheduled class times. But it’s also the prudent thing to do when we all need to adhere to social distancing.
Create innovative solutions that become competitive strengths
Even in the best of circumstances, it’s not easy for business leaders to pivot at a moment’s notice. But the uncertainty and ever-changing nature of the current situation makes it even more of a challenge. Daily lives are changing, and businesses need to step up and change as well, and not just for the present moment, but for the long-term vision of the business. In the end, these challenges may also present incredible opportunities. For our brand, on-demand virtual workouts were introduced to adapt to shelter-in-place orders. And the feedback was tremendous.
“No matter the industry, businesses must embrace a transformation”
We realized that this should be something that should become a part of our business model permanently. As a result, we plan to expand upon this as quickly as we can so that our members have the option to work out at home, in our studios, or with a hybrid approach depending on their comfort levels. We have already engaged several companies to help us with production, app development, and coaching us in building our own dedicated filming studio buildout. We plan on having a big launch no later than early 2021 for our newly enhanced on-demand program branded as 9RoundNOW.
Keep the communication channels open through unprecedented times
Effective communication during any crisis is crucial to maintaining customer trust and restoring our franchisees’ morale. For our owners, it was responding to the crisis swiftly by rolling out our on-demand workouts and new sanitation procedures and communicating those changes clearly through constant communication via emails, webinars, and direct support through our franchise business coaches so that the changes could be implemented quickly for their own studios to protect as much local-level revenue as possible.
For our members, we communicated changes via email newsletters, regular social media updates, and Facebook Live workouts with myself and my co-founder and wife, Heather. In doing all this, we did more than simply provide a way for our members to keep working out, we also found a way to keep the dialogue open with them while they were not able to come into their local studios. You, too, can use this crisis as a way to create the dialogue with your customers that is so badly needed to move our communities forward in the most positive ways in the most stressful of times. And it is an opportunity that local businesses are uniquely able to foster.
Don’t lose sight of long-term goals
While the trajectory of the virus is unknown, and we continue to triage problems in the present, we can’t abandon long-term plans for growth. Maintaining a forward vision is critical, while also being nimble to adapting those plans to a changing world.
For 9Round, global expansion continues to remain a priority. As we head into the second half of 2020, we are encouraged by the momentum we are seeing. In this economically turbulent time, potential franchisees are still seeing the appeal of owning a 9Round franchise. We continue to see strong interest in the brand not only domestically but internationally, too. With recent deals awarded for Vietnam and Indonesia, we now have master developer candidates in India, Pakistan, and Brazil as well.
As all businesses and business owners weather this storm, I invite you to revisit the rock-solid commitment you’ve had with your customers from day one. Look for ways to innovate and adapt to a ‘new normal’. Work together to make sure your people feel safe, embrace change, and remain optimistic for our collective future. There are needs to be met, and we can fight harder to meet them together for the collective good.
Shannon Hudson is the Founder and CEO of 9Round Fitness.