Club Insider


The Coronavirus Crisis - Part I

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"Good Day. I hope this finds you well." If you have ever received an email or online message from me, that is my standard greeting. Over the years, I have always meant it. On the phone, I begin with the same sentiment, the first part of my call always being to see how the person on the other end of the line is doing. If you've met me in person, once again, it's the same. Every time.

I admit... This has become habit. It doesn't mean I don't mean it, but it is a habit. Recently, though, it has just meant more. Now, I take a pause before writing or saying the usual. I read or listen a little bit deeper when receiving a response. Then, I respond accordingly and with conviction.

Since a week or two into the COVID-19 pandemic, the Coronavirus Crisis, I have amended my usual greeting to now say, "I hope this finds you as well as can be during these times." Within that statement, I mean several things... I hope you are healthy. I hope your family is healthy. I hope your team is healthy. I hope your members (or other customers) are healthy. And, I hope your health and fitness club business is hanging in there.

There's a lot that can and is going wrong within those statements because of COVID-19; thus, I hope you are doing as well as can be during these times. Wherever you are, whatever you are going through, know that you are not alone.

These times are rough. With the exception of those few people left who lived through World War II, we have not known something like this. And, with even fewer exceptions, we definitely do not know what living through a global pandemic is like. Because of that, all of us are now living through the truly unknown. But, there is no reason to be ashamed of being scared. There is no reason to be ashamed of taking precautions to survive and ensure the survival of family. There is no reason to be ashamed of having a bad day here and there as these weeks and months pass.

All of that being said, we cannot give in to that fear. HOPE must rule the day. And, PURPOSE can guide the way.


My hope for this cover story is to instill greater conviction in your purpose than ever before.

Your purpose can, has and will continue to instill hope in others.

WE are all in this together.

For this cover story, Club Insider checked in with friends across the industry to see how they are doing, actions they are taking to survive and what they will do to thrive once this crisis is behind us all.

What follows are the responses to a non-statistical survey conducted by Club Insider. Too much information was submitted to present in its entirety, but the information to be presented will be done so across a two-part cover story:

  • Part I - The Closing - This month, we will present data around the closures of the clubs that participated in the survey and actions they are taking to sustain their organizations while closed. Additionally, IHRSA's Meredith Poppler will provide an update of what the Association has been doing for its members. And, we will present several stories that are meant to assist and inspire as we all work through COVID-19.
  • Part II - The Re-Opening - Next month, we will present the timelines and issues expected by club owners as the industry ramps back up. Because Part II of this cover story is still being written, I welcome your submission. If you would like to participate, please email me at, and I will send a you a few questions that can greatly assist in that writing.
  • Within both COVID-19 Special Editions of Club Insider, our Contributing Author Team will present pertinent articles that can assist you through both dynamics of this crisis: The Closing and The Re-Opening.

The Closing

As businesspeople, we plan for so many things. What do we do if this happens? What do we do if that happens? Well, what do we do if nothing happens? Literally, what do we do when we can do nothing? We can't be open, but we must operate. We are closed, but we will eventually need to reopen. We now live in a world that has shut down. What does that look like elsewhere? What are others doing to survive?

The following are survey answers from participating clubs related to the scope of their organizations, number of people (staff and members) affected, when and how they made the decision to close and actions they are taking in the interim:

ACAC Fitness Centers

Phil WendelPhil Wendel

Phil Wendel, Owner

Facilities: 12
Staff Members: 1,600
Club Members: 70,000
Membership Status: N/A

Date of Closure: Various
Government Mandated: No
Deciding Factor: N/A

Survival Methods:

  • We are not 'overly leveraged,' but our lender has deferred our principal and interest payments for three months (April, May and June).
  • We are negotiating with our landlords on 'rent relief' for a reasonable period of time.
  • We notified our 32,000 members that we will not be billing in April, but we asked if any of them would like to opt-in to pay their April dues: 4,500 agreed to allow us to bill them, 14% of our total membership. That money will be used to pay health insurance and payroll for an additional pay period. We told them we'd add one month to their membership and provide them with a 'bonus' ACAC gift card. We all felt the response was overwhelmingly positive.
  • We told our employees who work less than 15 hours per week that they should apply for unemployment; we told our employees who work 15 to 30 hours per week that we'll pay them a certain percentage of their last two weeks of pay. We're doing the same with full-time. With the passage of the new law, many of our employees will be doing fine with unemployment and the payments from the government.
  • I've never been the smartest person in the room, but I've always surrounded myself with people who know things I don't know. Here are a few of my recommendations: (1) Negotiate with your bankers and landlords for debt payment relief and rent relief. (2) Surround yourself with your best minds. (3) Make sure you have great legal counsel and a great CPA firm. (4) Take care of as many of your people as you can and take 'especially great care' of your best people.

The Atlantic Club

Pat LausPat Laus

Pat Laus, Owner & CEO
Kevin McHugh, COO

Facilities: 2
Staff Members: 725
Club Members: 9,000 (25,000+ additional monthly customers)
Membership Status: Cancelled: 5 - 10%; Leaves of Absence: 25 - 30%; Remaining Full-paying Members: 60 - 65%.

Date of Closure: March 16
Government Mandated: Yes

Survival Methods:

  • We completely shut down all operations and have reduced all utility usage as much as possible. We are still operating our pool filters and pumps as well as our tennis bubbles.

Kevin McHughKevin McHugh

  • We have successfully worked with our Red Bank facility landlord and have worked closely with our bank to secure their support through various relief initiatives and processing upcoming Government relief loans.

Chelsea Piers Connecticut

Greta WagnerGreta Wagner

Greta Wagner, Executive Director/EVP

Facilities: 3
Staff Members: 1,600
Club Members: 18,000
Membership Status: Cancelled: 10%; Leaves of Absence: 20%; Remaining Full-paying Members: 70%.

Date of Closure: March 13
Government Mandated: No
Deciding Factor: We decided to close prior to the government mandate because we felt it was socially responsible to protect the health of our members, customers and staff. We consulted with medical professionals with experience in infectious diseases. We have many customers and members of all age groups and hundreds of staff. We felt that the close contact was too much of a risk for everyone's safety.

Survival Methods: We are evaluating each bill and speaking with vendors, landlords and banks about timelines and deadlines. The entire world is in the same position, so we are finding that, in general, our vendors are all very understanding, and we are making it work.

Cincinnati Sports Club

Mary Frank, Sales and Marketing Manager

Survival Methods:

  • The club immediately contacted all independent contractors and vendors for a number of reasons. It was important to maintain our partnerships, find creative ways to reduce expenses and place orders of necessary supplies for the proper closure of the facility as well as to have on hand when we reopen. Some of our monthly recurring vender invoices have been reduced during the shutdown; we asked them for their monthly overhead costs and are trying to pay them that.
  • All non-essential lights have been turned off. The facility operations team is utilizing systems and shutdown procedures as it relates to our indoor aquatic facilities to reduce expenses and appropriately manage HVAC costs.
  • We greatly expanded the heat/cool schedule for HVAC so there is minimal heating and cooling done while we are closed. We will be draining our indoor pools to eliminate the need for climate control in those areas and further lower HVAC needs.
  • The club is in constant communication with our bankers and lawyers to collaborate with and navigate through the best resources available to ensure the company is financially strong in the short- and long-term.

The Claremont Club

Mike AlpertMike Alpert

Mike Alpert, President/CEO

Facilities: 1
Staff Members: 260
Club Members: 10,000
Membership Status: Cancelled: 4 - 5%; Medical Leave: 1%; Remaining Full-paying Members: 94 - 95%.

Date of Closure: March 16
Government Mandated: No
Deciding Factor: The news coming out of the medical community and the state and federal government.

Survival Methods:

  • Our bank offered to defer our mortgage payment for 90 days until July 16, which shores up about $250,000 of cash flow. We have no other debt and nothing outstanding on our line of credit, and we have no aged payables. All of this helps immensely. We are in the process of having our line of credit increased as a precautionary measure. Utilities will be largely reduced during the shutdown. We expect to support our vendors during this time, but total operating expenses will be minimal.
  • We did not give members the option to 'freeze' their membership unless it was for a medical reason with appropriate documentation. If we did not do that, we felt it would put the club in a very serious cash flow position without furloughing most of our valued staff and putting them on the unemployment line. For me, that was and is not an option. For those members who were willing to continue to allow us to draft their regular dues (with the understanding that all of this would go directly to pay all 260 of our staff, including full-time, part-time and commission-based their average rates from January 1 through March 15), we would pay them back 100% of the dues that were drafted for every week/month we were closed via a 30% discount off their regular dues rate once we reopen over a 10 - 12 month period.

Crunch Fitness West Florida/Atlanta

Geoff DyerGeoff Dyer

Geoff Dyer, President

Facilities: 21
Staff Members: 1,200
Club Members: 160,000
Membership Status: Cancelled: 20%; Leaves of Absence: 10%; Remaining Full-paying Members: 70%.

Date of Closure: March 20
Government Mandated: Yes

Survival Methods: We are contacting all landlords to get two months of rent abatement (not deferral) and/or renegotiate existing leases in to new, longer-term leases with free rent included and/or tenant improvement allowances.

DMB Sports

Carol NalevankoCarol Nalevanko

Carol Nalevanko, President

Facilities: 4 health clubs, 1 tennis center
Staff Members: 900
Club Members: 12,000 memberships
Membership Status: At this time, we are not billing any member dues, so we do not have a good idea of the number of cancels or freezes at this time.

Date of Closure: March 16
Government Mandated: No
Deciding Factor: Safety of our employees and members. All schools were mandated to close on March 13, so many employees could not come to work because they had to stay home with their children. It was getting harder to operate our clubs to our high standards with employees unable to work their shifts or teach their classes as well as trying to keep the facilities sanitized and safe for employees and members.

Survival Methods:

  • We have cut all monthly operational expenses to the bare minimum.
  • We have furloughed the majority of our employees as of April 17.

Newtown Athletic Club

Jim WorthingtonJim Worthington

Jim Worthington, Owner
Linda Mitchell, Director of Public and Government Relations

Facilities: 1
Staff Members: 350
Club Members: 12,000
Membership Status: N/A

Date of Closure: March 15
Government Mandated: No
Deciding Factor: Because of the Governor's strong recommendation, we felt closing was the prudent response to protect the health and safety of our members and employees. There were a few local clubs that did not close initially, and as a result, they received very negative feedback on social media. Of course, they eventually complied.

Linda MitchellLinda Mitchell

Survival Methods:

  • All expenses, where possible, have been put on hold by negotiating with our banks, vendors, etc. This allows us to conserve funds as no revenue is being generated.
  • We are also applying for SBA support where applicable.

Saco Sport & Fitness

Scott and Beth GillespieScott and Beth Gillespie

Scott and Beth Gillespie, Owners

Facilities: 1
Staff Members: 64
Club Members: 4,000
Membership Status: Remaining Full-paying Members: 80%.

Date of Closure: March 17
Government Mandated: No
Deciding Factor: Our understanding of the risk we would be putting our members our staff and the greater community in.

Survival Methods:

  • We laid off all but five key staff.
  • We are working with the bank to refinance.
  • We shut off all recurring non-essential vendor costs.

Stone Creek Club & Spa

Larry ConnerLarry Conner

Larry Conner, General Manager

Facilities: 1
Staff Members: 186
Club Members: 5,000
Membership Status: Cancelled: 1%; Leaves of Absence: 5%*; Remaining Full-paying Members: 94%.

*We informed our members that they would not pay any dues for the time the club is closed, so the 'leaves of absence' figure represents those who have contacted us to extend their membership freeze beyond our projected opening day.

Date of Closure: March 16
Government Mandated: Yes

Survival Methods:

  • We have gone through our entire G/L (general ledger) and suspended or reduced any services and vendors that we can down to the minimum to maintain the club in a 'shutdown' state while anticipating a reopen of all services in the next 30 - 60 days.
  • We are paying staff as they would normally be scheduled through the end of April, and we will evaluate the future as we receive new information from local and state authorities. Some of our salaried management team are performing some repairs and upgrades we would normally pay outside vendors for during the club closure.

VASA Fitness

Rich NelsenRich Nelsen

Rich Nelsen, CEO

Facilities: 45
Staff Members: 3,000
Club Members: 380,000
Membership Status: N/A

Date of Closure: March 17
Government Mandated: No
Deciding Factor: With the health and wellness of our community at the core of everything we do, we believed that proactively closing all VASA Fitness locations was the right move. We made this tough decision based on guidance from medical experts and state and federal officials who had put in place measures for social distancing and group activities to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Survival Methods:

  • VASA has furloughed 2,900 employees across clubs and corporate teams. Our priority is taking care of our people while also taking care of the business, so our employee health insurance will be covered 100% by VASA for at least the next 30 days and as long as we can afford to continue. After 30 days, we will assess the situation on a month-to-month basis.
  • When we made the tough decision to furlough the majority of our employees, we carefully reviewed the business-critical work and made sure we had the team in place to manage that work during closure. Employees will be brought back in phases based on the business necessity of their roles.


Ed Williams, CEO

Facilities: 19
Staff Members: N/A
Club Members: N/A
Membership Status: Cancelled: 6 - 8%; Leaves of Absence: 40%; Remaining Full-paying Members: 52%.

Date of Closure: Week of March 15
Government Mandated: Yes

IHRSA's COVID-19 Resources & Advocacy

Meredith PopplerMeredith Poppler

Meredith Poppler, VP of Communications & Leadership Engagement

As soon as word got out that clubs were being impacted by the Coronavirus, well before we had to cancel the IHRSA Convention, IHRSA formed a Crisis Communications Team. The team immediately went to work, looking at what the industry would need to stay open, survive forced-closures and then re-open when allowed. The amount of incredibly helpful content and resources that was developed out of that team effort is truly amazing.

At the same time, IHRSA's Government Relations Team jumped into action to ensure that the entire fitness industry would be included in relief efforts (I've included information on advocacy and ILC efforts after the resources).

Resources: Just some examples of new content and resources that have been released, totally free to the entire industry, include: - This web page ( is a clearinghouse for every resource, whether webinar, article, forum, video or link to services provided by industry suppliers.

The IHRSA Forum - Provides a space for club operators from all over the world to ask questions, share advice and learn from others (

Webinars - IHRSA launched the Coronavirus Conversations Webinar Series on March 17, which already feels like years ago.

Advocacy, Increasing Industry Firepower: IHRSA, subject to industry financial support, is immediately retaining four Washington D.C. lobbyists to assemble a cohesive lobbying team with strength in both the House of Representatives and the Senate, with reach among Democrats and Republicans:

  • McGuire Woods Consulting (new);
  • Capitol Hill Policy Group (new);
  • Public Strategies of Washington (new);
  • Van Scoyoc Associates (IHRSA's existing lobbyist, increasing their scope).

Funds Required for this Increased Firepower: Because of this urgent need for added firepower, the immediate need is $200,000. Club companies across the country must contribute emergency funds. 100% of your investment will be allocated to this immediate effort in Washington, D.C.

To contribute to this important cause, please contact Meredith Poppler by phone at (617) 316 - 6750 or email at

Newtown Athletic Club Becomes a Field Facility for Local Hospitals

NEWTOWN, PA - In March, the Newtown Athletic Club (NAC) Owner, Jim Worthington, reached out to local, state and federal government to donate NAC facilities and the Newtown Sports Training Center for any emergency use due to the COVID-19 crisis.

Bucks County Emergency Services accepted the offer, and the NAC prepared the space for 300+ beds for overflow hospital needs. The space was ready for patients on Friday, April 10.

As stated by NAC Owner, Jim Worthington, "Since 1978, the NAC has stood as a staple and cornerstone of the community during some of our nation's most difficult and trying times. This hard time is no different; it is our privilege to be able to contribute and support our community in this small way."

The Newtown Sports Training Center is a 40,000 square-foot indoor fieldhouse designed for sports activities and special events such as large celebrations, exhibitions, car shows and much more. As a large open indoor space, it is perfectly suited to house this type of temporary emergency service. Having this overflow space available so close to area hospitals is critical to dealing effectively with the potential community need during this time.

Linda Mitchell, Director of Public Relations and a 39-year NAC employee explained, "After 42 years of service to the community, we have never faced a situation such as this, and we are grateful to have the resources to support our community and country." Bucks County Chair of Commissioners, Diane Marseglia, has expressed on behalf of all the commissioners and the county her gratitude for this gesture of support.

Wealth of Wellness Offering FREE Done-for-You Services

LIMA, OH - Donna Krech, 38-year industry veteran and Founder/CEO of several companies that serve health clubs, wellness boutiques and personal training studios, has announced the member retention and EFT increase results she and her team are achieving, in the midst of COVID19, with locations across the nation. She is also announcing her intention to provide these services in done-for-you fashion, free of charge, during this challenging time, to any club needing help.

Krech and her her team understands that club owners are scared right now, because each of them has either been the owner of, or held a significant leadership position in, a fitness facility. It's with this understanding that they made the decision to provide, a free of charge, done-for-you liaison service to any club requesting it, providing added value, sought-after knowledge and multiple tools for members to use immediately. This virtual service will also provide the member with positive reinforcement about the club.

Examples of knowledge and tools provided at no cost include: Wellness & Nutrition Programming; Masterclasses with Health Experts; A Wellness Website Specifically for Your Members and Your Community; Hormone Assessments; Weight Loss Assessments; Adrenal Assessments; Health Questionnaires; Products to Reduce Stress; Phone Attendants to Reassure Each Member; Content-rich Education on How to Get and Stay Well; Stress Reduction Training; Steps Increasing Quality of Sleep; Positive Reputation Campaigns for all Your Services, and more.

"Obviously, members can't run on the facility's treadmills or use weights," stated Krech. "And, certainly, people aren't buying gym memberships right now. They are, however, seeking knowledge and buying wellness and nutrition. And, they're doing it online. We've been succeeding at this for decades. While their mind is on health and nutrition, we can provide them with that knowledge and be your nutrition department. We will bring our 30+ years of wellness experience, free of charge. We will handle everything, so the gym owner can focus on getting their gym ready to reopen.

It is Krech's belief that the system they provide will result in members not only being happy and receiving what they seek during this stressful time but also members not cancelling their memberships because of the value received.

To learn more about Wealth of Wellness' done-for-you service, visit Leave your contact information, and you will be contacted to assess your individual situation and schedule a webinar, describing step-by-step, how the system works. No money will be asked for, and your members will be serviced.

See Wealth of Wellness' Ad on the Page #15.

A Letter From Joe Cirulli to His Members

Joe CirulliJoe Cirulli

To close this cover story, Club Insider, with permission from Joe Cirulli, is sharing this letter (and video) to his club's members. The reason for sharing this letter and video ( is two-fold:

  1. 1. To reiterate how important your club facility is to your members, maybe even more important than you know.
  2. 2. INSPIRATION from one of the best in the business. We all need hope right now. Hope leads to strength. And, strength can help anyone persevere anything.

Joe Cirulli Writes:

First of all, I want to thank all the members of Gainesville Health and Fitness for their graciousness and support during this trying time. We know many people have questions about their future that no one can answer at this time, and that kind of stress can cause people to get short tempered... but not you.

And, I know that to be a fact... Our Office team is answering your calls and emails every day. And, with the number of messages they're receiving, they're working overtime to address and follow up on each and every one of them. When I'm with them, I ask how they are doing, and they tell me over and over again how great you all are. I can't thank you enough. They actually look forward to the next call. And, I can feel good knowing they want to do that.

The most valuable asset of our company is not buildings or equipment; it's all of them, and I couldn't be prouder of them or you.

The facilities, though, have been incredibly maintained by another group of dedicated staff. We want to be ready to open up the moment we're given the word... And, we want everything to work perfectly for you.

I have told people all over the world that I would put my employees up against the best companies in the world, and I have told club owners across the globe that we have the best members, too; these last two weeks have absolutely proved it.

I know most of you care tremendously about our staff, and the comments from thousands of you can bring tears to your eyes... Messages like, "Keep billing me so you can continue to pay your staff. I want to see them when we're open." I can't tell you enough times what that means to all of us. And, we will keep paying them!

But, to those of you in a tougher financial position, the staff will just as graciously freeze your dues and extend your memberships, too. The fortunate thing is Gainesville Health and Fitness started in Gainesville over 40 years ago. We grew up in Gainesville, and we can address every issue with every member. And, we are as quickly as we possibly can. We're answering phone calls, returning messages and emails. So, if you have already contacted us, you will get a response. As I said earlier, we have a full team working on addressing all members.

Years ago, I had a large group of health club owners from around the country meeting at the club. I asked them to walk around the club and introduce themselves to both members and staff and ask them anything they'd like to learn about our company. I'll never forget the comment by a health club owner out of Chicago when he said, "I've never heard anything like this... The connection between your members and staff borders on love." It seems to me that border has been crossed. Thank you again.

Over the last two weeks, I've been in webinars talking to health club owners across the world. And, overall, they are all looking forward to the day they can reopen, and like many people, they have a fear of what the future will be like. I have no fear! I expect a great future! Will some people be extremely concerned about germs? Sure! But, I know that the germs we all face every day only make us stronger.

But, I also want you to know we have our centers ready from every perspective of cleanliness, and keeping the facilities sanitized will always be a priority. But fear... No! I think it's very important to always put life into perspective... Are there times that can scare a person? Sure! But, I know we can't live our life scared.

My father was a Naval Officer who fought in World War II. I remember when he was being interviewed for the National Archives. The woman asked, "Were you ever afraid of dying?" Immediately, he said, "Yes." She asked when, and I had to smile when I heard him say, "Whenever a bomb went off!!!" I'm assuming that was quite regularly.

But, like him, and so many of his generation, they grew stronger and stronger over time. Because I know that Hope brought him through... The hope of seeing my mother and his parents again. The hope of coming home to a stronger America with a bright future.

I have always drawn strength from my father. And, an incredible optimism from my mother. And, a dogged ability to keep going no matter what we face from my grandparents. They all thrived on hope, and all lived a fulfilled life.

Remember to draw strength from the people in your life who have inspired you! If you've never read the book, Mans Search for Meaning, by Victor Frankel, read it. You'll learn the story of what kept people alive while in the Nazi Prison Camps. I'll give you a clue... It's called Hope!

I try to keep things in perspective. When I first started in the health club industry, I worked for six health club companies that went bankrupt. I lived in closed down buildings, in health clubs that were open and in my car. I vividly remember getting down to my last 12 cents, but I never gave up hope because I knew what I was going through was only a trial to see if I could move to something better. And, I knew I would.

I know that, if I hadn't had the right attitude, I wouldn't be talking to you today. I wouldn't be part of a team with many of the greatest people I could ever know.

I always looked for inspiration in books and tapes, and I filled my mind with life's possibilities. I know I was fortunate to find a book in a drawer called, The Power of Positive Thinking, which led be to a lifetime of finding everything inspiring in life. I guarantee it beats living a life in fear. And, I know you do, too, or you would never be listening.

So, keep exercising. Don't get out of the habit, and do it at the time you would normally come to the centers. Eat properly, drink lots of water, get the right amount of sleep... Oh yea, wash your hands, and don't touch your face.

But, most importantly, focus on all the great things in your life, and we'll make it through this just as past generations like our parents and grandparents have... In the end, we'll be better than we ever have been.

Thank you! Hope to see everyone soon. Stay Strong!!!

• • •

With those words from Joe, I also say: Thank you! Hope to see everyone soon. Stay Strong!!!

Thank You for reading. Thank You to this month's contributors for doing so when all instincts and schedules said, "During these stressful times, I have more important things to do!"

Hope to hear from you. Hope to see you soon. Stay Strong! Stay safe and healthy.

Together, we will endure. May you find hope in your purpose so you can again serve your purpose that is to provide hope.

• • •

As mentioned before, there was too much information to present at one time. Though there will be a Part II to this cover story, a lot of the information we already have on hand is timely and can help you immediately, so we will be curating and releasing that additional information within the next three Club Insider Weekly eBlasts:

  • April 22 - Staffing;
  • April 29 - Membership;
  • May 6 - Community.

If you have any question as to whether or not you are on the Club Insider Weekly eBlast list, please email me directly at, and I will make sure you are included, free of charge.

And, as mentioned, Part II of this cover story will focus on re-opening and what that looks like for the industry.

Finally, thank you to Phil Wendel, Pat Laus and Kevin McHugh, Greta Wagner, Mary Frank, Mike Alpert, Geoff Dyer, Carol Nalevanko, Jim Worthington and Linda Mitchell, Scott and Beth Gillespie, Larry Conner, Rich Nelsen, Ed Williams, Meredith Poppler, Donna Krech and Joe Cirulli for their contributions to this cover story.

Hope. Purpose. Together.

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