Small business owners have seen their companies change overnight due to the coronavirus. In our #openforbusiness series, we're highlighting Northwestern Mutual clients who have been forced to get creative in order to adapt to these unprecedented times and keep their businesses running. We hope you'll get inspiration from their stories and help support them whenever possible.
Business: Synergy Fitness
Owner: Will Hamilton
Location: Suwanee, GA
Our gym is officially called Synergy: A Fitness Community. Most people just shorten it to Synergy Fitness but the gym is truly built around the idea of community. I think that a person has four or five places in their life: their home, their work, their church and their neighborhood or social group. We want to become that fourth or fifth circle for our members.
In addition to the gym, we also have a children’s area. It allows the kids to see that fitness is a regular part of their parents’ lives. They can also take part as we have a variety of programs designed for the whole family. We put a lot of effort into making it a very relational place where people not only come in for an excellent workout, but they can also hang out. We even have parties and drive-in movie nights.
When the coronavirus hit, we erred on the side of caution and closed, even before the state officially shut down most non-essential businesses. Luckily, many of our members continued to pay their monthly fees. One person said it ensured that the gym she loves will still be there when she’s ready to come back. And to me, that meant everything.
Even with our doors closed, we still wanted to be there for our community. Here are the different things we did when we had to close in March and how we handled gradually reopening in May.
We made it easy to work out from home
At first, we gave all our equipment in the gym to our members. They signed out one or two things they wanted and took them home. I joked that we were calling it the PPP: Physique Protection Program. About 75 percent of our members took advantage of our offer to come get equipment — and they all brought it back.
Then we designed workouts that our coaches recorded every night and shared on YouTube. We wouldn’t hold a virtual class; instead it was almost like having a personal trainer in your living room. We did try to do Zoom workouts, but I never was a fan. Half our workouts involve running or moving around, so then you leave the camera, and the whole thing becomes awkward. We felt it wasn’t a good way for us to connect with people, so we abandoned that.
We stayed in close contact with our members
We have 10 people on our team (including coaches) and 150 members. During the shutdown, each coach took a group of 20 members and would check in with them about once a week via email and text. We also made COVID-19 survival kits for all our members to make them laugh. We took all the toilet paper in the gym and put one roll in a box with a fitness drink and a handwritten note thanking each member for their support. Then we drove to all 120 homes and dropped the boxes off at their houses.
Social media has been our strength, especially during this time. I’m terrible at it, but I hired someone who took our Instagram page and private Facebook group to the next level. That’s where I release a lot of our video content for members. We also have a YouTube channel where we post a variety of instructional and downright goofy content.
We reopened cautiously
Luckily, we are a classes-based gym so we don’t typically have really large groups here. But we did use white tape to create boxes on the floor with weights and equipment that were all spaced 6 feet apart per the state’s social distancing guidelines. We let our members in for classes of 10 at a time. Members who come in have minimal contact with other people and other equipment.
Every station has its own bucket with disinfectant and cleaning wipes. That allowed our members to clean their own stuff and allowed us to clean in between classes as well.
We listened to good advice
John White is my financial advisor at Northwestern Mutual and a member of my gym. From working with him, I knew from a financial perspective that we were in a good place to weather this storm. That was incredibly reassuring.
John and I are in very similar businesses. For me, it’s physical health and for him, it’s financial health. I would say we both support mental health. He comes from an athletic family, too, so he not only understands the business side of it, but he also knows the nuts and bolts of the fitness game. He actually helped me work out my ideas for reopening and suggested I have the members reserve their spots for the next day’s classes, which I had never considered, and it worked out really well for us. He has been a wise friend.
Will Hamilton is a client of Northwestern Mutual. He works with Managing Director John M. White.
The testimonials presented may not be representative of the experience of other clients and are not a guarantee of future performance or success.