By Michele Nesbitt – National Fitness Director, Orangetheory® Fitness Canada

Like everyone in Canada and throughout the world, Orangetheory® Fitness was caught off guard by the COVID-19 pandemic that swept the globe in February and March.

On March 16, 2020, with the support of our Franchise Advisory Council of Canada and network of local franchise partners, we made the difficult but necessary decision to voluntarily close all 107 independently owned Orangetheory® Fitness studios across Canada.  Having been in the industry for over three decades, this was beyond anything I could have ever imagined.

We know the importance of staying active to support our health – mentally and physically, which is why millions of Canadians have a strong and valued connection to a fitness routine that involves regularly visiting a boutique fitness studio or gym.  There was not a playbook for how we should react or what should happen next and when. What I do know is that our network acted swiftly and decisively to protect both our members and staff from this fast-moving virus. Their quick action helped us avoid a single case of confirmed spread in any of our studios across the country.

I am sure that everyone in the fitness industry would agree that when our economy was shut down, this left us with so much uncertainty not only about the future as a whole, but how consumers would approach our industry in this ‘new normal”.

Having been closed for well over 2 months now, we are encouraged with the progress Canadians have made to flatten the curve and we are hopeful to be able to begin reopening our locations this summer. As provinces continue to lift restrictions and establish health and safety guidelines to allow fitness facilities to re-open, there is an enormous amount of work and research that needs to be done to prioritize the safety of all our members, staff and owners. The social sentiment and the perception of when fitness facilities should re-open varies greatly from city to city and province to province. At Orangetheory®, we also recognize that within each location, members risk profiles will vary greatly and their desire to return to their fitness routine will rely heavily on the steps taken to ensure they can return to an environment where they feel safe.

The challenge now becomes “how can we create an environment where members are safe while still delivering the exceptional experience they’ve come to expect?”.

With over 400 Orangetheory® Fitness studios now re-opened worldwide in a number of countries, we have the benefit of closely monitoring a number of re-opening strategies to better understand the best practices being utilized so that we can keep members safe while also delivering our high-quality experience. The OTF Shanghai studio, which re-opened nearly 2 months ago, serves as a model for re-opening best practices for boutique fitness studios across the globe. While there were initially many restrictions and strict requirements when it first re-opened, based on the information we are seeing and receiving from our Global Head Quarters, operations have since returned to a new normal. While there were limitations on class sizes initially, the studios today are back operating at full capacity.

Our Canadian team has been working with teams across the globe, including the team at OTF Shanghai to prepare the details of our re-opening strategy and what that looks like for our network of franchise owners, staff and members in Canada.

Across the country, we have seen a varying level of impact as a result of COVID-19. What this means for us as a national brand is a phased approach of re-opening across the country that adheres to and is mindful of the strict guidelines of each provincial and/or municipal governments.

So where are we now?  The easiest way to phrase this is in the words of our creator Ellen Latham – “BACK TO BASE.” How does that feel – well it’s described as feeling “challenging but doable.” As provinces have begun their phased re-opening strategies, we have been actively communicating with our member base outlining our next steps. We have full alignment from our network of franchise owners that while we won’t always be the first fitness facilities to open in every market, our commitment is to be the safest.

While we have been closed, we have been working diligently to formulate new and enhanced safety and cleaning policies. When member’s come back, they can expect the following changes:

  • A new mobile app where you will be able to book your workouts and input performance data
  • Modified class formats that will allow for enhanced cleaning procedures and space to distance
  • Enhanced studio cleaning and disinfectant materials and procedures.
  • All staff will have access to personal protective gear
  • Studio traffic flow procedures that will allow for adequate social distancing
  • The elimination of high-touch point procedures such as equipment reservation cards and Challenge Tracker entry (a new touchless reservation system will be introduced)

COVID-19 may change the way we all think about group-based classes, but the basis of studio concepts like Orangetheory® Fitness is “Community”. “Community” for Orangetheory® members is fueled by their desire for the support of coach-led workouts and the competitiveness and camaraderie of simultaneously working towards their individual goals together. Will “Community” be diminished by having less people in a class or having the instructor wear personal protective equipment like a mask or face-shield? While we’re not entirely sure yet what the experience in-studio will look like, we don’t think the heart and soul of the Orangetheory® experience will be phased by these measures.

As the world has changed, Orangetheory® will change.  Within change we find opportunities.  It may feel “uncomfortable” at times, but we are onboard to find that ALL OUT once again!

About Michele Nesbitt

Michele motivates people to push beyond boundaries. With a fitness career spanning over three decades, she’s a community builder who is motivated by change and transformation – in the body, the mind, and the business. Driven to positively impact people, she’s the Fitness Director whose passion and perseverance brought Orangetheory® Fitness to Canada with the Master Franchisor in 2012. As a founding Franchisee, she choreographed and created every workout across the country for two years, implemented training programs, mentored coaches, developed franchisee resources, and created the consistent processes and procedures that aided in the company’s global expansion. Known as an approachable leader with integrity, resilience, and initiative, she holds high standards because she cares and because she knows her teams and her clients can exceed expectations.

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