The Golden Rule: Mt. Hood Athletic Club’s Response to COVID-19

As we know, the club industry has been shaken to its core.

Businesses have been mandated to shut down, leaving operators all over the country scrambling to understand the new landscape and prepare for the “new” normal – all while hoping to leverage their services and expertise into added sources of revenue.

In the midst of the uncertainty, there’ one thing that’s never been in doubt: our industry (and its people) fights back.

Let us introduce you to Paul and Lila Reed, owners and operators of Mt. Hood Athletic Club (MHAC).

MHAC is located in Sandy, Oregon – about 30 miles east of the Portland Metro Area. A town of about 11,000 people, MHAC boasts 2,850 memberships and a grand total of 5,200 members.

We wanted to shine a light on what Paul and Lila are doing at their club because they are the embodiment of the idea “pressure makes diamonds”.

Through adversity, through uncertainty and through arduous hard work, they’ve managed to fight back against the current to create an atmosphere of goodwill and appreciation from their members, staff and community.

We sat down with both of them to learn more about their proactive approach to the pandemic, how they’re preparing for what’s to come, and much more:

  1. Tell us a little bit about yourselves and your story.
    We are Paul and Lila Reed and we’ve been owners/operators for 32+ yrs of MHAC. 

    We started our club career in Gresham, Oregon back in 1987 after taking over a failing family fitness location. Within months, we turned the business around and MHAC was born. Fast forward 17 years: We took over another club in Sandy, Oregon and added it to the MHAC family. 

    In 2002, we sold our Gresham membership to LA Fitness and in 2004, we started construction on the current 45,000 sq. ft. multipurpose facility we have today. 

    On a normal day, Paul manages financials as well as the physical plant – in all honesty – he really is the brains behind the entire operation. Since day 1, he’s been on the front lines building and growing the business to what it is now.

    I (Lila) manage the HR aspect of the business as well as oversee our marketing and special projects departments.
  2. What were the immediate actions you took once our new reality began to set in?
    Once the new reality set in, we immediately followed all distancing guidelines the State was mandating. 

    We closed off every other cardio piece for distancing, increased the number of bottles of our hospital grade disinfectant we make available to members and stopped all gatherings in areas like Kids Klub, Group X classes and team sports.
  3. Tell us about your philosophy in the decision making process throughout this whole ordeal.
    As it became apparent that we were not likely to re-open in April, the next decision was to bill or not to bill in April. 

    It was an easy decision.

    The last things our customers needed was to be billed for services we could not provide.  We felt their membership was not in the forefront of their minds as they dealt with bigger issues like, unemployment, mortgages, food and home schooling. 

    Everyone was frozen for FREE for April, so there was no need to cancel or freeze if they intended on returning once this is all over.

    This will also provide for the most robust reopening as we simply unfreeze members when we start up again without the need for each and every one of them to contact us and decide to restart their dues.
  4. Talk to us about your opt in process you’ve made available and the results you’ve seen.
    We chose to allow members to “opt in” and pay their dues.

    We updated the front page of our website to make it more user-friendly and inviting for a member to opt-in to their billing.

    We promoted opt-in’s in our Facebook posts and on our website – taking careful measures to include pictures of our staff working. We felt it was important for our members to see where their opt-in dollars were going. 

    To date, we have had in excess of 170 members opt in.  We feel encouraged and grateful for that number.
  5. How are you managing your staff during this time?
    Staff are the lifeblood of our business and how we deliver our services. 

    We carefully identified staff that were most financially exposed and invited them to participate in our cleaning and club projects during the closures. 

    We know their unemployment benefits have not kicked in, and that none have received the $1200 stipend yet from the government, so on our team page, we made it clear that if any employee needs anything, to send us a private message so that we can help.
  6. Do you have any advice for fellow operators in this difficult time in the industry?
    Every operator, club and their market is different.

    My advice would be to err on the side of caution and to pursue compassion in this environment. 

    If the perception of trust is broken with your members, it will be difficult to re-establish once we return to normalcy.  The golden rule applies:  treat the member as we would want to be treated in their shoes.
  7. In your eyes, how does this experience change the landscape of your club moving forward?
    The landscape of the club as well as the industry moving forward is shrouded in a cloud for now. 

    I think our members will give us clarity by setting expectations when it comes to open our doors once again.

    I am assuming that processes and schedules for cleaning, formulas for cleaning and visible staff cleaning will be at the forefront of what members will want to know and see.  If we take the time to communicate our new plans and systems now, they will have more confidence in us when we do reopen.

    Staffing will be reduced upon opening both for social distancing and more practically, for financial reasons.  That will be a tenuous balance to navigate. We, personally, anticipate opening with limited capacities at first, then ramping up services like Kids Klub and GX classes as finances and authorities allow. 
  8. Do you have any closing comments?
    This is a huge wake up call to what the future may hold for our industry. 

    What happens when the next flu/epidemic hits? How can we build an epidemic proof revenue stream of services online that will provide value to the member?

    We will be looking into the logistics and viability of a fully online membership model as well as implementing procedures and features into the club that provide a no-touch experience in the areas where it is feasible. 

    How we treat and communicate with our members during this time cannot be underestimated. 

    Let the golden rule apply in your business practices and be diligent in communicating with your members throughout this time.

Paul & Lila Reed are the owners and operators of Mt. Hood Athletic Club in Sandy, Oregon.

We invite you to visit their site to learn more about them and what keep up to date with how they’re managing their business throughout the pandemic.