The exterior of the entrance to Equinox’s Hudson Yards club.

With millions still hunkered down due to the coronavirus, consumer engagement, emotional connectivity and continual contact are what many businesses are trying to secure. Instead of bemoaning the shuttering of its 106 clubs, Equinox has stepped up its digital offerings to stay connected to its members.

Despite being a business that generally relies on physical presence to succeed, the New York-based company quickly pivoted in mid-March to focus on providing virtual alternatives until its locations reopen. A task force that included two renowned physicians was set up to develop what is now a thorough strategy of what reopenings will entail.

To keep self-isolating members engaged, Equinox created the “Daily Check-in” and virtual meditations. In addition to the 98 percent completion rate and more than 500,000 meditations that have been downloaded, meditation is also available on Instagram Live. There, practitioners have been so enthusiastic that they have been commenting while they are supposed to be closing their eyes and doing the breathing work.

The company also accelerated the rollout of its new app Variis by Equinox, which offers on-demand group fitness for Equinox, as well as SoulCycle classes, Precision Run classes, Pure Yoga and HeadStrong meditation podcasts. Virtual personal training and virtual Pilates were also introduced for Equinox members. Although all of the on-site shops in Equinox are closed and the company has not previously offered e-commerce, a retail microsite has been set up to offer workout essentials like tension bands. In talks with apparel brands, Equinox plans to add select clothing online soon, said Judy Turchin, the company’s chief operating officer.

Brandon Ralph, who cofounded Code & Theory years ago before joining Equinox as chief experience officer, said, “If you look at the Variis model, we’re elevating an industry that has been pretty much homogenized historically. Workout content at home felt like workout content at home. Our content looks like what you would expect from one of the top luxury lifestyle brands.”

A photo from the Equinox’s benefit auction.

A photo from the Equinox’s benefit auction.  Antoine Verglas/Courtesy Photo

With clubs throughout the U.S., everything is being done with respect to local regulations and jurisdictions. Equinox is getting ready to reopen clubs in Texas. After closing all of its clubs on March 16, Equinox’s senior leadership team immediately mobilized two pillars, “one that is focused on how to rebound and reopen safely, and two, ‘How do we stay with, and for, and in service to our members’ during a time when we anticipated and as it has turned out they need us most,” Turchin said.

A task force was formed to map out how to reopen clubs safely and in turn to reimagine the in-club experience with the safety-first dictum. Having hand sanitizer that exceeds CDC guidelines is one of the ways the company intends to have every precaution designed to be effective in fighting the SARS-COVID 19 virus, Turchin said. PPE masks and gloves have been secured for employees, Equinox looked at sanitization and disinfectant in the clubs as one of the most important specs of reopening to ensure the latter has EPA approval, are effective against COVID-19 and are safe in a human realm, she added. Electrostatic handheld and backpack sprayers will be used on fitness machines, group fitness studios, locker rooms and in all areas of the club.

Upon reopening, member check-in will involve having their temperatures taken upon arrival, sanitizing their hands at the front desk, wearing masks will be required, (gloves will be optional) and completing a mandatory health declaration per each visit to confirm they are not experiencing symptoms of COVID-19, nor have they come in contact with anyone who is. They will be asked to pre-book club visits to make sure that members can be properly physically distanced in the club at any one time. The company’s maintenance staff is being increased, members will be asked to wipe down equipment before and after use and deep cleaning sessions will take place at different points in the day, Turchin said.

Equinox executive chairman Harvey Spevak recently informed members of some of these changes in an e-mail. Such transparency is “on purpose and is meant to be a hallmark as to how the company wants to behave with its members and employees,” Turchin said.

“We’ve stayed in regular contact with our employees and made sure they understand who we are, where we are and how to stay engaged with us. With our member base, one of our slogans is, ‘It’s not fitness. It’s life.’ We talk about a third space, a safe space or a second home. That is what our members look to us for — now more than ever, we hear them very loud and clear. If we create a safe environment, they want to come back. Seventy-four percent of our members have told us they are likely to return when we reopen. That is because we offer them truly a place to connect with our team and each other, to feel good about themselves and to escape a little bit from life.”

As for what retailers and fashion companies can learn from Equinox’s initiatives, Turchin said, “Continue to serve your customers, in our case, it’s members. Often I will call a member back myself if they have questions or concerns. You want them to feel that they are being heard, but also I learn a lot from speaking to them. I’ve learned that they trust us on health, safety and cleanliness. Not to say that isn’t a question, because it calls into question for everyone right now — ‘What are you going to do to keep safe?’ There is the overreaching feeling that we have created a bond of trust with our members that we hold very near and dear.’”

Along with listening to their client bases, retailers should make sure they understand how they are needed by consumers and how they can over-deliver at this time, Turchin said.

As another way to connect with members, the Equinox Photography Auction benefiting WhyHunger starts Tuesday and will run through early June. Lenny Kravitz, Antoine Verglas, Timothy White, Brian Bowen Smith and Kevin O’Brien are among the photographers who have provided work that spans Old Hollywood, fashion, rock ‘n’ roll and other sectors.

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