I NTERV I E W
Lots of companies find themselves having to let go of assets, which provides an opportunity for M&A the likes of which we’re not likely to see again in our working lifetime as we could. Compared to some of our peers, we felt reasonably positive about our performance. That said, there’s no doubt the pandemic destroyed our ambitions over 2020–21. There were also parts of the business that were particularly challenging, not least because of the different regulations across Europe. For example, when COVID-19 first hit, the Netherlands’ national government said we could remain open on the wet side only. Across the border in Germany, the regional governments said we could stay open with the exception of wet side. Just before lockdown, we’d acquired the eight clubs of the Meridian Group in Germany, where half of the business is spa and where we hadn’t even had a chance to integrate the team yet. That’s a bit of a snapshot of what we were grappling with at the time, and I think our international teams deserve a huge amount of credit for the way they handled things.
What lessons did you learn? We were very clear on the mistakes we made, particularly through the first lockdown and equally clear we wouldn’t make those same mistakes in the second. In the first lockdown, we shut everything off, including how we communicated with our members. We did it for good reason – to preserve cash and protect the business – but we weren’t serving our customers well enough when they didn’t know what was going on. We told everyone we’d turned their direct debits off and that we’d come back to them when the government announced anything more. It was a bit of a “sit tight and we’ll try and get some stuff out through our digital channels”. But some of our members have been with us for 20+ years. People come to spend quality time in our clubs several times a week. Suddenly they were missing a limb 34
Issue 8 2021 ©Cybertrek 2021
and our communication wasn’t good enough. So when the second lockdown came, we did the exact opposite. We kept people on. We didn’t furlough any of the membership teams. We kept communication lines open, proactively measuring our response times to queries coming in, and we got on the front foot.
How is the business performing now? We’re trading positively and our investors have been incredibly supportive of everything we’ve done, both during and since lockdown. By the end of July 2021 we’d bounced back completely on our membership numbers, with record months since re-opening – we nearly doubled what we’d do in a very good January. The speed of the bounceback has been staggering. The number of previous DLL members rejoining us has just short of doubled, but still, around 80 per cent of new member sales have been to individuals who haven’t been members of our clubs before. We’re trying to gather as much data as we can to understand what’s driving this. We know we’re not the cheap option. We know the pandemic worsened the cash position for many, but nevertheless, people who haven’t been a member before have reconsidered and joined us. The question we, therefore, want to