This is a contributed article by Rachel Cipriano, one of the owners of Studio House Pilates in New York City.
Normalcy has been flipped on its head and has left us feeling anxious about the future and wondering if our business will survive the coronavirus.
My partners and I were set to open our brand-new Pilates studio in New York City in early March. But by that time, all businesses were under a citywide lockdown, with a statewide stay-at-home order that soon followed. With a signed lease, fully renovated studio, clientele with no place to go — and no safety net — we had to reinvent how we work.
For me, and likely many gym and studio operators across the country, last month’s transition to home fitness has not been easy, but it has been eye-opening. What we do now to ensure we keep servicing our clients will most definitely hold the key to a brighter future. Here are a few things we learned that I’d like to share.
First and foremost, we are in the business of influencing how people feel.
These are crazy times. More than anything, people look to you to help them through. Everything you do should be designed with your clients’ well-being in mind.
1. Create structure
Clients have built a routine around time spent with you. Right now they need you to re-establish that routine. While you may be tempted to reinvent the wheel, create a structure and stick to it. Your clients will be grateful for the sense of normalcy that comes with this commitment.
2. Stay one step ahead
Week One of “sheltering at home” is very different from Week Five. People are getting more and more antsy. They’re missing their family and friends. They’re worried about money. As a business owner, you must anticipate what your clients may need two weeks from now, three weeks from now, months from now.
Introduce new types of classes that are adapted to their new lifestyles. Do your clients need to burn off steam? Add high intensity classes. Are they anxious? Calm them with meditation exercises. Are they discouraged or losing motivation? Mix it up to keep them committed.
Reaching out to other businesses and helping leverage each other are great ways to get in front of different audiences and collaborate on new ideas. if you continue to deliver fresh resources for clients, they won’t look elsewhere. For example, if you lack experience with meditation, invite a professional to join you in an interview and session.
3. Reinforce a palpable sense of community
People who frequent your business are probably like-minded people that share a common interest in improving their well-being. They could benefit from time with each other as much as they benefit from interacting with you, the instructor. Help them connect with one another and create a communal virtual space to engage in. Being a connector in customers' lives demonstrates that your business can offer more than just ‘classes,’ but also a community – something many may be yearning for during this period of social distancing.
Host “virtual happy hours.” Start a book club. Invite a guest speaker to share something important. Give your own clients a platform for what they know. If a client is a chef or nutritionist, that person might conduct a demonstration on an easy recipe. Providing bonuses like these will empower your clients.
4. Show appreciation for clients
Show that you value the personal relationships you’ve established with your clients by letting them know you care deeply about their well-being. Find authentic ways to see how they are doing. The personal touch of an email or a phone call can go a long way; in fact 85% of US consumers say it’s completely acceptable for companies to be communicating at this time. One idea is to introduce promotions or prizes for your VIP clients who have been with you the longest, to let them know you appreciate their continued business.
5. The future is digital, so take this time to master skills
“Virtual” is here to stay in the ‘new’ normal of operating a business. As society opens little by little and doors open for customers, class sizes are expected to be limited to incorporate social distancing between individuals. Use this time as an incubator period to hone your digital skills. If you haven’t yet, familiarize yourself with digital technology platforms that could be useful tools for business operations and communication. Here at Studio House Pilates, we transferred in-studio classes online through Zoom. We maintained an active online presence on Instagram, communicating with our clients and the fitness community through daily stories, Instagram live videos, and pop-up class collaborations with surprise guests.
6. Keep a portion of your business virtual to reach more clients
People have adopted some positives from sheltering at home – and so can you. They may continue to work online or take classes in the comfort of their own homes and without that added commute. By offering virtual classes, local fitness businesses can continue to reach and serve a broader remote audience outside of the typical neighborhood radius. You’ll also be “keeping spaces” for clients who may be on vacation or traveling and could potentially introduce you to one of their friends in Paris or Los Angeles. Virtual classes can also grow your business with new affordable pricing options for people who cannot afford your in-studio classes and services.
Responses to the coronavirus grew out of physical distancing for safety sake. In fitness, the virus changed the way we teach and enabled us to recreate the class experience. Our business model is likely forever changed and will now include both an in-person and a virtual presence.
Another amazing thing that has come out of this is reuniting with past students or new students outside of the city that I would have otherwise never crossed paths with. I’m inspired to be able to cultivate a community in a way that was not possible before, and also optimistic for the potential of our New York City block community expanding its universe to other clients.
Studio House Pilates owners Katherine Castellaw, Sarah Brooks, and Rachel Cipriano.
Read additional resources from other industry experts, like How One Workout Studio Kept Community Strong During Shelter in Place. For more resources to help your business during coronavirus, visit our Small Business Guide for Coronavirus Relief.