Adapting in Times of Change
As a business owner for the past 20 years, I have faced many struggles, but no experience has come close to COVID-19.
I feel it is fair to say for most of us COVID was a shock to our everyday life as instructors and owners. What I thought would be a 2-week closure, turned into an almost 3-month closure of my cycling & fitness facility called Inner Fit Studios.
During that time, I honestly wasn't prepared for what was about to come, but I knew I had two options - the first option was to do nothing and lose everything I had worked so hard for, or get creative and rise up. And thanks to my amazing team of my coaches, we got creative and made things happen fast.
Within a week of the closure, we jumped online using zoom and we lent out all our equipment and hoped for the best.
With an online platform that was new to us came lots of frustrations from the internet speed, to members not getting emails, to sound issues, and more. But, within a couple of weeks the once problems became lessons learned, and we figured it as we continued on.
I will admit, there were lots of tears, solo walks, and reach outs to my COVID family because I felt incredibly overwhelmed as a business owner. Thankfully, I do believe when that feeling of "unsettledness" takes place that good things will come from it, but it's not always easy to get out of a dark place. If it wasn’t for my members, family, coaches, friends, and peers I don’t know if I would have continued. Their little moments and nudges of encouragement kept me moving forward.
The Re-Opening - Oh, the Nerves!
In British Columbia, Canada, where I am from, we were lucky our cases were low, but nothing was reopening fast. Our Premier and Prime Minister made sure everything we had done thus far was not for nothing. But the problem was few if any businesses received financial help. So I knew if I was going to make it through this, I had to go for it and enlist the help of my team and my Inner Fit community.
To reopen, we had to have a work safety officer come into the studio and ensure we were doing our part. Thankfully, we had the guidance of a good friend to get us through it. We set our sights on June 1st and took the time to create systems and write our procedures that could be put in place to protect our members and our community.
At first, as a business owner, I was nervous. Inner Fit (my studio) is a social community, and my fear was we would lose that piece. Sometimes putting rules in place can turn people off, but I think so many people wanted to get back on the bikes that they were happy to follow the new guidelines, plus they knew our intention have always been to keep everyone safe.
To make sure the opening went smoothly, we did a trial run on the Saturday before opening (and I am so glad I did). The test run gave us a chance to make sure we were doing everything possible to keep it safe and receive feedback from our members. They were so happy to be back on the bikes and see each other from a distance so much so that it only took 5 minutes before the first f-bomb was dropped. For me, it was a huge relief that we were back to our "inner fit" ways.
Our Safety Steps
We began with an entrance in and exit system. The members wait at the front for the doors to open 10 minutes before class while social distancing enough to walk through the studio directly to their bike. Once class was over, they exited out the back. This creates a simple flow and prevents bumping into each other.
The next issue was sanitizing. We have six sanitizing stations throughout the studio. This way, they can walk through the doors, sanitize their hands, and take a wipe to clean their bikes.
When it came to bags and gear, we sent out a notice to bring as little as possible. This way, they could set their stuff down next to their bike, which prevents less walking around the studio.
To maintain social distancing while riding, we had to space out the bikes. Thankfully the studio is 3000 square feet, so we were able to set out 20 bikes with enough space.
We also made a fun video that helped the members get a feel for the new procedures without making them feel like they were in a hospital setting. You can watch our video here. It is good to do a little video of your own because some people needs to see your policies in place to feel reassured.
Three months later, everything is running smoothly. We did not obsess or go crazy over the procedures. My goal was to create a welcoming space that felt clean and safe but still had the "Inner Fit" feel to it. Every week I reevaluate the schedule which we brought back slowly and how we can continue to keep things safe from implementing things that make sense at the time. The key is to stay open and aware during this.
Online + In-Studio Classes - Keeping Both
I decided as a business owner to continue to run both online and in-studio classes because many of our members are not ready to return to the studio but still need the fitness in their life and this made them all happy. Plus, it created a new revenue stream for the studio. And it’s fun to run live classes and in-studio classes at the same time because the members get you see each other 🥰
The Mental Health Piece
As fitness professionals, we know the benefits of fitness for overall mental health, but nothing could have ever prepared me for the day of the trial when the members first saw each other.
There were lots of tears of joy, and many moments of pure happiness. Being apart from people is hard, and there is something special about a fitness community. The reopening was more than opening the doors, it was feeling a connection with each other and knowing that together we will get through this.
Communicate with Your Community
The sad part about COVID is it impacted a lot of fitness facility and many places are still not open or have been permanently shut down. Many people were left paying for memberships to gyms that closed for good and lacked communication with the coaches and members.
That's not the way to handle things because people want to feel heard and valued. There are simple ways to connect with people, such as newsletters, social media posts, phone calls, and emails. A few minutes of your time can go a long way. You cannot please everyone, but to those that value your facility, they will show you their support.
I have to give my members lots of credit. I was clear from day one that my promise was to keep the doors open so they had a place to come back to and keep them active. The only way to keep our doors open was to keep our memberships active, but that meant we had to provide a service to our community, and that was our driving force. We provided options for them, and each week we re-evaluated our next move and kept them in the loop. Thankfully, few canceled, which allowed us to transition online and prepare for the reopening. I couldn’t ask for a more amazing group of people who make up my community ❤️
What works for one studio may not work for another studio. I am sharing my story to offer insight into how we reopened. Depending on where you are located, there may be additional protocols such as plexiglass between the bikes, wearing masks, and other procedures.
Make sure to work with your local WorkSafe organizations to ensure you are doing your part. WorkSafe in BC has done a tremendous job to help businesses open safely. We were so honored to be featured on one of their commercials and our members feel confident in our ability to do the right thing by doing our part as a business and opening up in a safe way.
COVID rocked the fitness industry, and over the last few months, I have had the chance to connect with so many of you through the online workshops and classes and even some phone calls and emails, and I am so grateful to have had that experience with the instructor community.
I believe there is a lot of good that has come out of this. However, it is also important to honor the challenges we have all faced and the emotions that affected us (and still possibly affect us). Life as we know it has changed, but that does not mean we cannot connect to our fitness communities in other ways.
This has not been an easy road for myself as a business owners. Some days I was so overwhelmed I avoided everything. I couldn’t wrap my brain around the next steps because there was so much uncertainty and there still is. For myself, on those days, I headed outside for walks, runs, and had some personal fun, which allowed me to regroup and see the bigger picture.
The day I was able to get back on my bike and teach in person gave me a perspective I needed. Sometimes we can take teaching fitness for granted, especially after 20+ years of teaching. COVID has taught me to continue to find gratitude for all the blessings in my life, even if, at the time, they do not feel like a blessing. There is always something to be learned from any experience we walkthrough.
I hope each of you has found your way through this and if you need help reopening or running online classes, simply reach out.
Rachel Seay :)