5 Steps to Pivot in a Pandemic
By Jess Hughes
Most of the studio owners who read this blog have never previously experienced economic turmoil. We were born into decent economies and raised in good times. The COVID-19 pandemic is a 100-year event. Perhaps your business was ill-prepared for a rainy day, and this was a hard-learned lesson; but this was more than rain—or even a tsunami. This event is more significant than any force majeure clause in your lease. (And I bet you know what force majeure exactly means now.)
Mindbody's CEO, Rick Stollmeyer, was recently asked, "Is it stressful to run a company as big as yours?" He replied, "No, you know what's stressful? Having to pay $15,000 rent on April 1 and only having $8,000 in the bank."
The irony of boutique fitness’s future is real. Studios are going up against a competitor never really considered before: the outdoors. It only takes a week or so to develop a new habit, and we've all been enjoying walks, runs, bike rides—anything outside that gets us out of the house—for over a month or more. You’d be remiss not to recognize a certain percentage of your clients may realize they don't need to spend money on working out when outside is free.
On the other hand, people are craving genuine social interaction and a sense of belonging, so instead of waiting in line for toilet paper, we are all hoping they’re waiting in line to sweat with their favorite instructors. People need to be a part of a community that shares their love of health and wellness. They want to be held accountable after weeks of working from home, and that’s exactly what we’re here to do.
Our entrepreneurial mission? Socially distant, fiscally- and brand-consistent. You can do this.
My two studios in Houston, Texas, were ordered to close by our governor on March 19. I was also three weeks into building-out my third location. My first thought: “Does that mean IKEA’s closed too?” Admit it. You can’t open a studio without (at least) 23 trips to IKEA.
My first serious thought: “We have to maintain our brand’s relevancy.”
We would survive, and our transition back to reality would be highly calculated.
We did survive—Texas in the process of reopening—and here’s how:
1. Harness the #1 underrated form of digital marketing: Email
You’ve acknowledged the present—great. Move forward and deliver on your future. Clients need assurances they’ll have a studio to go back to. Send realistic operations updates and prove to your community you have a plan. Map out your digital projects and stay top-of-mind in those inboxes. (Mindbody even made email templates for us!)
2. Embrace this new normal and celebrate new revenue streams – VIDEO!
Here’s the reality: If your business isn’t invested in new technologies, you’re late to the party. The world has changed, and it’s time for you to step up or step out.
3. Uphold your brand’s promise to your team and clientele
It is your responsibility to take care of your people—those beautiful humans that breathe life into your studio. Lead them to rewrite conversations with clients centered around your core values, not the coronavirus. Be present. Be honest. These are your people, and they’re counting on you.
4. Pay your rent with retail
Start paying attention to high margin items. Yes—they cost you money upfront, but they make you so much more income. Set a small budget, start slow, and begin turning unused spaces in your studio into revenue generators.
5. Facts, not feelings
This is a tough one. Entrepreneurs, by definition, take on more risk than most, so we need to be prudent money managers. This is not the time to play the short game. Dissect your financials and cut frivolous costs burning through your retained earnings. It’s not realistic for your studio to open at full capacity if the numbers don’t support it. Mind your overhead and remember—clients are (most likely) using packages they purchased back in February and March. You’ve already spent that money. Now we need to get them to spend more.
Pivoting isn’t just for pandemics—but it’s a good time to start. We don’t have time for bumps in the road. Here we grow again.