This time last year Sue, the owner of Balance, and I, along with 15 Balance members and our brilliant yoga teacher Kara, were all eagerly awaiting our yoga retreat to Lucca in Tuscany. We, of course, have had to postpone this year’s retreat for 12 months, but we are not alone in having to alter and abandon not only our holiday plans, but also our daily living.
The first time I knew we would have to make significant changes in the business was in early March; Sue was away on a well-deserved break, leaving me to hold the fort. Business had been building steadily since the beginning of the year and we were all looking forward to a great 2020. We had launched our new studio, introduced some fantastic new classes and instructors and built a great membership base.
Daily we were getting increasing indications that things were about to change and, looking to the rest of Europe, it was becoming very apparent that we would quickly need to adapt the way we operated. Luckily, we were already ahead of the game; our capacity is limited to 10 people and combined with outside space, a strict cleaning policy of sterilising all equipment and rooms after every use, plus hand washing facilities on entry and departure mean that many of the regulations were already being practised.
But, how on earth would we all survive if the business actually had to close its doors? I refused to let this be an option and I knew Sue would feel the same. With over 13 fitness instructor’s livelihoods in the balance, as well as our members whose weekly classes are critical not only to their physical but also mental health, an alternative method of operating had to be found.
Not wanting to impact Sue’s holiday with fairly depressing news, I thought through what decisions could be made until her return. My initial thoughts turned to video. The instructors were all ready to video their classes so that we could build up a library of classes to email to our clients. We knew this would not be the same, but we had to start somewhere until I started researching other alternatives and discovered Zoom, a web-based video conferencing tool.
Sue returned from her holiday and, jetlagged and worn out from travelling, had to immediately make decisions about the business and family alike - not the welcome home she had hoped for.
Several instructors and members were already self-isolating, and we knew we probably only had a week until “lockdown” was imminent. Worried, but determined to do all we could, Sue and the rest of the Balance team quickly got to work. I am not sure how much sleep Sue got that week, but Sue is a woman who always puts others first. With the help of her loyal instructors she soon got Zoom up and running and, despite some reservations, we managed to encourage over 80% of our members to participate in their usual weekly classes from home via video, and even managed to extend our customer base internationally, soon reaching New Zealand and Canada.
Suddenly we were not limited by travel restrictions and soon people of all ages and abilities were joining the Balance community. It also meant that as well as fitness and well-being being maintained, it also enabled our members to connect with their instructors and other members of their class, before and after each session, providing human contact which is crucial to many. In fact, I would go as far to say that our balance community has never been stronger.
The whole Balance community has had to make sacrifices. Staff have reduced their income and the number of classes they take, and membership has dropped slightly due to unemployment or health conditions with clients. However, our members continued loyalty has been heart-warming. Whether teenagers or nonagenarians, all have learnt how easy using Zoom can be, and felt the benefits of being able to carry on exercising and being part of a family. We have also been able to offer additional, free classes as well as being able to lend weights, bands and yoga mats to those who need them.
So, from facing the worst of times we have all learnt to adapt, change and carry on and, thanks to our Balance community spirit, led by our Colonel-in-Chief Sue Jackson, we have also had the best of times!
“When this is all over, I think Balance would make a brilliant case study of a small business pivoting quickly to respond to coronavirus. You are excellent businesswomen, and warm and caring too!
Joining the online classes is one of the highlights of my day. I always feel better after the classes; calmer and happier. Your instructors have done really well to master online classes, giving clear instructions and doing their best to make to make it feel like we are all together in one room”
Jane, April 2020
Vicky Rees-Davies, May 2020
Marketing Manager, Fitness Instructor & PT
Balance, The Co