Room for Movement (RFM) is a Sydney based, boutique Pilates studio that had to shut its doors in mid-March due to COVID-19 restrictions. Instructor and Studio Director, Rachael Sheridan, was forced to re-think her whole business model and has found the COVID-19 “reset” has given her the liberty and opportunity to completely re-engineer her business and taught her some valuable lessons.
The business started small in October 2015 with just Rachael teaching. In 2018 she decided to commit a to bigger space and more staff. Those decisions paid off in January and February 2020 when RFM recorded its biggest months. Rachael was looking for new staff to replace two people who had left due to health and family. "It was a strange sort of luck to have lost them before COVID-19, as in the long term it actually made things more manageable. In saying that it was still hard to tell the rest of the teaching staff we could be closing and faced an uncertain future."
Must Find a Way
Rachael said, “I decided I must find a way to make this work.” She attributes her success mainly to her staff, their character attributes, loyalty, and their willingness to work with her through the trials and tribulations.
“I knew it was coming so on Monday we closed the doors and I rang as many clients as possible to talk with them personally. For three days I blitzed it, on the phone and re-organising the schedule to create an online offering. I spoke to all my staff and they continued small amounts of work. By Wednesday we were online. I did not know how it would work; I just knew it must work. I spent days driving around Sydney delivering Pilates equipment and helping people set up to do online classes, even helping them set it up on their laptops, tablets, iPads and computers. For the first few weeks I was delivering all the online classes.”
Nothing to Zoom
RFM went from never using online video classes to delivering 50 hours of classes in 10 weeks. “I was humbled by the willingness of clients to follow my lead; they didn’t doubt at all that we would make it work for them, so many of them went out of their way to help get the initiative going,” Rachael said.
“So many people wanted to be a part of what we offered. After 2 weeks on my own I realised that it was possible to teach high quality Pilates in a virtual setting, so I started to hand over to my staff and then it started to build up. We are back to about 50% of our client numbers and we have a waiting list for when we open the studio.”
The in-studio equipment had to be re-engineered using everyday items in the home. “As Pilates instructors we were trained to adapt, and we didn’t realise we had this capability until we had to call on it.”
RFM has a boutique offering of teaching people to move without judgement. To move to feel good. To move to balance the body through language and understanding and skill.
Reaching out for help
Rachael said that she kept up-to-date with information provided by the Pilates Alliance Australasia (PAA) through their social media posts. PAA ran a number of webinars to help members deal with issues as they arose. Rachael listened to some of those webinars and accessed associated resources.
She said, “It’s been really great to see the PAA backing studio owners in this time. It’s good to feel a part of something bigger when going through such a confronting and challenging time.”
Rachael also used the services of Ingrid Thompson who runs a business called “Healthy Numbers”. She has written a book called “So you want to start a business.” Ingrid is incredibly supportive of the PAA and has been heavily involved in the webinars, donating her time to help studios and instructors weather the storm.
Discovering new ways
“It’s been a real eye opener that we didn’t need the tactile touch that we’d been relying on previously. This is going to help us when we start teaching with social distancing. We have realised we can get a good connection online. It is probably difficult to build it that way, but we have been able to build it on top of the real business we had built.”
“You don’t know what you’ve got until the demand is made. It has been an absolute eye opener of what we’re all capable of achieving.”
Reaching more people
Moving forward we will keep the online offering especially for not local and vulnerable people. “We will keep group classes online at a much lower price and this allows more people to access high quality teaching – we can teach 15 – rather than 8 in a class, so there’s a real opportunity to get people who wouldn’t normally access Pilates. Being able to offer the benefits of movement to more people feels great. We do not charge as much, but we can go to a larger market, so it works out really well.” Another lesson learned.
Building a better business
The last insight was completely surprising and unexpected. Building the business was hard work for Rachael, but starting again from nothing has allowed Rachael to do a reset and build the business from a place of confidence. Having done it once before, she’s now implementing changes that will make the business better and easier for her to manage.
“Finding our way through this crisis has been like having hindsight ahead of time. Everyone makes mistakes building a business; now I get to reset, restart and recover.”
“I’m excited about getting back into the studio. Before it was too much hard work. Now I have become more comfortable with saying no, I’ve gained a core of confidence through overcoming this adversity. This break offers me the opportunity to rebuild the business the way I want it.”