Our COVID-19 Journey So Far

When we first heard about the novel coronavirus in December 2019, we didn’t realise the impact it would have on our lives. Fast forward 6 months, the world as we know it has been turned upside down and we have had to do a complete rehaul of our service business as the world went online. 

As a movement studio specializing in Pilates and the Gyrotonic method which focuses on small group classes and personal training. The initial outbreak of COVID 19 and social distancing regulations in Singapore did not affect our business too much. However with the number of cases creeping up and with restrictions being imposed on entertainment and dining venues, we did see the writing on the wall. We knew the next industry that was going to be affected would be fitness, health and wellness and started taking steps to plan ahead. 

We also anticipated that with the uncertainty and fear about the coronavirus, there would be many clients who would not be comfortable coming into the studio even without government-imposed restrictions. We started thinking about ways that we could still provide service to our clients who preferred not to come to the studio. 

Taking examples from places that had entered lockdown earlier, such as the US, Europe and China, we looked at the various business models that other Pilates studios had adopted. While we didn’t know how COVID would play out exactly in Singapore, having a point of reference for the pros and cons of the various models was helpful. 

As a bricks and mortar service business, going online involved creating a whole new business. We had to conceptualise and implement a brand new strategy. We had to revamp our offerings, pricing and operations. We started with online virtual privates on Skype and Zoom, which were logistically easier to manage. 

“… through the 7 years of running Breathe, we knew that we had built a business with good fundamentals and despite the storm raging around us, having a plan, some laughter and a great team are the secret ingredients to overcoming any adversities.”

Next was trying to figure out how to bring our group classes online. This was a lot harder because we knew that this would be the bulk of our revenue should Singapore go into a lockdown. 

The main challenge was pricing because of the amount of free content available on the internet. We were also unsure if fitness would be high up on their priority list during these uncertain times and if so, would people be willing to pay for it? We had to find a price point which we thought was reasonable for clients to pay as well as enough for us to keep the studio going. We wanted to bring value to clients who bought the packages so we tried collaborations with various instructors offering different modalities.  We tried to provide a variety of classes such as  breathing, meditation, cooking and wine appreciation. Some were well received but some were not and this was a good learning curve for us. 

After weeks of thinking about how we wanted to execute it, we launched a trial week to gauge interest and feasibility. As luck would have it, the same week we launched the trial was the week the government announced the circuit breaker measures. This meant that the studio would not be open for the foreseeable future. Whilst we didn’t get to have a trial week to test out the model, having done the preparation meant that we were able to launch our online live streaming group classes within 24 hours and get ahead of our competitors.

The last few months have proven to be a test for us. Any weakness in the business would have been exposed and it highlighted and reminded us the importance of having good business fundamentals. Strong cash reserves, a sustainable business model, having a unique selling proposition, loyal customers and the right team were all key to surviving a crisis. Family, friends and even the news and ‘experts’ were like backseat drivers with their theories and advice but nobody had anticipated or knew what to do during a pandemic. 

We have always believed since the beginning that a strong team was needed to succeed and the pandemic justified our beliefs. Having a solid team who believed in our vision and values, and were willing to work for it made all the difference during this period. The most affected were our instructors who were on a commission scheme. The studio being closed meant that their salary would be significantly impacted. Instead of being despondent, our instructors took on the changes in their stride and our operations team rose to the challenge, working over the weekend to plan, execute and communicate the changes.

Because we did not have to micromanage, this allowed us time to create a new business strategy that was still in line with our core values at a time when the Government was implementing and updating policies almost every other second. 

As the restrictions got tighter and tighter, we took the time to evaluate our strategy, our cash flow and plans and we tweaked it to fit the current situation. However, at this point, everything felt surreal. We wouldn’t believe that the country was going into lockdown but with every new speech came tighter measures. We joked about how it would be easier to close the business and deep down inside, I think it was something we both considered. It was for a minute a real possibility but through the 7 years of running Breathe, we knew that we had built a business with good fundamentals and despite the storm raging around us, having a plan, some laughter and a great team are the secret ingredients to overcoming any adversities.

In crisis management, we knew that despite our own fears, clear and prompt communication, with both our staff and customers, was key. While we were probably as terrified, and even more so, than our team, we made a conscious effort to address their concerns and be transparent about what our plans were even if that meant admitting that we didn’t have all the answers. We updated our customers regularly about the steps that we were taking to ensure their safety and the changes we had implemented every time the news was updated.

During this period, we also decided to focus on what we could control instead of what we couldn’t. We’ve been spending the last two years working on our internal organisation, cleaning up the structure, implementing good training systems, protocols and procedures. This is still important work and we took the downtime to continue working on it.

Adversity can bring people together. As an industry, we have grown closer during this crisis as we form groups to navigate the change in policies and seek clarity together. Knowing that there are others who are going through the same challenges as you are is infinitely reassuring. 

We’re not out of the woods yet and the situation is constantly evolving. While we’ve learnt to be more agile, to evaluate and adapt quickly and to make decisions when faced with unknowns, it remains to be seen, of course, whether or not any of that worked. We can only hope we’ve done enough to survive this crisis and that we can come back from it stronger than before. Hindsight is always 20/20 and writing this down in the midst of the crisis will help us to learn and evaluate as we move forward. 


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