Business

REOPENING DIARIES

‘The momentum we had been building basically just stopped'

Globe Staff
People were silhouetted as they worked out at Trillfit, pre-pandemic.


Businesses that scaled back operations to help stop the spread of COVID-19 are reopening. The Globe is sharing the experiences of small-business owners, in their own words, as they get back to work.

Heather White, chief executive

Trillfit, Boston

In business since 2015

Prior to the pandemic, fitness studio Trillfit had sold out its classes for more than 50 consecutive days. Heather White, a first-time entrepreneur, is now developing a different business model that will rely heavily on her studio’s newly created digital content, instead of its popular group dance classes.

Before COVID, we were projecting a 50 percent increase in memberships. Then COVID happened, and the momentum we had been building basically just stopped.

When we look at 2019 altogether, memberships were 40 percent of revenue. Our post-COVID projection: Group classes don’t exist, and memberships will be cut in half because folks won’t feel comfortable going into the studio anymore.

I built myself a very conservative business estimate. We need to carry the entire business, including the footprint at 1484 Tremont St., assuming we can’t open the studio for another year. We have to make that up, and we still have to grow, so what are the new ways we are going to do that?

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For me, that is digital. It is monetizing the digital program. We were able to pivot our programming to digital pretty quickly, seemingly overnight. I redid our entire business plan, and we now have digital as 52 percent of our revenue.

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We have been doing everything for free these last three months, and it has given us the ability to test a lot of out-of-the-box things. There will be a digital membership; we started outdoor classes in July, and we will do them until we feel it is safe to go back into the studio.

We have been offering three free classes daily on Zoom. Those are live classes taught from the instructors’ living rooms. Once we launch our digital membership, we will be building kits for instructors because we are looking to level up the experience and make it feel more premium. They will have specific branding that they can set up and take down.

We have seen well over 14,000 people come through our live classes. It’s not just folks from Boston — it’s 92 cities, 22 states, at least seven countries.

Folks know this programming has been free since the studio closed. We started telling people that starting in July we are offering a paid digital membership. We’ll still have some free opportunities for folks, because access is really important to us, and we will be working with sponsors to offer programming to different groups.

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The earliest we would open the studio is in August. Frankly, a lot of our members have said to us, “We trust you; as soon as I can get back to the studio, I will.” Knowing how deeply they trust us, we are taking this super-seriously. We won’t be the first people to open our studio.

The studio is dark and it looks like a club, which people find fun. A lot of that is going to be changing. This is a completely different environment. We could fit 24 people in the studio. Post-COVID, we won’t have more than nine people in the studio, including the instructors.

It’s challenging, but it is practical. We are not going to lay off a single person; we are not going to do it. Period. We have a great brand, and we need to make a business plan and a marketing plan that is achievable.

There is no going back. Whether you are talking about the pandemic or racial injustice, the world is a very different place. A lot of people are waking up and feeling differently, and that is going to change their regular routines. As a Black, woman-owned business, as an organization that stands for health equity and the desegregation of the wellness industry, this is our time to remake it. Trillfit has been talking about diversity in wellness for five and a half years.

Since the murder of George Floyd, it seems like folks have woken up, and a lot of our peers in the industry, a lot of fellow studio owners, have reached out to me personally to either offer support, ask for help, or acknowledge they have not been doing the work and would like to now.

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— ANISSA GARDIZY