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2020 will go down in history as one of the most challenging years of our lives, professionally and emotionally, in a generation. Covid-19 has changed the world we live in, literally overnight. There has been sickness, struggle, anger, and sadly a great loss of life. Life, however, must go on for our nation and our economy. Businesses everywhere have been impacted by closures, restrictions, and consumer fear. Many businesses are now gone, and many of the remaining business owners’ hopes and dreams may have been lost forever. Some entrepreneurs, however, have found a way to come out of the pandemic stronger than they went in. How did they do this? It was, and always is, accomplished by the ability to “pivot” and make something out of nothing.
Forbes defines the pivot as “fundamentally changing the direction of a business when you realize the current products or services aren't meeting the needs of the market. The main goal of a pivot is to help a company improve revenue or survive in the market, but the way you pivot your business can make all the difference.”
The fitness industry, like the restaurant industry, was hit particularly hard and is still struggling. Here in Pennsylvania, last March, Governor Wolf shut down gyms, as did Governor Murphy in New Jersey. Some businesses simply ignored that directive and remained open, but the vast majority cooperated with government officials for the safety of their community and to help flatten the curve. Those who stayed open did not have to pivot; they kept going on, business as usual. The others worked feverishly to create online platforms, training and instructing virtually and becoming Zoom experts in hours or days.
Many of those businesses that decided to adapt and change on the fly are more successful now than ever. We were one of the businesses that rolled the dice on how to pivot and adapt. I can assure you that besides when I started my business 21 years ago, I was never as scared and insecure about my decisions. The alternative of losing my dream was unthinkable. I am happy to say I am still here and growing faster than ever. Over the years, I have changed my business operations more times than I can count, so this pivot came very naturally.
I think that the covid situation is not going anywhere for quite some time, possibly for years. Every type of business will have several more “pivot points” to come, but pandemic or not, changing things up works! Restaurant menus change seasonally, gyms buy new equipment, and new group classes are created all the time. That is how businesses keep people interested in coming back through the doors. That is how we grow and change with the times. If you do not experiment with change in your business operations, you run the risk of having a very high turnover rate. If you practice business change throughout the year (and your career), when the need to pivot occurs you will be more confident and therefore should ultimately make better decisions.
We as fitness-business owners are faced with new business models and franchises opening up close to our locations every year. These new facilities bring fresh, powerful ideas to the landscape. It is those new flavors that tend to take business away from those businesses that have resisted change. Once the struggle begins, such as paying the bills to keep all operating costs covered, it is hard to swim out of that whirlpool. Regarding the tragedy as we have all experienced over the past year, I believe it has made us stronger. Organically grown businesses will always struggle a bit more than franchises, but they have more flexibility to change to fit the current times. It is a double-edged sword that I for one am proud to carry.
If you have not done so already, practice the pivot. Start out with very small changes that may seem interesting to your customers and take copious notes on the process. If the results do not pan out in the short term, don’t panic! Much like a vaccine, the results of your changes may take weeks or months to show a positive return, especially during trying times. Just don’t change multiple aspects of your business at the same time. It may look like an act of desperation and mismanagement, which can lead to a lack of customer confidence. Allow your customer base to approach you and give you feedback; after all, they are your business’s life force. It may be that you made a great decision, but it may require a bit of tweaking to perfect. Be brave and learn to listen with your heart. Now go pivot!
Martin McLoughlin is co-owner of Extreme Fitness Personal Training, www.extremefitnesspa.com.