Last week we had the privilege to sit down (over Zoom, of course), with Matt Webster, head trainer and studio manager of F45 Liberty Village, and owner Jarrett Slaney.
We discussed the trials and tribulations that F45 is facing during these unprecedented times, and how a business that is solely built on community and in person interactions, is managing to pivot and maintain a sense of togetherness while we are all physically staying apart.
At the end of this post you can find links and information on how you can join in on F45 classes from home
For those who may not be familiar with the F45 brand and business model, do you mind giving me a little breakdown on how F45 is structured/works?
F45 is a fitness franchise of group training, it originated in Australia around six or seven years ago, I brought F45 to Canada, it’ll be five years in September. So. F45 Liberty Village is the first one in the country. The business model is group fitness and we’re tailored around doing workouts that you’ll never do twice. We’re heavily into innovation with technology. We have TV screens throughout the room that show you what to do, and a one on one opportunity to work with the trainers in a group setting. Our workouts are based around three main principles that we implement in our studios – innovation, motivation and results.
“We provide the high energy and the atmosphere of a group fitness class, but you get the expertise and the coaching of a certified personal trainer, all in a fun group environment.”
Our 5 studios are owned and run by just myself and my business partners. We funded everything ourselves, without any investors.
For a business like yours where human interaction and being together in the same place together is the essence of your business, this cannot be an easy time for you. What has been the toughest for you during this pandemic and with this new norm of physical distancing?
From a training standpoint, what’s most difficult about this is we’ve always taken for granted how much easier it is to coach somebody when you’re physically right there with them, you can see how their body works better, and read their body language more.
The number one thing I think people love about F45, besides the workout is the community. It can sound cliché to say that in the fitness industry that is it’s all about family and community, but it actually is, people are excited to come to workout. They’re excited to know that they’re going to have the same trainer that knows everything about them, we know everything from their injuries, and progressions to their regressions. Our team of trainers provide our members with a diverse range of expertise. We have varying backgrounds including personal training, kinesiology and exercise science. The main thing is our trainers love what they do and they bring that enthusiasm and passion to our studio (or online classes) everyday.
“It’s their vice to get away from the everyday world.”
A lot of our members say that because F45 Liberty Village is their second home, some consider it their first home because they will see Matt, myself and the trainers more than they do their family.
When you realized all of this and when it really settled in that you weren’t going to be able to welcome your members into your gym for a while, what was your initial reaction?
We have a studio manager in all the locations, and I remember when we knew [the Covid-19 lockdowns were coming] and we knew we had to close the doors, we decided that we all needed to jump on facetime and discuss what are we going to do? We signed-up for a Zoom account right away. This was before anyone else was really understanding how you can deliver an F45 workout over the Internet.
“We’ve accepted the fact that all our coaching now has to be done online through a computer, and so that’s been a difficult transition.”
What our members appreciate about the training that we bring to them – the knowledge and the fact that they’re going to come into a class and we’re not going to let them have bad form and get hurt. So, we wanted to bring that same value to the live training sessions.
“Having two coaches, one sitting at their computer, with one solely watching everybody’s form, I think has given people a lot of value.”
So, how have you pivoted your business and managed to maintain your revenue streams and sense of community?
A lot of the first couple days and weeks was trial and error. We had an amazing marketing company, Virul media come in and we filmed our own workouts that we thought originally, we were going to have a website where you can log in and watch our workouts, but then we realized that’s what every other fitness industry or influencer in the world is doing, putting up a workout on the screen and you just follow along.
“So, we thought, how can we be different? Why do people keep coming back to see Matt and the other trainers? It’s because they want to see us, they want to hear feedback on what they’re doing, how they can do better”
And then F45 HQ kind of stepped up with some pivoting online as well, but we didn’t wait for that. We put together a couple of computers, with one trainer speaking and providing feedback and the other trainer working out.
How is business going these days, with your new setup in place and reinvented revenue streams?
Revenues are down, so, we consciously decided that we’d rather have more people be able to join our classes, rather than us trying to recoup any of our costs. All we care about is keeping our doors open for when we are allowed to reopen. And we know that a lot of people are struggling at this time, so we consciously made the F45Live Workout a reasonable price and members can cancel at any time.
“We do have some members that have kept their membership active, and that’s something we’ll remember forever.”
F45Live Workouts has taken off really well, we have around 50 to 60 people per class and we have people from PEI, Vancouver, Australia, L.A. that jump on. Who else? We’ve had people join from Switzerland.
“We have friends that have moved around the world that are logging on because they want to see familiar faces.”
It’s also been really good to bring together – the different trainers and members from all of our sister locations and allow some trainers to run courses from Waterloo for instance and then Toronto’s Regent Park, Toronto Downtown and Liberty Village. We’ve always wanted to do that eventually anyways, bring the community together.
We also have our Friday night socials, which has been really great to have members from different studios to get together for a drink and trivia nights – it’s been a big hit.
We’ve also started hosting seminars, they have been really good in allowing us to partner with young entrepreneurs who want to talk about life coaching for instance, we had a doctor talk about COVID-19 early on to learn more about it straight from a doctor rather than just what’s shared through the media.
“We’re trying to bridge the gap between what we are really good at in person with now what we’re doing online and keeping it interactive.”
This is something we will likely keep doing for people who aren’t comfortable with coming back into the studio, and it will allow more people to join our classes once we reopen since we may have a limitation on class size.
Is there anything about your Liberty Village location that makes it unique or different compared to your other locations? May it be before non-essential businesses have been closed or after.
Yeah, each studio is completely unique from each other. Liberty Village is super unique because they have this pride that they’re the original F45’ers in Canada, and I love our original members because they’re the ones that took a chance on us, when no one knew what F45 was.
“You also have the uniqueness of Liberty Village is that the community really does care about local businesses and they really have this sense of ownership, which I really like.”
We were just this little studio down an alleyway that was originally called Death Alley in the Liberty Village Market Building. It’s pretty awesome to see how quickly that changed around, now there’s companies like Athletes Kitchen, there’s Garden Gangsters, a new yoga studio, Oxygen Yoga beside us. We really transformed Liberty Village into a fitness mecca.
There’s a lot of options with Pure Yoga down the street, the Reebok’s CrossFit, a Goodlife fitness, and many personal trainers who do one-on-one.
If you could give your fellow small business owners, especially those who run a brick and mortar business, one piece of advice during these unprecedented times what would it be?
I think number one is to take a breath and sit back. We’re all going through this together, so panicking is probably the worst thing you can do. The second would definitely be to surround yourself with the best team possible. Just having that support, especially as a small business owner you tend to do a lot of the things you do on your own. So being able to have Matt and the other managers at the studios and my business partner, as people to lean on, because you’re definitely going to doubt yourself.
This pandemic has made us better business owners. If you can get through this then you pretty much can get through anything. And then the third thing is to remember that it really is all about your customers and the service you provide. The way we pivoted to online within days and were able to keep our product extremely consistent with value, has helped us keep our current members accountable, healthy and engaged. They will notice the hard work you put in during stressful times and will reward you when you reopen the doors. They could have all walked away, no amount of government help could really help us get through this situation, it’s the fact that we know that when we reopen our doors, we’ll have a flood of people eager to walk through our doors, once again.
This is the first time F45 Liberty Village has been closed since they first opened their doors September 2015. During this time they have made the most of their doors being closed by investing in renovations, so their members will have a brand new studio to come back to once, they are able to re-open their doors.
In the meantime, here’s a breakdown of what you need to know to join in on F45 Live Workouts from home:
If you’d like more information on how to sign-up or collaborations you can contact F45 Liberty Village at email@example.com
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