Among the businesses hit hardest by Covid-19 is the fitness industry. I had the opportunity to interview local business owner, Dana Harshaw. Dana owns and operates Barre3 (pronounced bar three) in Chapel Hill. She is the local owner within a franchise system of over 140 locations. We spoke about the challenges, opportunities and concerns owning and operating a business that has been restricted from operating at full capacity.
Dana opened her location September 2017. Things rapidly changed March 2020 as a result of COVID-19. She maintains a positive attitude and grit. Dana feels her clients, the community, and her team are all pulling together to be supportive. We spoke about the challenges and lessons she could share for other small business owners. She has had an amazing retention rate of over 80% on memberships and seeing non-member (pay-as-you-go) business returning.
Big Lessons from Dana:
1) Be creative – One of the top lessons Dana shared was the importance of leveraging her network. This includes the franchise system, clients, team members, and owner network. The franchise has been sponsoring regular sessions and workshops with owners nationwide to share successes and best practices. The owner network also leverages Facebook to keep the conversation going. Dana implemented ideas from her manager and team members. She also surveyed her clients to understand their needs such as virtual classes, hours, and comfort level for in person socially distanced sessions.
“We teach in parking lots, patios, event spaces and even at the private homes of our members,” said Harshaw.
2) Deal with one or two weeks at a time – “I’m only going to look a few weeks into the future and focus on keeping everyone healthy,” said Harshaw, regarding staying focused on what is actually in her control.
With any small business managing cash flow and debt are critical. Dana has not utilized the SBA loans available through the CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security) Act. She did leverage under that act and received PPP (Paycheck Protection Program) funds but has not yet utilized them. The main reason is the fitness industry, as well as many other small businesses, need to hit a strict criterion on expenditures. This includes limiting the amount going toward overhead and bringing back and retaining a certain number of employees. Given the number of unknowns and the way the money needs to be spent, it could result in increased debt and not qualify for debt forgiveness. This could cripple the business. Dana will reevaluate in the next few months and could decide to return the funds. Hopefully, the legislature will modify the program to allow for greater flexibility.
Current PPP frequently asked questions.
3) Mission – Know your “why.” Understand why you went into business and map back to that in times of difficulty.
“I truly believe that people need exercise and community now more than ever before,
says Harshaw. She further spoke about her and her team’s commitment to safety to ensure they can deliver the benefits in outdoor socially distanced environments. In June they were able to begin outdoor classes with up to the 25-person government limitations set by North Carolina’s Phase 2 re-opening plan. (Those outdoor limitations are now held to 50 people as North Carolina moved into Phase 2.5 last week.) According to Harshaw, her business want to “give clients an outlet for movement and connection during this stressful and uncertain time”.
Dana has amazing positive energy and determination. I asked her a very difficult question. It was given the uncertain future, how long can and will you keep the business operating? Her answer was a resounding statement that she will “do everything I can to keep the business open for the community, team, clients, and self until it hurts the family financially.” How are you managing through these difficult times?
Feel free to post comments or email them to me. Small Business, Big Lessons ® – What are your small business lessons?
About the Author:
Gregory Woloszczuk is an entrepreneur and experienced tech executive that helps small business owners grow their top and bottom line. Gregory believes in straight talk and helping others see things they need to see but may not want to with a focus on taking responsibly for one’s own business. He and his wife, Maureen, started GMW Carolina in 2006.
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