It’s a known fact that the COVID-19 pandemic has affected businesses worldwide. In Singapore alone, plenty of popular restaurants have shuttered their doors following several imposed lockdowns.
Besides restaurants, small local businesses such as retail outlets and gyms too, have had to significantly alter their modes of operation due to ever changing restrictions.
We speak to three gym founders: Bebe Ding of CRU Singapore, Eugena Bey of BE. Pilates, and GJ Wee of Trapeze Rec Club to find out how they’ve been navigating the constant changes led by the pandemic, how they’ve pivoted their businesses, and the advice they have for fellow business owners out there.
Established almost 10 years ago, CRU is a fitness concept with various different studios including CRUCycle, CRUBox and the newly introduced CRUYoga.
In September this year, Ding and her siblings expanded their reach with the opening of their biggest studio yet in Orchard Road. Besides two studios in Singapore, the Dings have also opened CRUBox in Los Angeles’ hip West Hollywood district.
“Covid-19 has definitely changed the game for us. We’ve always had this vision to build out a bunch of boutique studios, and COVID has hastened the process for other endeavours including CRU TV and CRU TV Bike. I think if COVID didn’t hit, we would not have launched them so soon. Going digital is definitely the way of the future but we did not think we’d do it so soon,” she shares in a Zoom call.
“I think the biggest thing we’ve learned while running a business during COVID times is being able to adapt. A big thing we’ve learned is the resilience of the team we have as well,” she explains when asked about some of the biggest lessons she’s learned.
To adapt to the guidelines released by the government, Ding says CRU has had to make several changes, including the way they’ve released class schedules. “We release schedules the week of classes instead of way in advance so we don’t have to keep calling people and changing schedules for the front of house, the cleaning crew and instructors.”
Despite all the difficulties they’ve had in their way, CRU says it continues to have many things in the pipeline like new types of classes including yoga involving light weights. In aid of COVID-19 charities, Ding has organised six virtual charity classes that at one point involved over 300 participants. These rides raised money for various organisations including the Food From The Heart, The Vulnerable Women’s Fund, and Transient Workers Count Too.
Reflecting on her experience opening CRUBox in Los Angeles, one could say she’s always been able to rise to the challenges presented to her. “When we opened CRUBox in Los Angeles, it was a challenging time for us to open a gym there. We experienced a lot of doubt. At the beginning of the three month process when we were learning to box by experienced fighters, they did not take us seriously but, by the end of it, they realised that we were. Still, it was a hard time for us.”
Through it all, Ding wants to encourage budding female entrepreneurs to own who they are and stop caring about the thoughts and opinions of others all that much. “You are your biggest obstacle and if you’re not standing in your power, you’re standing in your own way.”
“I started BE. Pilates as a virtual studio at the beginning of the pandemic in 2020, and made the decision to open up a physical studio right after the Circuit Breaker,” says Bey. Besides being the studio’s only instructor, Bey does double duty taking on administrative duties.
Her studio offers only private and semi-private classes and while her concept is a niche, Bey says it was a conscious decision as her goal was to be able introduce more people to pilates, and help them better their understanding of the art.
Like most entrepreneurs, Bey admits that the pandemic has affected the studio’s income. “I’ve learned that it’s important to keep calm in unforeseen circumstances, and to always be ready with a rain-day plan,” she shares. Bey has, in turn, adapted to the situation by offering online instead. “Thankfully, BE. Pilates is able to resume operations after the second P2HA, while complying with the latest regulations set out by the government.”
“Virtual classes are going to stay, for sure. With technological advancements, hopefully there will be more ways for businesses to engage with their clients,” hopes Bey. The fitness enthusiast hopes she’ll be able to expand BE. in the future as well.
“I wasn’t taken seriously as I was a young instructor especially since I was certified to teach when I was 20. I definitely had to work extra hard in order to prove myself. I learned the importance of being and staying humble, and that there’s always room for growth. So I channel whatever criticism that comes my way into something constructive and would improve me as a person and instructor,” she explains.
Having dealt with the effects of the pandemic, Bey has this to say to fellow entrepreneurs looking to break into the industry: “Plan well beforehand, and the first step to starting anything is probably the hardest. Strategise, set aside funds for rainy days, and know exactly the reason why you want to start the business — it will serve as a reminder as to why you started out in the first place.”
Before opening Trapeze early this year, Wee spent several years in management consulting helping large companies grow bigger. “I figured I’d use the skillset I’d acquired to grow something from scratch. This, coupled with my keen interest in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, yoga, and S&C (strength & conditioning), led to the birth of Trapeze,” Wee explains.
“Trapeze is a wellness-focused lifestyle company, and we’re building a portfolio of health and wellness concepts. The first concept I was inspired to build is a holistic wellness club called Trapeze Rec. Club (TRC), a four-story space in a pre-war art deco shophouse along Tanjong Pagar Road. The club features programming that spans over 8,000 square feet – including a cafe, yoga studio, gym, reflexology lounge, outdoor cold plunge and sauna, and recreation rooms that house Mental Wellbeing, Sports Massage and TCM experts,” the entrepreneur goes on to share.
With the pandemic however, Wee has had to figure out ways to manage the company more effectively, whether it’s finding areas to save cost or introducing new products and services that could increase revenue. “By lowering our group class prices and introducing virtual classes, we ensured that people still had access to train with us. We’ve also kept some mask-on classes on our schedule, in order to allow non-vaccinated people to still be able to experience the club. As these are tough times, we also allow our members true flexibility to be able to pause, suspend or terminate their memberships easily”
On a personal level, Wee says the pandemic has shifted the focus from physical wellness to other dimensions of wellness including mental, social, financial, and occupational.
“I’ve been trying to find ways to tackle these challenges in the way I run my team. Whether it’s normalising mental health days, instead of only being able to take “MCs” when you’re physically unwell, or allowing true flexibility to be able to work the hours (and at locations) that work best for you, as long as you get your tasks done,” Wee expresses.
Virtual classes might be the in-thing at the moment but Wee believes in-person connections between teachers, coaches, and students are irreplaceable. “At TRC, we’ve noticed that in the last few weeks, the take-up rate for in-person classes has increased.”
Wee’s advice for business owners looking to start their own business in the current climate?
“Make the leap and dive in headfirst. It’s having the courage to just do it, and start, and when you’re in the thick of it, to remember to take breaks, and mental health days for yourself because it can be tiring. Remember that it is a marathon, not a sprint!”