How Does One Find a Way To Keep One’s Business Afloat During Covid?
I sat down and talked with a business owner named Yoni in order to get a clearer picture of what’s happening across the globe to small businesses during the current pandemic. Yoni is the owner of a spin studio in the city of Efrat, Israel. He shared the challenges that he was facing during the coronavirus shutdown. The main one – having no choice but to close his business for months with no end in sight.
We also discussed the current issues he is dealing with in complying with ever changing government guidelines. As well as how he is living with the uncertainty of knowing whether or not he’ll even be permitted to keep his business open in the near future.
We tackled some important questions, such as: Should the government be shutting down gyms, a place where people go to improve their fitness, while the population is dealing with a deadly virus that disproportionality affects the sick? How is expansion possible for a business when the future is so uncertain?
Me: Hi Yoni, it’s a pleasure to speak with you. Can you tell me a little bit about yourself and your business?
Yoni: Sure, I opened up a spin studio two years ago in Efrat, Israel.
M: What’s the current status of your business? Are you open or still closed?
Y: We are currently open and giving spin classes. However, I don’t know how long we can stay open for. It’s changing by the minute. I spoke with a few other gyms that had to close down. It depends what types of classes they’re offering. New regulations are coming out all the time. As of today we are open and we’re even doing some classes outdoors.
Me: Are you able to run at full capacity?
Y: No we’re at a reduced capacity. I have 25 bikes but I don’t book more than 10 people, or 10 units. A unit is a family or a group that lives together.
Me: So you’re limited to 10 units at a time?
M: Do they have to be spaced apart?
Y: We have spacing and we have wipes. Almost everybody wipes their bike down individually, plus I do a nightly wipe down of all of the bikes at the end of the day. Also we keep the window and door open to have a cross breeze. Normally we would have the window closed to get a dark room with only a few lights on for ambiance. So now with the window and door open we don’t get the complete darkness that would be ideal.
Me: What distance do you space everyone at?
Y: The standard is two meters. For our studio purposes that means a bike in between, for the most part.
Me: When did you have to close your studio down?
Y: We closed down in mid March and remained closed until the last day of April.
M: When you reopened in April were you able to stay open?
Y: Yes we stayed open with limited capacity. To make up for the limited amount of people allowed in we have had to double the amount of classes we offer. We used to have a fuller studio and fewer classes. Now there has been a spike in the spread of the virus here in Israel, so they are coming out with new regulations. I don’t know if there’s going to be a nationwide quarantine again, things can change at any second.
M: So would it be fair to say that you’re uncertain of whether or not you will be able to be stay open?
Y: For now we are open but tomorrow things could change. The number of cases of the virus could increase and they can shut down the country tomorrow. It’s a constant negotiation here between different government officials who have competing agendas. It changes from day to day and there’s a great deal of uncertainty as to which business or whether any businesses will be able to remain open going forward.
Me: It’s kind of confusing like that here in the U.S. as well. The regulations are totally different in different places in the country. For example, in the state of New York it’s different in NYC versus the counties outside of the city. They’re trying to organize reopening with defined phases, like they did Phase 1 and Phase 2 in NYC. California is doing that too, then they had to to move backwards from Phase 3 to Phase 2 after a spike in cases. After only two weeks of reopening bars and restaurants the governor closed them back down on July 1st.
Y: Something similar happened over here, they got really tough with the regulations on Yom Ha’atzmaut (Independence Day). It seemed like they were going to have a permanent quarantine, but it turns out the regulations were to keep the virus from spreading on Independence Day. The police were all over the place but once we past the big celebratory day and they were able to keep the damage minimal, they reopened things. Now it seems like we’re beginning a second quarantine. They already closed down gyms over here and some other businesses too.
M: They’re closing down gyms?
Y: Bars and gyms are closed now, amongst others. Not every fitness business falls under the category of a gym. For example, studios are kind of a middle ground. Some gyms have studios in them, like a yoga room, or a spin room. One franchise has decided to close their gym but keep their studios open. There’s not specific guidance for these things, so the responses are varied amongst gyms, businesses, and fitness professionals. I don’t know what the new government proclamations are going to be tomorrow or how everyone is going to respond to it. So that’s what we’re in the middle of over here.
M: So do they enforce the regulations? Will they come shut you down if you’re not supposed to be open? Or is more like “these are the guidelines, follow them how you want?”
Y: The city of Efrat is relatively small so there’s not much police activity over here compared to a larger city like Jerusalem. They have talked about sending more police officers to this area in general in the coming days or weeks. I’m not exactly sure when they’re going to start putting in more enforcements over here. However, their focus is more on giving people tickets if they don’t have masks on. They haven’t had police officers going door to door to shut down businesses here. It’s different in a bigger city like Jerusalem where there’s police everywhere, but that’s just the nature of living in Jerusalem. Here in Efrat it’s different, it’s very residential, and a big police presence would be unsettling to say the least.
M: When they make these laws are they universal for the whole country. Or do Tel Aviv and Jerusalem have different rules compared to a smaller city like Efrat?
Y: The ministry of Health puts out rules out and it’s centralized, meaning the ministry operates for the sake of the entire country. However, the regulations are open to interpretation and it’s up to the local municipalities to provide their own interpretations of these guidelines to their people.
M: Sounds like the USA, where it’s highly variable from state to state and even from county to county.
Y: When they said gyms are closed that’s one thing that’s relatively clear. All the main gyms closed. But they also said that studios could remain open. I’m still not sure what’s going to be happening moving forward. As of now we’re remaining open. We are following the guidelines that were give last week which were “limited capacity, keeping doors open, sanitizing bikes, everybody washes their hands.” You know, the basic stuff that everybody’s doing.
M: Does everyone wear masks during exercise?
Y: Not during the exercise, you’re supposed to wear masks until you start to exercise. It would be extremely hard to exercise with the masks. Not to mention that there is a very small incidence of people getting sick at gyms. It’s not a hotbed for illness compared to schools.
M: That’s interesting.
Y: None of my members have been sick, none of the members of my neighboring gym have been sick with the virus. There was actually an interview on the news just this morning with one of the founders of the local gym franchises. In response to the government closing gyms down this person was saying that gyms are one of the places where people go to get healthier. Also there have been almost no incidences of people going to gyms and getting sick.
M: I agree it’s hot here, I’m sure it’s even hotter here in Israel. So it’s nearly impossible to work out if you don’t go to a gym or have gym equipment at home. You can’t work out outside unless its 5 in the morning or midnight after the sun goes down. How else are you supposed to stay healthy?
Y: It’s tough. One thing that happened in the beginning of the quarantine is that everyone took to the streets and was out running. When there are no gyms to go to that’s their only option. Then they even closed down streets for people to run on. That made it a real struggle to stay healthy.
M: Staying healthy is necessary in this time. We can’t be sedentary that’s not good for us.
Y: It’s a total double edge sword. You want to be fit so in case you come in contact with the virus you’ll be okay. It would be ideal for everyone to be healthy and strong so they can deal with it. Obviously that’s not the case. If one of the demands was that everyone goes to the gym and gets themselves into shape people would have a better time dealing with the illness that’s spreading. There’s just no way that a person who is not in good physical shape has the same chances of fighting the illness as someone who is in shape. It’s just two different things. Closing down fitness places, I get it, you don’t want people to be in contact too much, but that’s not a solution to the spread of the virus. I understand if they want to close down bars, but leave the health things last because that’s the very thing were trying to sustain. I understand that I have a vested interest, but it also seems very common sense that if a person has a health routing at a time when there’s a health crisis, then don’t mess with that health routine.
M: Physical health is super important. I think the socialization aspect, bars, places where people can go out to eat, those are necessary for mental health which is also important. Anyways, that’s a whole separate topic.
Y: This whole thing is a ball of yarn.
M: There’s no real one answer. I think everyone is still trying to figure it out which is why it’s such a big mess. So how are you handling the loss of profits during this time because you have to reduce the amount of people? Has that been an issue?
Y: I’m not a finance guy but here’s what happened. We closed down for a month and a half and obviously we had no income, no revenue during that time. When we opened back up there was a trickle effect. People were out of the loop and many of them weren’t ready yet to go back out spinning for various reasons. Number one, they were uncomfortable leaving their houses. They had just been on lockdown for a month and a half and were selective of what they would leave their house for. That was a certain percent of people. Even some of the die-hard spinners, didn’t come back in the beginning. It took a little while to get our regulars back. Many people lost their jobs and couldn’t afford to come back to the studio. These were the setbacks.
However, on the flip side, there were a lot of new people now coming to spinning because they’re working from home. Now that they don’t have to commute to work they have an extra two hours in their day for spinning. So we had a whole different schedule. We’re working triple hard to maintain what we had previously and we’re at a pretty good place now compared to where we were at before. We’re working super hard to maintain the health needs of our greater community. We’re not at a disadvantage right now, as long as we can stay open going forward. Obviously if we keep on quarantining that’s a zero sum game. As long as we can stay open we can deal with these smaller class sizes. We can deal with a lot of different things as long as we can stay open and serve the community within the guidelines.
M: So it was difficult, in the beginning people weren’t coming back right away. Would you say you’re now back to how you were before?
Y: It’s different than before. We can’t have full sessions. A “full” session these days is less than half it was before. So we have to work harder and the schedule has tripled to maintain a similar amount of people. Thank god the total number of people is greater, but we have to employ more instructors for the increase in the number of classes. Where exactly it lands at any given moment is a good question. We’re trying to make up for not having been open for a month and a half. At the moment we’re open, and assuming we can stay open, then we should be able to get back to were we were. In the long run we took a huge hit to not have any money coming in for close to two months. That’s hard to catch up from. That’s a tough thing to calculate.
M: So you’ve told me a great deal about how the coronavirus shut down affected your business. Has it affected your personal life?
Y: I have kids, so that means during the quarantine I have a family to serve. It’s different for someone who’s single. If a single person has a business then it will be easier for them to shift the business towards a digital offer. Something that I have decided, at least for now, is that I’m not going to change my entire business during the quarantine period with the kids at home. So if there’s a quarantine, I’m just going to pray that it passes quickly and while it’s happening I’m going to see if there’s any way I can remain in business. To change my entire offer and go digital with all the kids running around would be a disaster. That’s my guess.
A method some businesses have used to stay afloat financially is to move into a digital platform by offering classes through zoom or another software. I am hesitant to shift into that digital domain because it’s hard to find people with bikes at home. Yoga is a different story. With spinning you really have to reach a whole new audience of people with home bikes, which my current audience doesn’t have. That would be a whole undertaking and it’s not something I’m considering doing now. That’s how it is for me in terms of the business and my personal life, for now I would keep them separate.
M: I know a lot of yoga and other fitness classes are being offered now online but I can’t see how that would work for spinning.
Y: We did some of our classes online during the quarantine period but we didn’t charge for it. We didn’t open the business in that regard. We felt it was our responsibility to keep people active and engaged with health. In terms of offering something commercially that’s a whole separate thing. I didn’t think that it was a good time to offer classes while having kids around the home all day. It doesn’t look great to have a bunch of kids running around opening the doors in every video and screaming in the background.
M: It sounds like you’re pulling through and working really hard. It’s extremely impressive that you opened your own business and managing how to make it work in this time. Do you have any exciting plans for the future? Do you hope to expand at some point?
Y: I was literally on the verge of expanding when the shutdown first happened in March. We were about to sign a lease for an expanded space in order to increase the size and number of our classes. And again yesterday, when the new regulations came out I was about to sign a contract to knock down a wall to remodel in order to have proper space for a yoga room. So now that’s on hold.
We have started to expand our offering of classes by adding in yoga and core instruction. In terms of opening a new space, we’re a young business so expansion is always necessary. In order to stay in business you need to constantly be growing.
M: So you had all these exciting plans for further expansion and corona has prevented you from moving forward with your plans?
Y: Yes, in a very direct sense. So were still working on expanding but it’s complicated.
M: Aright stay healthy. Thanks so much for talking to me.
Y: You too, take care.