Moving a bricks-and-mortar business exclusively online is essentially like establishing a new business from scratch—and it’s something millions of boutique studio owners and fitness professionals across the country and around the world had to do in a matter of weeks in early March.

Those virtual programs, many of which were set up as temporary stopgaps, have become these businesses’s main lifeline, and it looks like that will continue for some time as studios reopen with smaller class sizes, fewer staff and many unknowns.

Despite the steep learning curve of going virtual, Merrithew Master Instructor Trainer PJ O’Clair, owner of Praxis Performance and Wellness and of Northeast Pilates Education Center, a Merrithew Licensed Training Center, outside Boston, has built a successful and robust online offering by continuing to provide high-quality instruction and the community atmosphere her clients know and love.

With about five or six classes available per day, she’s kept five instructors employed and grown her online client base by at least 70 new clients, some from as far away as Peru, Chile and Bulgaria.

Based on that momentum, PJ plans to maintain her virtual classes even after she can reopen her studio.

“A lot of my clients are asking me to keep putting on the virtual classes because they don’t want to come in for a while, not until a vaccine is available. People are going to continue social distancing when it comes to certain aspects of their lives, one of them being the gym,” she says.

On the bright side, building a virtual business was something she’d always wanted to do; COVID-19 just forced her to fast-track those plans.

For studio owners, this hybrid in-person/virtual business model will likely be the way of the future.

Here’s what PJ says studio owners need to do to engage and retain clients virtually:

  • Educate consumers: “I always say this to my instructors: ‘You don’t want clients to need you; you want them to want you, to learn from you and trust you.’ If you instill in them that you’re a valuable resource and that you’re there for them, that’s the most powerful thing you can offer. Clients are looking for knowledge, inspiration, safety, and they want to be confident in your abilities,” PJ says.
  • Build up your client base through your grassroots connections: “When clients pay me compliments, I say, ‘If you can tell your friends, that would be really helpful, because then we’ll be able to continue offering this service,’” she says. When the outbreak first began, PJ had more than a dozen one-on-one calls with clients to walk them through the online sign-in and set-up process. “People are so grateful because of that, and they’ll send new clients to us because they’re getting stronger and feeling better themselves, despite being in isolation.”
  • Diversify what you’re doing and offering: “We do recovery days, lectures, workshops—people love that stuff. People are sitting at home, and they’re sick of Netflix. They want to learn something new. It seems like a lot of instructors think their clients want these super-hard workouts, but our most popular classes right now are ZEN•GA®, which fuses elements of Pilates, yoga, martial arts and meditation, and Merrithew Fascial Movement. Variety keeps things interesting.”

 

Get programming ideas and workout inspiration from Merrithew’s leading Instructor Trainers, like PJ, on our new streaming platform, Merrithew Connect.