Running Three Businesses during a Pandemic


I am writing this blog to share my experience from the past three months so that I can tuck this chapter away and move forward. I have been a business owner since 2010 (ten years now) and I have overcome a lot of things along the way, but a worldwide pandemic was something no one could have been prepared for. I am going to walk through the process of deciding to close my gym, how I adjusted my business model to keep my members enrolled, how I continued to employ and pay my team, preparing for a re-opening even when I didn't know when I would be allowed to open again, and finally re-opening the gym. Meanwhile, my e-commerce business was off season not producing income and my off campus student housing business got hit as well due to students leaving town breaking their leases because schools went virtual.


The Week before our Closure.

I happened to be on the other side of the country when the media started hyping the virus and people started staying home. I told my team what to do at the gym to clean in between sessions so that we can prevent it from spreading. I filmed the above video and emailed it to our customers letting them know what we have been doing to keep everyone safe. I had no idea at this point how severe the virus would spread and the impact it would have on my gym.

I booked an earlier flight to come home so I can take control of the situation at the gym. People were not coming in and we were losing money being open. The last day we were open I saw a kid rub his hands all over the walls and a grown man blow his nose in from of me and wipe his face and not wash his hands. That was when I decided to close the gym. This was a week before our health studio license and the state of Florida mandated us to be closed. Even though we were cleaning a lot in the gym in between sessions, I didn't trust that people were doing their part in keeping the facility clean so I am grateful I closed when I did to prevent anything from coming in.

This is Going to be Great!


As an avid planner and efficient worker I was initially thrilled to be closed as I was excited to use this time with my staff to film training videos for future employees, re-paint the entire gym, and focus on my franchise model to expand. In my head, two weeks was all I needed and then we could re-open and get back to making money. I promised my team I would never stop employing them no matter what happened I would find a way. Two weeks passed and rent was due. My landlord told me he expects me to pay on time as this could all blow over in a week and if I pay him for April, if we were still closed in May, he would possibly work with me on rent. So I paid rent and continued to process payroll, but the phones kept ringing with customers freezing their accounts and requesting refunds. We had four private birthday parties booked every weekend until June and every day we were refunding their expensive party deposits. The cushion I thought I had to get us through this was quickly fading.

My employees were mad that I wasn't giving them many hours, my landlord was demanding rent, and my customers were demanding refunds. My one year old successful business just lost everything so fast I couldn't even process what was happening. I knew I had to stop members from freezing their accounts so on our third week closed, we launched our Virtual Ninja program. We joined ZOOM pretty much like everyone else in the world, and my entire staff joined forces to create a fun curriculum that would be ever-changing and keep the ninjas engaged via a screen. It wound up being great for the kids who joined, however, it wasn't enough. I was studying webinars on how to survive the shutdown, I was ferociously applying for loans, but our expenses didn't disappear and our income was withering.

APPLYING FOR THE PPP

By the time we re-painted the entire gym, filmed a complete training system, integrated a virtual business model and refunded our entire bank account, rent was due May 1st. I applied for the Paycheck Protection Program within 4 hours of it being posted three weeks prior and I did not get the first round. I took to twitter to tweet every person involved in voting to add more funds to the program. I became depressed and lost all hope. My once unshakeable faith in God seemed to disappear. I was disappointed in myself for not being strong and I retreated to my brothers farm in Homestead. My RV was set up there so I spent two weeks there just sulking while watching my business die a slow death. Some of our members continued to pay which is how we were able to pay the employees and keep the virtual classes running but it wasn't enough. I lost my passion for ninja warrior, for being a business owner, and honestly for life. I contemplated my entire existence. My tenants just fled the state without paying rent, my gym lost its entire bank account, and I became hopeless and depressed. I couldn't show my face to my employees nor could I face the customers. Anytime the phone rang, I hid in the other room. I couldn't process one more refund. The strong, unstoppable American Ninja Warrior I thought I was became defeated.

God Provided as He Always Does

Three days before rent was due, and my landlord told me they were not in a position to help so it was due in full, I didn't have the funds to pay. We had just enough cash to process payroll and that was it, it was over. I decided I was going to let it go and stop worrying. I was killing myself with the stress of trying to survive. My lips were the only things out of the water trying to breath when I decided to relax and surrender because worrying wasn't helping. By the end of the day, I received an email from my bank with the PPP loan agreement contract. Wow God! I felt like a failure because I was so worried when God knew the entire time He was going to provide for me. The funds were deposited into my account pretty much the day I had to pay rent. I could breath again and maybe even enjoy my 32nd birthday via a Zoom party.


I felt so bad about my weakness during this pandemic and felt the need to open up to my customers about what I had been going through and what they can expect from me in the future. I really opened up because I felt like I abandoned the business. I received many messages after thanking me for sharing and supportive words to keep me positive.

The PPP loan was a life-saver; however, one month of rent ate 50% of that loan so midway through the month of May, I started freaking out again about how we were going to survive another month. I knew how much our payroll was going to be and I had to start buying equipment in order to re-open and June's rent was around the corner. There was some talk about re-opening the state and Georgia had already re-opened so I immediately started planning.

GYM RE-DESIGN WITH NEW PROTOCOLS & PROCEDURES

I began my research for re-opening gyms and best practices to keep it safe. I spent many nights late at the gym moving all of the furniture in the lobby and waiting rooms and measuring out where our social distance stickers would go. I ordered face masks, COVID signage, contactless thermometers, a fogger, and so many other things I knew I would need to re-open. Luckily I was able to purchase EPA approved disinfectants before stores ran out and I always have an absurd amount of paper towels and toilet paper in stock so we were good in that department. I trained my staff on our new protocols and started posting videos on social media to prepare our members to know what they can expect when it was time to re-open. We re-designed our curriculum during the classes so that the ninjas would be separate at all times. It was like starting a new business all over again. I forgot to mention that April 1st was the gym's 1 year anniversary and I spent the day crying that I didn't even have a business. I knew it was going to be any day that we were going to get the green light to open and I couldn't afford to be closed for one more day. I knew it would be a slow re-opening and that we wouldn't instantly be making money, however, getting the business opened was key to start warming people up to the idea of coming in.

DOWN TO THE WIRE...AGAIN.

May 15th 2020, the governor of FL announced that gyms in Palm Beach county were allowed to reopen on Monday May 18th and I was ready to go. We announced our re-opening and starting taking reservations at much smaller capacities. The first week we were open was almost worse than being closed, and I didn't expect anything different. I just didn't know how I was going to process payroll and pay June's rent. All of our cash on hand was accounted for and there I was again, miserable and depressed fearing the worst. Once again, God came through and this time is wasn't with a loan, it was with Summer Camps. I cut almost everyones hours our second week re-opened because I feared I wouldn't be able to afford to pay anyone and my fiancé and I were basically running the gym when people started calling and booking Summer Camps! It was a miracle that people were so ready to drop their kids off at the gym and everyday we booked more and more camps and before I knew it, I was filling everyone's schedule with hours.

NOT OUT OF THE WOODS

We are open and alive and currently running our Summer camp which has been a huge success. We are making enough to sustain the business and I am not losing sleep over paying rent right now. This is all great, however, the coronavirus cases in Florida are growing and we had our first cancellation due to a customers fear. There is talk about a second wave and it is just possible that we could close again and this time, I don't know if we would be able to re-open if everyone wants camp refunds. At this point, I am just sitting here thinking about the last three months and how I hard I fought to survive. One of my competitors closed down permanently and that was honestly sad for me to see. That could have been me. I fought for the loan, I switched to virtual, I planned to re-open, and I did everything I could to make people feel comfortable to come in. I don't know what is going to happen from here but if there is one thing I do know, it is that God will take care of it. No matter what happens, it will be for the best. He got me here and I know He will continue to provide for me. My gym creates so much happiness in the community and I know God wants people to experience this positive environment. I can't imagine He led me to open this gym one year ago only for it to close down forever. If that is the case, then I would have to accept that and take what I learned.

I read a book called Peaks and Valleys by Spencer Johnson to try and feel comfortable in the valley I was living in while I could see the peak in my view. Before I knew it, I was able to fill one of my apartments with new students moving in and my e-commerce business was trickling in season with digital sales. Let's just pray we all stay healthy and safe and our businesses can remain open. This pandemic taught me a lot about what I want in life and what is important to me, and it isn't my three businesses. I spent the last ten years of my life missing out on family dinners, plans with my friends, and epic International vacations so I could stay home and run my businesses. All in an attempt to make money and support myself. Meanwhile, all of that can be taken away in an instant and it is what you are left with that is important. It is the moments we share with the people we love and the memories we create doing what we love. These are things you just can't put a price on.

So I lost a lot of money, but I gained a lot of perspective and thats the moral of this story :)

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© 2020 by Christina Gambino.