After much reflection, we’ve decided that we aren’t going to reopen our physical location when we’re allowed to do so. 204 will be leaving Berry Street, and we won’t be looking for a new space.
But we aren’t shutting down our business, and we aren’t leaving the fitness industry. 204 will operate online, and we’ll reveal the details of that in the coming days.
In the short term, we’re going to continue offering the exact same service we’ve been providing until June 26. Nothing will change.
In the next days, every single member will be contacted personally, and we’ll create the best plan for each of you. We absolutely understand that some of you will want to return to a physical location, and we’ll offer recommendations for you.
For those who are interested in the next phase of 204, we’ll talk about how we can help you stay fit and healthy.
Here, we’ll share the reasons for our decision.
Why We’re Changing Course: Business
“There are no bad days. A good coach will never let a class know his or her mood is anything but positive.”
That’s a line from our staff manual, and we’ve always tried to live by that code. As I write, Crystal is leading our 9 a.m. class through a workout, and she’s working to deliver the best hour of the day to our wonderful clients.
No one goes to a gym to see a coach struggling with personal problems or carrying baggage around. Our clients have their own stresses, and we’ve promised to solve problems for them through consistent service. The 204 philosophy hasn’t changed, and this letter won’t be full of so-hard-done-by misery or tears.
But we’ll offer a little more info than we normally do only so all our valued clients understand why we’re making this decision.
We want to be very clear about several things.
Our decision isn’t political. We don’t blame the government or the fitness industry or covid-19. We understand there are people who want businesses to open and people who think they should be closed longer. We respect both positions.
We also aren’t breaking a lease or dealing with a harsh landlord. Our lease is month to month, and our landlords are two of the most kind, understanding, wonderful people we’ve ever met in business.
We aren’t out of money either, and there’s no cause for alarm.
But it would be a mistake to say that numbers and math don’t influence this decision. There isn’t a business owner in the world who isn’t looking at the books daily right now, and very few of them are seeing good things.
In the news, you’ll hear from all kinds of entrepreneurs who are struggling to navigate the new normal. In particular, we’ve been saddened to hear from restaurateurs who’ve explained the economics of trying to steer a business with a physical space through a period when you aren’t allowed to use it.
Here’s how we see “the new fitness industry” and 204:
Covid-19 isn’t gone, and it isn’t going away for a while. Slightly loosened restrictions, a few weeks of glorious weather and accelerated reopening plans have brightened the sky, but the fitness industry has changed dramatically in the last three months. It won’t be the same for a long time, if ever.
We support all the public-health measures issued by the government, but the reality is that reopening plans change our entire business model. The old staffing plan doesn’t work anymore, as just one example. As another, I just performed an experiment: I answered “yes” to one random question on the province’s online screening tool—I said I am experiencing common allergy symptoms: runny nose and a rash. It told me to immediately self-isolate at home. Immediately was underlined.
So many of you have said you can’t wait to get back to the gym, but it simply would not have been business as usual in any way. In fact, many of the things that made the gym special would have changed.
Limitations on class size, spacing requirements, cleaning procedures, screening at entry, discouraging congregation—all of that has been declared necessary for public health. But that would not be the business we opened. Crystal had to brave the mall the other day and returned rattled because of security guards barking about “following the lines.” She had to fill out forms to enter stores. It wasn’t fun.
We don’t want to be security guards. We don’t want to be cleaners. And we don’t want to send someone home because he or she has an allergy flareup with covid-like symptoms.
We want to be fitness and nutrition coaches. And we can still do that. Over the last months, we proved to ourselves that we can still help people get fit online. We know it with certainty. In fact, we realized that in some cases our online coaching is actually better than our in-person coaching.
Since March 18, we’ve connected with our members in a more meaningful way almost daily. And we realized something else: Online training solves many issues. Over the years, we’ve heard many departing members tell us the class schedule doesn’t work, they just couldn’t make it to the gym, or they didn’t have 90 minutes for travel and a workout.
I’ve experienced this personally as well after I changed jobs over a year ago. I found that I couldn’t make it to the gym as often and I couldn’t afford an hour. Some days I had 25 minutes—including travel time warm-up, workout and cooldown. So I actually started researching ways to improve fitness in less time with less equipment. When covid hit, the online transition was smooth because we’d be planning to adjust the business to serve people better.
We understand that many people want to return to a physical space full of music and clanging. We love that environment, and we can help you find one that will work for you.
But the industry has changed, and 204 will evolve as a business to find a place in the new landscape. Now is the time for us to make a change.
One other reason stands above all this business talk.
Why We’re Changing Course: Personal
From April 2009 to March 17, 2020, our business has probably been closed for less than 20 days total.
Starting with bootcamp classes twice a week, Crystal and I ran very hot for more than a decade. We invested ourselves fully in the business and pushed very hard in a tough industry. And we loved it. We’re proud of what we built together with all of you, and we have thousands of fond memories shared with people who amazed us daily.
When covid shut down the world, we ramped up the pace even further. We essentially built a new business in two days. After the initial move online, Crystal and I took a breath and realized the “pause button” had been hit for the first time in 11 years. We were still very busy, but the change in pace and environment finally gave us a chance to talk.
When we did, we realized that we hadn’t talked much lately. We’d put the business in front of our family for a long time. We don’t regret that at all. We loved every minute of the last 11 years. But we came to understand that it was time to make a change.
Our friend and mentor Chris Cooper has often said that family must come before business. Years ago, he realized that if he didn’t make a change, he would be the best trainer in Sault Ste. Marie but wouldn’t see his kids grow up. We’re learning a similar lesson right now.
We know we could get through a reopening. Crystal and I are workhorses, and we don’t have off buttons. We’d do whatever needed to be done with no limit on hours or effort. We can work 13-hour days, and we have done so many times.
But we probably wouldn’t see each other much. We wouldn’t get to pet our puppies, play with our nieces or have a beer with our parents.
We’ve decided that the most precious thing we have is time, and we want to spend more of it with each other. With covid mashing the reset button, we have the perfect opportunity to decide how we can help people get fit and spend more time as a family.
The Next Stage of 204
With gyms reopening soon and a new plan for our business to come, you will be able to choose the path that works for you, too.
We’re leaving no one behind. The 204 pirate ship made it to port, and now that we’re here, we’ll help you figure out the next part of your journey.
204 will still be offering the same online service until June 26. And then we’ll offer different services—we’ll tell you all about them in a few days. But if that doesn’t interest you, we totally understand. More than anything else, we want you to keep working out, and we’ll help you find a way to do so.
In closing, it’s worth saying that this decision comes with a lot of tears for us. But it’s the right one for our family, even if it’s hard. It wasn’t a snap decision, but we felt compelled to announce it quickly so you can plan as the government adjusts its timelines for reopening.
We’d like to thank every single person who’s ever trained with us for an amazing decade. We’re honored that you spent time with us.
To our current clients, you mean the world to us. Your support through this time has fueled us and motivated us. You inspire us daily with your commitment and effort. If you need anything right now, you know how to contact us. If not, you’ll hear from us in the next days.
And 204 isn’t going away. The virtual pirate ship sails on.
Crystal and Mike