Here, Cat shares how she is embracing technology (and the learning curve that comes with it), her tips on fostering connectedness with an online community, and how mutual support has made her team stronger than ever.
Smarter Business: The implications of COVID-19 have meant that Good Times Pilates has had to shut the doors to its physical studio. You pivoted to become one of the many businesses moving online in a very short time. How did you begin planning, and what were the first steps you took to make the transition?
Cat Webb: I followed the frequent updates and announcements made by Mind Body, which is the online booking system we use. Using their advice as a resource, I decided to move our entire schedule to live online classes. I had to figure out how to make really high-quality live-streamed classes. I went and bought new lights and decided I was going to film the classes on my phone. I just researched and researched.
Then I announced to our entire community that we were closing, but with an action plan. Although our physical doors were shutting, we'd be going online. I gave myself a 24-hour turnaround and I just figured it out.
We offered free classes on the day that we launched online. I taught most of those initial classes, just figuring out how it would all work. It was a real learning curve and I gave myself that day to iron out some creases. We’re still working it out as we go along. There are still issues that arise, but we deal with them as we go.
The loveliest thing is that our community members are so forgiving and understanding because they know we're just trying to do our best. We're all just figuring it out together.
Smarter Business: How did you begin to communicate with customers about the changes Good Times Pilates was making to your community?
Cat Webb: Since the beginning of the pandemic, I had been keeping on top of the World Health Organisation and the government recommendations. With each new announcement, I was improving my customer communication management by writing an email out to our entire database and putting posters up in the studio so people knew we were doing something about it. We had some new policies, including additional cleaning of equipment before and after use, and we upped the amount of soap we put in our spray bottles, amongst other things.
Then the social distancing regulations meant we needed to have at least 1.5 metres between each person in the studio, so we used a few different methods of communicating with our customers to inform them ahead of classes, such as email and social media.
I was prepared for the inevitable shutdown of the studio. The emotional preparation was a lot more difficult than the financial and strategic preparation. When we had to close, it was crazy, but we just got it done.
Smarter Business: Because you’re working with and teaching real people, who are also adapting to this new normal, can you tell us about the different ways you learned how to build an online community?
Cat Webb: The business drive for me has always been to provide a total, memorable experience. We’ve always made our own playlists for the studio, and we have our signature Good Times scent, which is my personal blend of essential oils. The transition to going online is a foreign landscape for me because I can't control the experience as much.
To share those characteristic Good Times touches, I’ve personally emailed people or made social media content about things like setting up your space and making your own personalised hand weights.
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“… I’ve personally emailed people or made social media content about things like setting up your space and making your own personalised hand weights.”- Cat Webb, owner and operator of Good Times Pilates
Because I can’t help people make physical adjustments, at the start of a class I explain there will be options for exercises, but each person should do what feels right for their body. I want everyone to feel empowered to make their own movement choices
I'm trying to organise home workout kits, too. These will have equipment that people can use to enhance their experience when they workout. But that's still in the development stages at the moment.
Smarter Business: Since closing the studio, how would you describe your use of technology during the pandemic to ensure your staff feel connected and supported?
Cat Webb: It’s a really important consideration. I want my staff to feel like they can openly communicate with me and each other. And I’ve really appreciated the integral role of the internet during the pandemic. We have a WhatsApp chat group that we originally used just for emergency shift covers, but we changed it to an everyday chat group. I will often say things like, “This is how I’m feeling today”, and open up the dialogue. I am constantly updating my team with any changes to the business.
We’ve always had a staff Facebook group where I could make announcements, but now we are chatting and keeping in touch every day. We've had a few Zoom meetings with the whole team, which is more like us hanging out on a Friday night. We did a dance class together and it was hilarious.
In terms of technology, it’s been such a journey for us collectively. We are all a lot more tech-savvy now, but just figuring out processes and procedures has been a lot of trial and error. People have really embraced the changes, especially our staff. They've been incredible.
Smarter Business: What are some of the positive impacts of the pandemic or by-products you’ve seen or experienced in your business?
Cat Webb: I was on track to release some pre-recorded workouts and an online catalogue. That process had taken me six months just in ideation, whereas we pivoted the entire business online in a 48-hour period, which is just bananas. When you're put under pressure like that, it forces you to be really creative and to actually get things done so that was definitely one of the positive effects of the pandemic.
“I was on track to releasing some pre-recorded workouts and an online catalogue. That process had taken me six months just in ideation, whereas we pivoted the business entirely in a 48-hour period, which is just bananas. When you're put under pressure like that, it forces you to be really creative and to actually get things done.”- Cat Webb, owner and operator of Good Times Pilates
Clients of mine who have moved overseas over the years have been able to take our classes again, so now we've got an international following. I could also take a class from some of my friends who have studios in Palm Springs, New York, or anywhere in the world. It really is a worldwide market
Another silver lining is that even though there's so much distance between us and our community members, I feel we are more connected. It seems like people are communicating in a more open and honest way, because we’re all in the same boat, which has been really lovely.
I'm still developing the business as we navigate the ongoing effects of the pandemic. It’s an evolving process and we will continue to fine-tune our offering as the landscape changes.