For gyms and bookstores, the coronavirus pandemic means getting creative
Wednesday, June 10, 2020
If there will ever be a theme of the coronavirus saga for small businesses, it will probably go something like this: Adapt in ways never thought possible.
It has already been well-documented how restaurants, offices and other firms have scrambled to adjust with contactless business for an unscripted amount of time. Whether it was reinventing ways to have curbside pickup, Zoom meetings or anything in between, traditional businesses have slowly found a way.
But for gyms, local bookstores and other outlets with a less obvious transition to a virtual world, it has been a much harder three months.
Gyms that have inherently rely on face-to-face interaction have struggled. Bookstores at the local level, which often sell a sense of community more so than any author’s work, have lost their greatest strength.
“We cherish the role we play as a community hub,” Jake Cumsky-Whitlock, a bookstore owner in Washington D.C. said.
For gyms, it is much the same.
“A majority of people keep coming back because of the community. I’ve always been a firm believer that a shared experience is the best experience, and working in the fitness industry for over a decade has continuously proven that to be true,” Charlee Atkins, a fitness instructor in Los Angeles said.
So, adapting to the novel coronavirus for these industries has been just as much about reinventing that community as it has been finding ways to sell their products. One way for fitness instructors has been an emphasis on at-home, virtual workouts.
Matt Sulam, a full-time personal trainer in New York, has moved all of his clients to virtual meetings via FaceTime or some version of Skype. He has set up his basement with gym equipment, bought a small holder for his phone, and walks his clients through a workout virtually. Oftentimes, he does the workout and demonstrates at live speed just as he would anywhere else.
“I’m not trying to be a documentary filmmaker here,” Sulam said. “I told (my clients), ‘This is going to be a seamless, productive new avenue to continue your training, without me coming to the house or without you leaving.”
Bookstores, on the other hand, are getting even more creative. To generate that sense of locality, bookstore owners are reaching out to authors to write personal notes to patrons that elect to buy their novels locally instead of at big chains. According to Emma Straub, who is a novelist and store owner herself, the authors are happy to do it.
“(Those relationships with local bookstores can) change the course of a writer’s life,” Straub said. “Independent booksellers, when they love you — they love you. And they will sell your book to anyone who walks in the door.”
But most recognize that these strategies cannot be long-term solutions. The American Booksellers Association has put out other strategies for small businesses to follow on their website. Senior strategy officer Dan Cullen notes that there is no clear solution.
“Booksellers, like their customers, are hopeful that in the coming days there will be greater clarity about what we can expect regarding the scope and duration of this crisis,” Cullen said.
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