Peterborough & the Kawarthas Economic Development recently spoke with Stephanie Reynolds, the founder of The Willow Studio, to learn how her yoga studio on Lansdowne Street was able to keep up momentum by pivoting to online classes and offerings.
Stephanie is a yoga instructor, Core Exercise Specialist, and the founder of The Willow Studio. She is passionate about empowering women to prevent or reverse pelvic floor issues so that they can feel strong and confident in their bodies.
Stephanie has certifications and training in yoga, fitness (including pre and postnatal), and Pelvic Floor Pilates.
Before becoming a yoga instructor in 2014, she earned an Honours Bachelor of Science in Geology and a Masters in Geographic Information Systems, and worked in environmental consulting and government policy in Calgary, Ottawa and Peterborough.
PKED: How have you been able to adapt The Willow Studio and pivot to an online presence for the remainder of your classes?
Steph: We’re a yoga, fitness and Pilates studio that runs on a different model from many other studios. Clients purchase a “session” of classes – once a week for seven weeks. We had just wrapped up Week Two of the 7-week cycle when I realized we’d have to close our doors indefinitely due to COVID-19. Because we’re a newer business and still finding our financial footing, we weren’t able to refund all 190 clients for the remainder of their session and had to come up with a new plan.
We decided to migrate most of our in-studio classes to online classes through Zoom. Clients are able to either participate in the class live (and have a chance to connect with their regular instructor and classmates) or watch the recordings later. We opened it up so clients could participate in as many classes at they wanted to, as opposed to just their pre-registered classes.
We also offered them a steep discount on our online Willow at Home video series – these are professionally-filmed exercise videos targeted to people who are pregnant, postpartum, or struggling with pelvic floor dysfunction. They purchase once and have access to the set forever.
While this setup wasn’t ideal for everyone, it allowed us to serve out the remainder of the session. Being able to connect in real time with their instructor has also helped many of our clients get through this time of social isolation.
PKED: What have the biggest challenges been?
Steph: The first challenge for me was making the mental and emotional shift to the virtual world. Willow was created to bring people together in real life, to experience spaciousness and simplicity away from screens or reality-distorting social media. It took me about a week (which at the time, felt long) to settle into the “new normal” of everything moving online.
My business decisions have always been made with a mix of deliberation, strategy and intuition, and I had to gather a new set of information and recalibrate to make the pivot. I wanted to make decisions that still felt true to the values of myself and Willow.Stephanie Reynolds, Owner of the Willow Studio
One other challenge for us is the oversaturation of online yoga and fitness videos – so many studios have moved online, and many of them have free offerings; it’s hard to compete. We’ll continue to offer the virtual classes until we can open our studio again; this provides some income for our instructors and allows the clients who are enjoying the online classes to continue. However, the profit margin from online yoga classes is super thin, and it’s not something we can rely on to pay the studio’s bills. This is another obvious challenge, the financial aspect. Because my business is a sole proprietorship and our instructors are independent contractors, Willow didn’t qualify for any of the government funding for businesses. It’s looking like they may amend some of the programs, and I’ve been in touch with my landlord about the rent relief program, so my fingers are crossed that we will qualify for something to get us through the next few months.
PKED: How long has The Willow Studio been around for?
Steph: On May 1st it will be two years!
PKED: Who has helped you to navigate through this unprecedented time?
Steph: My Willow team of staff and instructors have been absolutely critical during the time – I lean on them for advice and to brainstorm. Willow has developed into more than just a business over the past two years – it’s become an important sanctuary for a lot of people in the Peterborough community. I think we all realize its fragility in this current situation and want to make sure it’s still standing when the storm is over. Our clients have also been extremely supportive and I am so grateful to know each and every one of them!
I know that governments and business organizations want to help small businesses navigate through this, but so far what’s been made available hasn’t matched up with our needs. I do appreciate that Community Futures has allowed us to push back a couple of months of our loan payments (we have another 5 years of loans to repay from the initial construction of Willow).
PKED: What has it been like giving birth to a new baby and managing a business during a global pandemic?
Steph: Before Raina’s birth on April 5th, it was definitely a lot more stressful as there were so many more unknowns – how would the birth go? Would she be healthy? How would my recovery be? Now that she’s here and we’re locked up healthy at home, it’s actually not too bad. My mom was here for the first week so I could rest a lot. Now my husband and I have a good schedule that we use to trade off taking care of the boys, the baby, and the business. With everything on pause, it’s been a bit of a blessing in disguise – it’s given me a chance to step back from Willow and refocus.
PKED: Do you have any tips for other local business owners for them to learn from you?
Steph: When you’re feeling a bit lost, come back to your business’ core values. What anchored your business in the past, and are you still honouring that? For me, I’ve tried to build my business around authenticity, quality, warmth and uniqueness/creativity. These attributes are what I weigh my decisions against and they help me know when I’m moving things in the right direction, even if they feel a bit foreign.
Also, keep in touch with your clients and don’t forget that they are why we do what we do!
PKED: What can the local community do to help you?
Steph: Not necessarily for Willow, but for our entire local business community. I’d say if you are going to purchase something online from a big retailer, check to see if a local store offers it first. Many have free local delivery. I just got a bunch of things from Joanne’s Place delivered to my doorstep free of charge, and it makes me feel good to keep my dollars within Peterborough as opposed to sending them to Amazon.
For Willow in particular – we sell gift cards, and I’m also bringing in some of our favorite yoga mats to sell in anticipation of Mother’s Day. These are the high-quality mats that we use in the studio, and they will be delivered locally free of charge! If you’ve wanted to take classes with us I also encourage you to check out our live online classes for May, which you can find more information about through our website at www.willowpeterborough.com.