Making the Tough Decision to Close

Aitana G

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Reading Time: 8 minutes

As a former boutique fitness studio owner and operator, as well as a writer, I’m well-positioned to consult with BFS on their editorial strategy, as I have been doing for the last few months.

I’m also the right person to put on paper what it means for a founder to make the often painful – and always complex – decision to close the doors of his or her brick and mortar studio.

I closed down my studio Uplift, a NYC-based women-only fitness studio and female society, in 2019. There were a lot of reasons for my decision to do so.

Somewhere in about 2018, my relationship with my business began feeling like a romantic relationship that was ending: it got harder and harder to make things comes together, and I couldn’t bandage over the scratches and cracks anymore (figuratively but also literally–in Uplift’s case, it got to be where I didn’t have the money to fix a broken mirror in our classroom studio). 


Eventually I couldn’t muster the energy to even try. I started snapping far too often at someone–something–I used to love and be really nice to. 

As 2019 wore on and the slog became sloggier, what once were mostly peaks became mostly valleys. My employees started looking at me with fear and some mix of disgust and frustration (“She’s running this business into the ground,” I imagined them griping to each other behind my back). 

Instead of lying awake sleepless and staring at the ceiling next to a snoring partner whom I no longer loved but whose heavy arm was still entwined around my unwilling body, I lay awake every single night, all night, sick to my stomach imagining how I was going to tell those employees that I probably couldn’t make payroll in two days’ time. And that once that happened, I knew I would never be able to make it again. 

And that happened in mid-June of 2019.


I’d become  so unhappy in my company: the relationship had run its course, yet I still felt committed, stuck in it. But I also knew that Prince Charming (or a new round of funding, or a superclean wind-down) wasn’t going to come along and “save” me. Newfound clarity told me that in order to open myself up to new and better-for-me energy, I’d first have to have the courage to close the door to Uplift. I just couldn’t make it work anymore…and I was done trying.

In doing the actual closing, I was faced with a myriad of bad and worse decisions.  Not one part was easy. But man, I learned so much.


Ultimately, one thing I learned, a bright spot, was that I was not alone – founder after founder has had to shut down his or her company for one reason or another.  

And COVID-19 has in many cases accelerated that process. Being at the forefront of the boutique space means BFS has heard all of the war stories, including from those who have decided to close. I recently had the opportunity to ask other owners in the position of closing how it all went down, and what they planned to do next.


The common denominator?

As I myself learned, closing one door means the opening of another, sometimes many others, and usually ones that are even better for you than the space you’re in right now – so if you’re going through it, don’t give up and know you’re supported. Many others have been there, and as we say at BFS, not only survived, but are thriving, on the other end. 


Linda Silich, founder of Silichore

Linda founded her East Hampton, NY studio in 2014 after renting various places  for the previous three years.  She was inspired to go all-in on her own space after the last place she rented decided to turn their gym into a small group training facility after seeing her success with it all, and then that owner wanted Linda to give him all of her contacts, telling Linda it would be best if she “just worked for him.” Suddenly
highly motivated, she realized and lived her small group training dream in her own space for six years until closing in June of 2020.


BFS: How did your position on owning and operating a brick and mortar evolve over time? What were the challenges? And how did this culminate with the onslaught of Covid-19?

LS: My position as owner, personal trainer, group fitness instructor evolved into quite the entrepreneurial existence. I did everything from clean my bathrooms, do repairs to going from teaching three small classes a week to 20 a week. Quickly learned I needed a staff of trainers. It was great to evolve a team and I personally trained the staff to teach TRX with the same discipline I learned from TRX corporate for consistency in cueing and training protocols. 

Challenges: 1) My business was not anyone’s full time job but mine so it was difficult at times getting staff together to review and really build teamwork. It worked for a few years but then people wanted to go out on their own. 2) Payroll was a total pain and although it alleviated the physical exertion of doing all of the training myself, it got really expensive to pay everyone (and I wasn’t collecting a paycheck at all)! 3) The rent was exorbitant and the added payroll costs of trying to survive all year in a summer resort town was extremely difficult. I had my year-round following but it was still hard to survive on 35-50 clients in the off season. 


BFS: How did running a brick and mortar get in the way of your passion in the industry? 

LS: Just as I was getting on a roll in 2016, eight other boutique studios opened up within a 2-mile radius of mine. Suddenly everyone wanted to own a studio -I hit the trend before it really became mainstream, but the national brands started biting into my customer base—Soul Cycle, Tracy Anderson, Flywheel, Barry’s, SLT, Exceed, AKT–the market became deluged. So I had to PIVOT. I started increasing my personal training business and left many of the group classes to everyone else. Then something interesting happened: my following dwindled because “Linda” wasn’t teaching as much.  So I had to bring in some specialty trainers and started doing classes with some recognizable trainers from the city or group instructors. It helped a lot and that worked for a bit. 

All of the above, coupled with all of the exhausting business-side work, made me start burning out in 2018. Then 2019 came and I found out I had to have neck surgery….then knee surgery. A couple trainers, when I needed them the most, decided to bail. 2019 was overall a challenging year.  I finally got back into the swing of things in January of 2020….until March 15th struck like a knife. 


BFS: How difficult from an action-item standpoint was it to actually close your business? What are the steps you had to take?

LS: Extremely difficult. When COVID hit, I tried the Zoom option and Instagram for free (bad decision: no one should give anything away when you’re trying to survive) and overall, it definitely wasn’t my forte or a good replacement for connecting with people in person.  

We decided to wait it out and see if the governor would open gyms in NYS in June, but I just couldn’t wait it out long enough, and had to face the fact that people may not want to return. So I called about 60 clients and did a poll-the vast majority said, “Linda, I love you but I doubt I’ll be back any time soon.”

It was time to speak with my landlord and see if he’d cut a deal. He only deferred my rent so I had to pay March-June with no income. It had to stop. And so we worked out a reasonable exit plan and I officially closed doors mid June. 


BFS: What do you plan to do from here? What will be your focus?

I’m lucky that I have a whole life beyond fitness, so I shifted my focus in part back to my landscape design business, which was luckily flourishing. 

Currently I’m doing only personal training outdoors at a very exclusive spot and enjoying it immensely! No more paying people and I’m finally making money doing something I love.


Robert Sherman, founder of TrueBody

TrueBody was the outcome of a belief that the experience in their 15,000 sq. foot space could feel like a boutique studio with the offerings and amenities of a high-end health club. In two years of operation, they grew to 110 classes per week in 9 studios for large, small and private classes while building a tight community of individuals who shared a love of feeling and moving well. After two years of construction, they moved into an historic post office in the middle of Bethesda, MD and created a space for fitness that embraced the traditions of yoga as well as training with technology. TrueBody closed in July 2020.


BFS: How did your position on owning and operating a brick and mortar evolve over time? What were the challenges? And how did this culminate with the onslaught of Covid-19?

RS: The challenges in opening a space like this was that people thought we were going to be too expensive. The reality was that we were very different from other facilities in the attention to detail, cleanliness and exquisite materials used in every studio and throughout the club, but we kept our pricing competitive. We priced ourselves lower than studios that offered one format like only yoga or cycling. The bottom line was that we had classes that addressed all your fitness needs, with more experienced and educated instructors with extremely effective programming. Consumers falsely believed that we would be out of their price range and did not even give us a chance. 

We had just started to ramp up significantly in the 6 months before the pandemic shut us down. Word was spreading about how our club was different and affordable. The consistent message we were hearing was that members who did not like the big gym experience had finally found a home. That was the hardest part of having to close. We had finally started to break through and our vision was being embraced.


BFS: How did running a brick and mortar get in the way of your passion in the industry? 

RS: Having a brick and mortar facility made my personal business of speaking, consulting and presenting workshops, education and certifications to the fitness industry shrink considerably. I dropped almost all of my travel opportunities and only worked for one company outside my own to maintain my connection to the industry at large and stay involved at a global level.


BFS: How difficult from an action-item standpoint was it to actually close your business? What are the steps you had to take?

RS: Closing the business, from an action item standpoint, was less intensive than the expense and energy of reopening with new procedures and protocols that, in my opinion, was not going to be anywhere close to the experience our members had come to expect or were going to have, moving forward even months from now.

The day my partners made the decision to shut down we had to act fast. We had retained a number of members with our livestream and on demand offerings, seven days a week, so the speed and clarity of communication was essential. 

  1. We virtually met and explained the health vs economic decisions for closing to our management team and explained the specifics of ending employment. The generosity of my partners in maintaining staff was above and beyond expectations and created a clear example of why they are successful in the other businesses they are in. 
  2. As a founder and general manager, I personally called every contractor, instructor and vendor to explain our situation and prioritized the shutting down of any contract and agreement.
  3. We then prepared and sent a gracious, heartfelt  letter to the members with specific instructions as to the prorated refund of any unused time in monthly memberships, class packs or sessions remaining.


What do you plan to do from here? What will be your focus?

Five years ago, I had a very successful consulting, personal training and speaking business. I quickly turned and within two weeks have almost filled my private client schedule and have over 100 people registered to my livestream class offering while adhering to my non-solicitation agreement. My focus will be going back to consulting and creating programming for equipment companies and improving the quality of staff and teams for clubs and organizations in the future. 

My immediate goal is to rebrand Robert Sherman Fitness to the new normal of online training and classes with the professional integrity I base my business on. My offering is four-pronged: classes, training, instructor education and home gym design. If I can design and build out a 15,000 square foot one of a kind facility, I can transform your basement or apartment into a safe, effective home to train in.


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