“This is by no means the first time we’ve experienced a crisis,” says Smith. “We set up the business in a credit crunch, and have come through Brexit and the birth of two children. There have been lots of times where we’ve nearly hit the bottom and had to pull ourselves up – so this is different, but not necessarily new.
“I’ve been teaching privately on Skype and Zoom for a long time, and looking at bringing more classes online for a while, but we’ve never had the time to do it before. Coronavirus has actually given us the time and headspace to put it into action.”
Within three days, Pilates Pod had gone virtual, with Zoom classes and curated content available online. Members were gifted bundles of lessons to use themselves or give away, and free sessions were offered to NHS staff.
“Clients might have come to the studios once a week before, but now they’re doing classes three times a week, and still chatting to each other before lessons,” Smith says. “The ethos of the Pod was always about creating an environment, not just pilates. Clients have told us they feel supported by and connected to us and to each other, and that’s so important.”
Although she doesn’t yet know when small studios like hers will be released from lockdown, Smith is putting safety measures in place, ready for a phased reopening.
Meanwhile, she’s going the extra mile to retain the personal Pilates Pod touch.
Despite being classed as vulnerable to Covid-19 herself, Smith regularly phones vulnerable clients to check in on them, delivers pilates equipment to those who need it, and runs virtual quiz nights to boost camaraderie.
“Financially, it would be more beneficial for us to close the door and put our staff on furlough, and ride the storm – but that has never been an option for us,” says Smith. “It’s such a personal thing, to have a small business and nurture it – it’s like your baby. A local business is a very different thing to a big chain – you’re part of the community.”
Her efforts shine a light on those small, high-street businesses that deliver something different, and desperately need their customers’ support to stay afloat.
“It’s so important that giants like Visa, as well as regular customers, support the high street,” Smith adds. “To see that they care is everything. Sometimes you’ll be struggling through – but when someone pats you on the back and says: ‘Keep going’, it makes you think: ‘You know what? I will.’”