“You improvise, you adapt, and you overcome.” The words made famous by Clint Eastwood have become the mission statement of 2020. The continued battle against COVID-19 has placed a heavy burden upon small businesses, and economic hardships continue to grow. But through adversity comes ingenuity. Amid the shelter-at-home order, one Hillsborough business has dialed up the creativity.
Beyond Barriers Personal Training has been a long-time staple of the Hillsborough community. Once located on Churton Street, the fitness studio provided personal training, group fitness, and classes, which they now offer online. When the shelter-at-home orders were announced, the Beyond Barriers team worked together, pivoting their business model to a virtual platform.
“Anyone, I think, put in these circumstances, you either adapt or you don’t survive. It’s been a team effort. That’s for sure.” said Sara Neal, manager of Beyond Barriers. Transitioning to an online business meant embracing new technology and learning how to conduct sessions and classes through Zoom. “I will say, that was a really fast, steep learning curve for us because, in a matter of a week’s time, we had shut our physical doors and were operating fully online,” said Neal. “We had to teach ourselves first how to use the technology and Zoom and how to facilitate that personal relationship through Zoom,” said Neal.
Beyond Barriers, known for its family-like environment and supportive spirit, continues to place a high priority on building personal connections with clients through their online services. Tricia Arriagada, the founder of Beyond Barriers, began the fitness studio with the vision of building a community through establishing relationships.
“When COVID happened, and we had to transition to an online business, it was a personal mission to maintain those relationships even if we couldn’t be with those clients in person,” said Neal.
Arriagada gives much of the credit to their clientele stating, “Our clients are incredible. They range from having very difficult life circumstances, whether it be a mom trying to work full time and raise three children or a mother who has a child with special needs or cancer. We have clients in their 60s,70s, and 80s who are exercising with us.”
The technology was not the only hurdle for the Beyond Barriers team. Supplying clients with proper equipment is a vital component of their new operation. “In those first weeks, Tricia and I spent a decent amount of time creating kits with our equipment for our clients,” Neal explained. “We actually hand-delivered, with masks and gloves, to the doorstep of our clients, personalized equipment kits.” With most of their equipment now in their clients’ homes, the team faces a new challenge of ordering more supplies. “It’s very hard to find dumbbells at this point. We do have a source that we have an order coming in from so that our new clients, we can do the same thing for,” said Neal.
Neal and Arriagada agree that the transition has led to more flexibility and convenience, a welcomed change that clients seem to enjoy. “When it came time for fitness studios to open their doors again, we reached out to our clients to kind of gage who would be coming back and who wouldn’t. The majority of them had said they preferred to continue online,” explained Arriagada. “A lot of that has to do with COVID and their safety, but it also has to do with the fact that when they made the transition, they really liked the convenience of it.”
Increased class attendance and added accountability are other noted benefits of their new online platform. “We have a lot more flexibility in our schedule now for our clients,” said Arriagada.
“We’re cutting out commute time on our end and on their end. All these variables that would keep them from coming to the class are not keeping them from coming to the class.” Neal added, “another huge pro for us has been that we are mobile now so our clients can be anywhere. In the past, I had several clients that traveled for business or go on vacation. There are no barriers anymore to having their personal training sessions. So, all summer, when my clients would travel for vacation, I still trained them.”
During these times of limitations, constraints, and stipulations, the Beyond Barriers team has transformed its business model in ways they had not envisioned. “This isn’t what we would have chosen, but it allowed us to have experiences and reach people and affect peoples’ lives in ways that we didn’t really imagine would ever happen,” Neal said. “We are not restricted by the boundaries that we used to be restricted by.”
Through client referrals and strategic online marketing, Beyond Barriers is embracing the change and striving to expand its reach beyond the Hillsborough area. Soon to welcome clients from across state lines, the team looks forward to the future of online personal training. With much excitement, Neal shared the details of their newest projects. “The other area that we are moving into now because we are seeing our clients and people in general struggling with nutrition and food, are nutrition webinars,” explains Neal. “We have a free Facebook live event coming up on Nov 16. Then in January, we are going to roll out a four-part series on different strategies for maintaining healthy or creating healthy eating habits. That will be new for us, and we are really excited.”
Adapting has not been an easy venture during these troubling times. Businesses, especially, have had to rely on each other and the community’s support, a reality not lost on Arriagada and Neal. “We still want to be connected to the Hillsborough community,” said Arriagada. “Making sure we are volunteering our time, making connections, and helping other businesses in the Hillsborough area.”
Neal seconded that notion by adding, “We just want people to know that we are still here. Our storefront is not here, but we haven’t changed. We still care just as much about this community as we ever have.”
Amanda Boyd is a freelance writer.