Culture / Sporting Life

Dallas Boutique Fitness Studios Take on the Challenges (and Joys) of Streaming, and Plan for Reopening in the Future

Leaning Into the Moment and Looking Ahead

BY // 04.30.20

Whether or not a boutique fitness studio ever planned to incorporate streaming into their business model, the events of March 2020 forced many Dallas gyms to serve an at-home audience immediately.

In the community driven industry, the concern for clients was evident as the coronavirus outbreak began to take hold of the city. Many local studios shut their doors well before they were legally forced to, and had content up and available on sites like Vimeo or YouTube even quicker.

And though the images and sound quality might not have been as sharp or crystal clear as videos from preeminent leaders in the streaming workout field (think obé or Melissa Wood Health), the soul of each local studio, whose founders have been front and center throughout the pandemic, shone through even in a virtual setting.

“Our focus has always been, if the workout is good, the rest of it doesn’t matter, right?” Shine Hot Pilates co-founder Whitney Stern tells PaperCity. “All the shiny objects will not change how good a workout is. If a kid runs through in the background, as long as the workout is good, it doesn’t matter.”

Along with her Shine co-founder Rachel Pierce, Stern had expected to one-day begin creating digital content, but the relatively new business (the Tracy Anderson-inspired Pilates studio opened in The Hill just last November) was forced to move much quicker than planned. They launched “Shine From Home” on March 18. “We were thrust into it, basically. Is it what we would have planned to put out? Probably not. But it’s been a great learning experience,” Sterns says.

“We’re just trying to laugh about it little, because it’s just comical some days how difficult it is to get the content out,” Pierce adds. “But we also know that getting out new content is what keeps people motivated.”

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Another Dallas studio, Session Pilates, also imagined expanding into streaming workouts in the future. “We always knew that digital was on the horizon and that the fitness industry was headed in that direction, so we have had our eye on it for a while now. But did we expect it to happen for us overnight? Absolutely not,” says Molly Brown, Session’s director of marketing.

But, like Shine and so many Dallas studios, the Pilates studio ran with it, launching a video-based blog, “Session @ Home,” on March 18. Now, their subscription-only page on Vimeo is updated with three mat and three reformer videos each Monday. “The digital space has forced us to re-format our niche workout very quickly,” Brown adds. “The number of clients who have been willing to adapt to streaming has been more than we could have imagined.”

One studio team that had never dreamed of doing digital now finds themselves investing in filming equipment, with plans to keep creating streamable content even after they feel comfortable opening their doors again. “It’s crazy how we never thought we’d go digital and now we’re going to keep it,” says Paige Martindell, co-owner of Class Studios.

One of the first local studios to voluntarily close its doors, Class Studios saw their sculpting, strength training, and cycle workouts streamed in more than 40 states throughout the first two weeks of having a digital platform, with new clients reaching out as far away as England, Asia, and Australia. “It’s such an honor because we’re so small. We wouldn’t just want to leave them high and dry when we reopen,” Martindell adds.

“This digital program was long overdue for us, but it was always something I never realistically had time to do,” says Evolve founder Sharif Abboud, who was able to move his popular Met45 training online in March. “Although we were forced to close our physical doors, this experience has actually opened up so many more.”

Looking Ahead to In-Person Classes

In a way, digital classes have served local boutique fitness studios similar to how take-out and curbside pickup have helped potentially sustain Dallas restaurants, which will be allowed to open their dining rooms at 25 percent capacity starting May 1 (whether or not they choose to do so). And though gyms are still legally closed in Dallas, many studios have begun working on a plan for hosting in-person classes safely.

“We’re not going to open just because the state says we can. We’re going to wait until we feel comfortable and know we’re putting our clients’ safety first,” says Martindell of Class Studios’ plan. “The biggest things for us are less occupancy, to create space between people, and less equipment for the least amount of touch points possible. It’s just going to be a process of easing back into reality. But we really do crave the moment when we can have full-capacity classes.”

For sculpting classes like those held at Class Studios and Shine Hot Pilates, clients will be allowed to bring their own equipment from home. Most studios will also be revising their typical schedules to allow more time for disinfecting between classes.

At Session Pilates, which has three Dallas locations (in Lakewood, Uptown, and along Lovers Lane) a client’s in-person workout experience is already being extensively thought through. Front desk workers and instructors will have their temperature taken before every shift, doors will be equipped with footplates so no one will have to use a handle, and fabric reformer straps are being replaced with easily cleaned neoprene. “We might even have Session-branded masks available in the studio,” Brown adds.

“We’ve been working day and night on a solution for our Evolve family. Our situation is unique in that our facility was known for its ‘large crowds’ which will not be an option for the foreseeable future,” Abboud says of his downtown Dallas studio. “Apart from all of the sanitary measures that will be in place when we reopen, we will also have a new training program that will not only accommodate our crowds but will also be up to code with all city mandated requirements.”

And though studio owners at Evolve and Class Studios have made it clear they will not be opening simply because the state allows them too, Martindell hopes for the best when gyms do begin hosting in-person classes. “We have to be delicate and gentle with where everyone’s at because some people just want to survive. We just have to trust that everyone is taking care of their people.”

Head here for more information on how to stream your favorite Dallas classes during quarantine (and potentially beyond). 

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