During the COVID-19 pandemic, some small businesses have persevered.
They have successfully transitioned many of their services online. Doctors are now consulting and diagnosing any number of ailments their patients suffer through video calls. Teachers are learning to wrangle unruly preschoolers through Zoom.
And, massage therapists are helping clients loosen those painful knots in their muscles via the internet.
Wait. What? A massage over Zoom?
Massage requires touch, which, in theory, makes it a difficult service to transition to the virtual world. But one company has found a way. Read on to find out how they moved their services online, received paycheck protection program (PPP) loans, and are still navigating the uncertain business landscape.
A collaborative approach
Clinical massage therapy isn’t the only service that Body Dynamics offers. Based in Falls Church, Virginia, the company provides sports physical therapy, a walk-in clinic, personal training, Pilates, neurobiofeedback counseling, nutritional therapy, and fitness and sports assessments, among other things.
All of these services are integrated, and the company’s specialists work together across disciplines.
After COVID-19 sent everyone home, these teams began meeting through regular Zoom calls. While the firm offered some virtual services before the pandemic, the lockdown made it rethink its entire approach.
“When we closed, we wanted to take as much of that online and make it as virtual as possible,” says Gwynn Geiger Hegyi, chief operating officer of Body Dynamics.
Body Dynamics’s group classes and the one-on-one fitness sessions transitioned pretty quickly to Zoom. “I think that was because of the relationship clients had with our various trainers,” Hegyi says.
“Most of those clients have been with us for a long time. They had a good relationship with their clinician, so they were at least willing to try it.”
As the teams were meeting, a massage therapist suggested looking for other things to offer clients, even if in-person visits were off the table.
“Depending on what the client needed before all of this happened, the massage therapist just tried to figure out what they could offer clients virtually in terms of coaching them,” Hegyi says.
Physical therapy is another service that doesn’t easily lend itself to virtual sessions using video conferencing software, but Hegyi’s team found a way to make it work. “We wanted to be able to help clients continue to make progress even though we couldn’t be hands-on,” Hegyi says.
For physical therapy and massage to truly work, the therapists needed to see the clients. And they needed to help their clients use Zoom if they had problems using the software.
“We had to know enough about Zoom so that we can troubleshoot and help a client understand it,” Hegyi says. “In our group classes and one-on-one sessions, we are always looking at the clients to observe their form and ensure that they were doing things correctly.”
While cost-effective, Zoom did limit the firm’s options in one respect: The platform wasn’t HIPAA compliant. It didn’t meet the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) rules regarding privacy. But COVID changed those rules.
“Even though it’s not encrypted to be fully HIPAA compliant, HHS allowed it during the COVID-19 crisis,” Hegyi says.
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Body Dynamics communicated with its clients mainly through phone calls and emails. It also used email marketing though ActivCampaign to inform clients of its decisions, protocols, and programming changes.
It offered a weekly "Lunch n' Learn" webinar on topics it thought might be helpful and interesting. And Body Dynamics built up its website, too, turning its homepage into a "splash" page informing visitors of its status and options.
With this ramped-up communication and continued strong service from its clinicians, Hegyi says clients have been generally pleased with their virtual treatments. “The feedback that we’ve gotten was very, very positive,” she says.
A rough spot (no) thanks to COVID-19
When Body Dynamics had to close in March, Hegyi estimates that the company took a 75% to 80% hit in revenue. “I don’t know that we’ll ever be able to recoup that,” she says. “That’s the challenge for all of us moving forward. Every week, we’re growing a little bit more, but we still have a long way to go.”
While Body Dynamics has not laid anyone off, it has adjusted the compensation of its employees. It has also continued to pay its rent in full.
Of course, an increase in COVID cases in the Washington region could blunt any progress for Hegyi. Already, she says, the firm has gone into debt to continue to operate. Fortunately, it did work through its bank to receive a PPP loan.
“I won’t say it was completely painless, but it was pretty straightforward,” Hegyi says. “It was just filling out a lot of paperwork.”
As Virginia has opened back up, Body Dynamics is now offering in-person physical therapy, clinical massage, fitness counseling, and nutrition. But Hegyi is finding that reopening is a lot harder than shutting down.
“With opening back up, the decisions were exponentially more difficult because we have so many different service areas in the clinic,” Hegyi says. “We weren’t just opening up for physical therapy or as a gym. We have all those different clinical practices that are integrated. It [the procedure for opening] was different for each one.”
Even with customers coming back, the Body Dynamics COO is still wary about how her business will hold up. Even if the facility can stay open, Hegyi knows hitting last year’s revenue numbers is a pipe dream. On top of that, Hegyi is spending more for frequent cleaning and mask purchases.
“You can’t go back to hitting the same numbers that you did before because you’re limited by capacity,” Hegyi says. “We can’t have as many clients in the clinic at the same time as we used to.”
Going forward, Hegyi thinks the most significant challenge will merely be making decisions with an uncertain picture of the future. She has modeled several possible scenarios for the remainder of 2020 but has no idea how things will play out.
“Every business is having to redo its budget and redo all of its forecasting, but we don’t have enough information to do that,” she says. “That’s tough for all of us. We continue to put one foot in front of the other and do the right things.
We believe that if we keep doing the right things, we’ll get to a place where we can figure out where we’re going to be in a couple of years.”
While running a business and projecting its growth during COVID-19 seems impossible, Hegyi is impressed by the way her team has pulled together. Many of them have had to preserve through additional personal challenges and distractions, such as having kids at home.
“I personally have gotten the most gratification and joy out of the team that we have here,” Hegyi says. “They are amazing people.”