Tamara Weston’s T Form Pilates Studio was growing organically prior to COVID-19, with the number of clients increasing every year.
T Form, which started in Weston’s second bedroom while she was working full time, before moving to a small studio in Hawksburn about five years ago, was running about nine classes a day pre-pandemic. Its clients ranged from teenagers to a class of eight men, all aged over 65.
Weston says the initial shock of having to close the studio when COVID-19 struck led to a period of uncertainty, before she realised there was an opportunity to rejuvenate the business.
She established a private Facebook group in order to gauge whether there was widespread interest in at-home workout platforms. Although the group built momentum, she says it was unsustainable, so she sought something more professional where she could leverage this interest.
After working with a developer for about a month, she launched ‘T Form at Home’, which offers a variety of guided Pilates programs for all age groups and capabilities.
Costing $49 per month and with about 180 subscribers, Weston says ‘T Form at Home’ has reached clients living in rural, interstate and overseas locations.
COVID-19 fast-tracked online program
“When COVID-19 happened, there was the initial shock of ‘we have to close things down’. I didn’t want to be that studio where someone comes in with [the virus], and I’d have to tell clients what happened, [subsequently] risking my reputation to a certain extent,” Weston tells SmartCompany.
“We closed pretty quickly, but I knew I had a small market compared to some of the bigger franchises, and that I had to keep clients engaged before the bigger ones jump[ed] on to something huge.
“T Form at Home has allowed me to reach a new market, which is exciting as I have been restricted by my space and location in the past.”
Weston says the development of an online platform, like ‘T Form at Home’, had been in the back of her mind for a while, but she was wary about the extra exposure.
“I should have listened to myself [about this] years ago, but when you put yourself on a screen … there’s the knowledge that everyone can see you, which possibly held me back,” she says.
“But with COVID-19, I had no other option or I’d lose my clients. I believed in my product and what I could do, and [honed] different skills, including filming and editing, over a short period.
“As a business owner, I’m far better off after these last three months. It has pushed me and challenged me to have more confidence in what I do.
“It’s been a blessing in disguise.”
Responding to new habits
As gyms and indoor sport centres start to reopen on June 22, Weston predicts teething issues as she determines how many staff to put on, how many classes to run and who will show up.
She also expects that some clients will unsubscribe from ‘T Form at Home’ as they return to the studio, but she says there will still be a strong market for these platforms in the future.
“I have found a new way to reach people, and I want it to continue post COVID-19 when the studio reopens,” she says.
She adds that feedback to ‘T Form at Home’ — particularly from an older demographic, and those who live outside the inner-eastern Melbourne area — has been positive.
“People’s habits have changed over the last three months … My mum, for example, we struggled to get her down to the studio, but she’s been doing [these home workouts] every day,” Weston says.
“Some people need to come down to the studio but, for others, [the online platform] really suits them. They like that they can come down for one class, and continue doing their thing from home … There’s a big market for anyone who is time poor or struggling with work or family life.
“We have been in a little studio in the Hawksburn village for so many years [and] this has given me a reach I couldn’t have had [otherwise].”
Word-of-mouth is crucial
Weston says she will continue working on in-studio classes, while evolving T Form at Home in the future. She adds that word-of-mouth was critical in enabling the growth of both her physical studio and online exercise platform.
“We have a beautiful community at T Form Pilates and, through this period, you realise how much you rely on your clients,” she says.
“We will continue to grow, get the word out there and try to leverage our current subscribers. But it’s been really nice to get their feedback and support through this time.”