How NASA + A Leap of Faith Saved My Small Business
Story by Betsy Weissman, Owner of sculp'd
Photography by Jonathan Thorpe
We opened the doors of sculp’d, offering high-impact pilates reformer workouts, in May 2017. At the time, we were connected to a restrictive franchise and I did not have too many opportunities to get creative. Simply put: I had to follow the rules and that has never been a strength of mine. Two years later I made my first bold decision and left the franchise. It was going to be a new beginning for sculp’d — one that I was excited to build alongside my staff and members. I won’t lie -- it was ALOT of work, but once we found our footing, we really started to cruise. Business was bustling! We had two full studios running at all times. At full capacity, we were offering ten classes per day, all day, every day, from 5 am until 8 pm. People were constantly coming and going. We were genuinely busting at the seams with wonderful energy!
And then COVID hit
HOW DID THIS HAPPEN?
March 16, 2020, is one of those dates that will be etched into my memory for a long time. Everything happened so quickly. I made the decision to close my doors and, unlike other gyms, I paused every membership. I naively believed that our studio would be dark for two weeks, tops! So that is how we planned to make our decisions. We were going to reevaluate the situation every two weeks until we could reopen. Unfortunately, every two weeks turned into every 30 days and then every 30 days turned into every three months. Now a year later, almost to the day, we’re still here.
How did this happen?
I do feel grateful that out of 16 instructors and five front desk staff members, we lost only one along the way. Everyone else? The sculp’d family rallied, unlike anything I’d ever seen or could have possibly imagined. It was truly inspiring.
“The instructors who filmed our on-demand classes were all volunteers. It was heartwarming. I’ve heard a lot of people throughout the pandemic use the phrase, 'We’re in this together,' but my team really meant it.”
THE LONG ROAD
In those first two weeks, my instructors volunteered to film 25 on-demand fitness videos. Had it not been for COVID-19 forcing us to close, we could have never built the type of virtual platform we did, as quickly as we did. By April 1, 2020, sculp’d @ home was streaming four live workouts into the homes of our members each day (for a less expensive membership, of course). Everyone had been hanging tough and now had the opportunity to dive back into their fitness routine from the safety of their own living rooms. Our members sent us messages of support, hope and love. They told us that they were here for us… at first. No one expected the pandemic to last this long and, like with everything else, people get bored. When I realized we were in this for the long haul, exploring ways to keep our members engaged became my top priority.
We reopened in a minimal manner in June. We were (and still are) only able to accommodate nine students at a time, each spaced ten feet apart. If you’re wondering, this is only 30% capacity. By September, things were still looking gloomy and our members were simply not going to risk themselves and their families to leave their homes, especially to go to a gym. And so, we began thinking about how to support everyone’s at-home workout.
I’m a creative person and I felt invigorated by the challenge of it all. Our virtual classes were doing well, but those alone would not sustain us for long. The decision to begin researching at-home reformers seemed like a no-brainer. (If you don’t know what a reformer is: it’s like a sled on wheels. The springs on each end create tension as you move the sled, providing you with a full-body, low-impact workout.) Our members love our reformer machines and I was confident that they would invest in a similar piece of equipment to continue their fitness regimen at home.
A lot of businesses have learned how to pivot and I believe that as small business owners, we are all stronger because of it.
Fast forward thirty days later, sculp’d became the top distributor - outside of Europe and Asia - of the at-home reformer from Balanced Body. (Did I mention that when I decide to do something, I do it quickly?) New classes were added to the lineup to incorporate the new reformers and all was well! If I could just get us to December, we would be saved! December and January are always our most successful months. Some years, the revenue we make during and immediately after the holidays can sustain a fitness business all year long. Just a few more weeks and COVID-19 would be nothing but a distant memory. Right?
The holidays came and went and our memberships and sales were down. Way down. I began making peace with the fact that closing sculp’d forever was inevitable, but at the same time, I didn’t want to give up. I couldn’t let COVID win. I’d always dreamt of having the opportunity to try something new; to make sculp’d the ultimate wellness destination of Alexandria. It was a business model that my initial franchise had prevented me from creating. But now the time had come and I was not only being given an opportunity to try something new… I was going to have to try something new, and it needed to be dramatic!
I embraced my love of technology and, with the help of my husband, founder of a technology start-up here in Alexandria, I began researching a company that defines innovation. BTL is a pioneer in the aesthetics and physiotherapy segments. They specialize in physical therapy and uses cutting-edge, electromagnetic technologies that are safe, non-invasive and comfortable.
Shortly after familiarizing myself with BTL, my social media manager began talking about a machine that had been trending online. It was EMSCULPT®, the first device with the ability to build muscle and sculp’d (pun intended) your body. EMSCULPT® really appealed to me because the science seemed so amazing! I had to know: Does it really work?
BASED ON SCIENCE
Twelve years ago, NASA approached BTL because our astronauts were returning home and suffering from muscle atrophy and osteoporosis. They wanted to know if anything could be done to help them rebuild muscle faster than your typical exercise. Shortly thereafter, EMSCULPT® version 1.0 (that’s what I call it, anyhow) was born… and it worked! It worked so well, in fact, that BTL saw an opportunity to share the technology and scale beyond the astronauts. They began packaging it and selling it to med spas, rehabilitation centers, and ultimately to sculp’d, its first fitness studio.
What I love most about EMSCULPT® is that everything is based on science… and it works!
The machine builds muscle, so there is obviously a vanity component to taking advantage of the machine, but it goes so far beyond physical appearance. I’m a firm believer that strong is the new skinny. Blasting fat is amazing, but it also builds muscle in a safe and effective way which is beneficial for weight control by increasing your metabolic rate among many other benefits. Having just turned 50 myself, I know personally how hard it is to gain and keep muscle as you age. This device is a game-changer. Consider this: On your best day at the gym, you are only capable of working 40% of your muscles. EMSCULPT® overrides your brain and through supramaximal contractions, your muscles will work at 100% capacity. It appeared to be the ultimate compliment to any fitness routine.
FORTUNE FAVORS THE BOLD
Despite my optimism and excitement, I continued to do my homework. I spoke to BTL, discussed the science with local doctors and even read over 300 peer studies and 7 clinical studies. It was clear to me that this technology was the ultimate bio-hack I’d been searching for. EMSCULPT® had the ability to not only save my small business but change countless lives here in Alexandria. Even so, I was still on the fence about making such a huge investment. It was my husband, John, who finally encouraged me to take a leap of faith. Fortune favors the bold, right?
Once the decision was made, everything moved very quickly. We chose to invest in the latest version of the machine — the EMSCULPT® NEO™, which is 25% more powerful than the original. It can build muscle, burn fat and tighten skin all at once. The trifecta of wellness! We are currently the only EMSCULPT® NEO™ location in Alexandria and one of only several on the east coast.
It has been a few weeks since the machine arrived at sculp’d and we’re already fully booked. Everyone wants to prep their summer bodies and now is the best time to begin the process! Each part of your body requires four sessions, and you will see the full results 90 days following the final treatment. But the EMSCULPT® NEO™ is about so much more than vanity; although you can achieve a thinner, more muscular core, arms and glutes in a short 90 days. I have tried it myself and I am so fascinated by what it can do for pain; how it has helped my lower back already. I’m thrilled that we are able to provide this service to clients who are rehabbing and unable to exercise as well as those clients just getting back into exercise after taking a long break during COVID. Our machine can help clients build new muscle so they feel confident getting back into the game as well as get them stronger than they ever could on their own.
THE FUTURE OF SCULP’D
COVID-19 forced me to dig deep and find more resiliency than I knew I had. It encouraged me to be creative and branch out. A lot of businesses have learned how to pivot and I believe that as small business owners, we are all stronger because of it. I am excited to see what the future holds for sculp’d and what innovative bio-hacks I can bring to Alexandria next!
VIP Alexandria Magazine is proud to present The Resiliency Issue. Featuring small business COVID-19 success stories, as told by the owners who lived in it, learned to pivot + survived.
You can read all of our Resiliency Stories in our digital issue HERE.