When Stephanie Ross founded Zen and Pow Studio, she had a laser-like focus: She knew she wanted to build a positive and supportive fitness community. She has a passion for helping people “find their fit,” whether that was through yoga, barre classes, kick-boxing, boot camp, or Pilates. What she didn’t know was how her business would have the potential to flourish both online and in-person—and that after a rocky year professionally, a global pandemic would be the catalyst to Zen and Pow’s future success.
Having just celebrated her one-year anniversary in Zen and Pow’s new location in Onalaska, Wisconsin, Stephanie had finally been breathing easier before the pandemic set in. The previous year had been a roller coaster of moving locations and settling a legal dispute with her previous landlord, a process that was much longer and more difficult than Stephanie could have predicted. On top of working seven days a week to keep her business afloat, she was in constant legal-battle mode. The stress was exhausting; the months frustrating. But that experience, says Stephanie, was preparation for the challenges she began facing in the wake of COVID. “I think this pandemic has given me a perfect opportunity to fix things that were broken from before in my business and to heal some of the wounds I’ve had from the past year.”
Being forced to shut her doors and take Zen and Pow online, Stephanie began to see her strengths in Technicolor: She could problem-solve this. She could use this time as a reset for her business. She could make this work in her favor.
A New Business Model
“I had already been building an online membership site since November,” recalls Stephanie, remembering her first few steps toward offering virtual classes, before COVID-19 had even made an appearance. “I had this weird inkling that I needed to start building something that could expand beyond my brick and mortar studio, mostly because of space and because we knew we needed to grow income.” The online membership site was put on fast forward when COVID closures hit, and the studio was up and running virtually within 24 hours of its mandated closure.
After the initial crisis mode passed and with more than 30 classes running smoothly online, Stephanie realized that she had a golden opportunity right in front of her. Previously, Zen and Pow offered just two membership options, one for small group classes and one for small group training sessions. Now, with a robust online presence, Stephanie knew she could capitalize on a third, permanent option for online memberships, allowing members the flexibility to choose one, two, or all three types of memberships to fit their lifestyle and comfortability with returning to the studio in-person.
“Pretty much right away we had a great response,” says Stephanie, noting that while she is still fine-tuning the tech side of things for online memberships, the overall positivity and support of her members has been incredible. “People were excited about going online, excited about upgrading. We even gained members who are out-of-state, or who had previously moved away. We could be affected by this for years, so I’m really glad we can continue to grow.” Stephanie is also revisiting whether to keep her studio members-only instead of continuing to offer packages or drop-in classes. She wants to ensure her members know how much she values them by prioritizing their membership choices and spots in class, for those who return in-person to limited class sizes.
Stephanie recognizes that marketing is the next mountain to climb because she can no longer use messaging about packed classes or being sold out. (“No one wants to see that now!” she says with a laugh.) Instead, she’ll be hiring a photographer to take new marketing photos of members and instructors live streaming and of people in the studio safely distanced. More focus will be on the client and the trainer and the individual experience of fitness as well as the energy and emotion of working out and feeling like your best self. It’s a translation that ties right back into Zen and Pow’s mission to help people “find their fit.”
After running on fumes for so long and now tackling this
new obstacle, Stephanie is committed to her big picture
goals and being more intentional about taking care of herself. She says there’s healing in looking back, looking forward, and letting go. Her journey of going all-in on her business, fixing memberships, adjusting prices, and letting go of negative people has proven to be a balm on her heart, personally as well as professionally.
“I’m being more intentional now with my own schedule and not coming back to working seven days a week with no break. I’m healing my body and taking more time off. I’m saying no when I need to,” Stephanie says. “I’m working hard and I’m focused, but I’m resting too.” This intentionality has extended into Stephanie’s mindset about the future. Every day she looks at her ten-year goals. She says it helps her get out of the daily whirlwind, to remember that those goals are her guide, and she’ll only achieve them if she continues to fix things that aren’t working and allow herself margin to recalibrate in between hardships.
“You have to be in it for the long haul,” says Stephanie, advising other studio owners to check in with their long-term vision too. “It’s only going to be more of a struggle if you’re not. Have some sort of outlet, like journaling, reading, meditation, or being outside… do something that grounds you. You need solid foundations of practices that make you feel good.” Stephanie says that while a bad day can still send her spirits tumbling, the resilience she’s built up proves time and again to help her recover faster.
Moving forward, Stephanie says her focus remains as laser-sharp as it was when she first opened Zen and Pow seven years ago. What’s changed is that her courage has multiplied with each decision, and that courage has allowed her business to evolve into a model of blended services. She knows there may be more speed bumps on her journey, because that’s what entrepreneurship is made up of after all, but Stephanie’s OK with that. What matters most now is that she has a sense of peace about her business; an understanding that in the face of any challenge, she can face it head-on and heal in the aftermath.