Pivoting to a new future

Becoming Studio Australia Barcelona 3.0

Natalia and I migrated to Spain in 2005. I could intuitively feel the winds of change in the economy, but I was in a completely alien country and market, so all I could do was trust my gut.

I had come to Barcelona six months earlier and created the legal entity for my building company in 7 days. Still, once we arrived in Barcelona, the thought of retraining 30 tradespeople in my way of design and construction in another language just made my eyes glaze over.

Instead, we started what I can now refer to as Studio Australia Barcelona 1.0 four months after landing.  The Pilates and holistic health industry was just evolving here, and it seemed like a more logical direction to choose.

Expansion and timing

Over those couple of years and many hours of contemplation in the kitchen, I created a business plan to expand to Studio Australia Barcelona 2.0.  A one-stop-shop for Pilates, holistic health, wellness and rehabilitation.  For those of you who know me will testify to my obsession with long term planning.  I have always had 10-year plans; these days, it seems three months are about all I’m game enough to contemplate!

We trialled the wellness centre concept doing several pilots, and the clients loved it.  Some of you will remember this!  There was a demand, and the market was evolving, which gave us the advantage to lead the way.  The risk was how quickly we could educate this market as the Spanish and Catalan cultures were not accustomed to preventative health care, but we were up for the challenge.

Early 2008 we found the new premises, brought together a global team of specialist practitioners, moved the operation and opened our beautiful centre.  Five weeks later, the Global Financial Crisis hit us.

Timing is one of the factors we always speak about when creating good business plans.

My timing was definitely off, and it would teach me a very hard but valuable lesson.

A decade of recession

My immediate reaction was, well, I’ve done a recession before; we can do this, it’s going to be a couple of hard years, but we will get through it.

Well, come on, I’m Australian, and from a country that had until this past quarter had managed 29 years without a recession!

Little did I know that Spain would still be in recession in 2020.

For the first year, I used every skill I had in my entrepreneur’s toolbox.  After 18 months, I knew that I needed to dump everything I had ever learnt and start again.  This was not a recession that was going to go away soon, and I needed to put my foot firmly on the ground and stop spinning.  We needed to think globally and digitally.

Surviving with sheer determination

I am not ashamed to say that some days we would go to work crying, care for our clients with all our hearts and souls, and come home crying, but I was determined not to give up.

I had invested everything I had ever worked for in my life into this business, and I was going to make it work.

Determination is another of the key aspects of success.

Statistics show that 95% of small businesses fail in the first five years.  This can be due to many reasons, but I’d say that giving up is near the top of the list.  The reality is most of us just do not have the stamina for business.

People assume it’s a God-given right to be a business person, but it’s a learnt skill set.

How we survived is another story, but I can tell you that the journey would take my skills as a business person into another realm, especially the digital, and teach me what it really means to succeed when you move country, hemispheres, industries and compete in an international market place and a new industry.

As they say, ‘ignorance is bliss’.

Pivoting over night

Fast forward to March 2020. The month before, in February, we had finally reached the milestone we had set ourselves to be at capacity, with a waiting list and with good profits.  We had done it.

But the virus was lurking.  Since December, I had been watching the progress of COVID-19 in China, and I was worried.  Many thought I was being an alarmist and overreacting.

But I wasn’t convinced.  In late February, I began to prepare our digital team, asking them to think about how and what services we could take online if we needed to in a hurry.  We had, fortunately, in the previous two years, invested heavily in expanding our online presence by building an entirely new website with e-commerce capacity, digital strategy and, in the process, gathered a clever competent digital team.

Three weeks later, on the 13th of March, we were given hours to close the business and locked down at home for an undetermined period of time.

Life as we knew it was changed, and overnight, our business as we understood it became virtual.

Healing online

We are healers, and the services our team of 16 very special practitioners give to people are not just a choice; they are a way of life.

Overnight, we had to reassess how we could care for these people, clients and team, keep them well, out of pain, part of our community and save our business all at the same time, without using our hands.

Many gave us their advice to ‘just chill’, ‘take some time to relax’, ‘enjoy the moment’, but I understood that if we did not move straight away, pivot, and create a new online opportunity for our business to function we were at risk of losing it all in the long term.

Last time, yep, back in 2008, I learned a valuable lesson when I thought I could ride it through.  When you see the tsunami coming, please don’t wait for it to hit. Move.

Immediately I knew we needed to renegotiate the lease on our centre.  We couldn’t keep bleeding money every week without knowing when this lockdown might end.  Naively, I thought that after 11 years of being great tenants, paying the rent on time, at the premium (they wouldn’t negotiate when the GFC started) and with the understanding that we just needed 12 months to navigate through this extraordinary situation, the landlords would find a reasonable compromise. But after weeks of exchanging emails, we realised that our only option was to give notice.

Needless to say, we felt broken.  After eleven years of hard work, building a company in a space that we thought would be an asset to the business, leaving was hard to make, but it is just that space.

S.A.B. 3.0

This week marks the 4 month anniversary of being put into lockdown, and our pilates business is completely transformed.

We offer all possible practices and services we are able to online, have a free private online community Network (please join us), and the Pilates & Wellbeing Program, which is basically S.A.B. in virtual.

Currently, 95% of our business is online.

Our amazing practitioners are marking time with us seeing clients and patients for home visits and in alternative spaces until we feel that we can reopen again in a new location with the confidence that we will not be shut down with another virus outbreak.

Natalia has become a master of teaching online.  She was so anti the whole virtual teaching but now has retaught herself to cue and instruct her private clients and ZOOM groups to ensure a real and valued experience.  In fact, people are getting stronger with the classes, and Nat is certainly fitter than she has been in years!

What has been very special is that we have re-established relationships with our valued international clients who had left Barcelona and who we thought we may never teach again.

We plan to reopen a special space and honour our wonderful clients who prefer no to join us online as soon as we can, but this is a new world in life and business, and we have to be flexible like never before in history, one day at a time.

But we want you to know S.A.B. 3.0 is alive!


Mandy and Natalia x

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