In 2018, Karina and Troy Davis agreed that it was time to do something they had always wanted to do. So, the couple dipped into their life savings and opened their dream gym in Angels Camp, naming it Olde Iron Fitness.
On Sept. 17, 2018, the gym doors opened. But on March 19, as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, the gym doors were commanded to be locked by order of California Gov. Gavin Newsom. Olde Iron Fitness, like many businesses, did not make the “essential” list of businesses to remain open. For Karina and Troy, their dream turned into a nightmare in a matter of days.
“That was not a good feeling,” Troy said about learning their business would be closed until further notice. “We had just gotten to a place where we were ‘uncomfortably comfortable’ but we were still self-sustaining. We had plans for expansion and things were looking up.”
A risk from the start
Like any small business owner, the Davis’ knew they were taking a huge risk when they decided to open their gym. They didn’t just dip into their life savings; they leaped into it and were able to pay for all the necessary machines and modifications to the building. Nearly $100,000 later, Olde Iron Fitness was open to the public. And then, all the Davis’ had to do was wait and see.
“You are starting at ground zero and you have absolutely nothing but a handful of money and you say, ‘Ok, I’m going to take this money and I’m going to risk it on opening a business in a small town.’ The risk is real,” Troy said. “You could go six months and have nobody come and all you have is a great home gym. Your money is spent and that’s the risk.”
With the Davis’ working from 5 a.m. until 10 p.m., the membership started to grow. But they ran into a problem that most businesses face: certain hours aren’t good for everybody. So, in October 2019, Olde Iron Fitness turned into a 24-hour, seven-day-a-week gym, which ended up being a great decision.
“Going 24/7 was the best thing we did and that’s because the community was asking for it,” Karina said. “People were sharing with us that the hours we had didn’t work because of their work schedule and they wished there was a facility that was open all the time. We always have our eyes and ears open to what the community wants, so we started doing our homework.”
Once Olde Iron Fitness switched to around-the-clock hours, the membership started to grow. Even with the added costs of having to pay twice as much for insurance among other things, Troy and Karina started to see a major difference.
“The membership exploded,” Troy said. “When we put in the 24-hour system, that was the answer to our prayers. That moved us to being ‘uncomfortably comfortable.’”
Troy and Karina Davis put everything they had into Olde Iron Fitness, financially, emotionally and physically. But when the list was released of what is and isn’t an essential business, the gym was placed on the non-essential side.
While Troy understands why a grocery store is more valuable to a community than a gym, that doesn’t soften the blow of being told that his business doesn’t currently matter.
“I understand the concept of it,” he said. “They paint a broad brush over everything and say this is non-essential. Well, maybe 24-hour Fitness in San Mateo is non-essential, and you have 5,000 members cruising through the doors each day; you’re running a greater risk of spreading infection. I get that. But on an individual basis, we are a small gym with 150 clients. None of them are here at the same time and the gym is spotless all the time. You run a bigger risk of getting sick at any other ‘essential’ place, then you do in our gym. So as an individual gym owner, that really pissed me off.”
And when it comes to sterilization, no place could possibly be cleaner than a gym. For most gyms, which includes Olde Iron Fitness, members are required to clean the equipment after each use, which includes wiping things down with disinfectant. There are also hand sanitizer stations placed throughout. The Davis’ take pride in how clean their gym stays.
“That’s where it upsets me,” Troy said. “I know that this place is a very clean environment.”
With the doors shut, Olde Iron Fitness lost 30% of its income. Because gym membership is month-to-month, members have the option of paying at the front desk each month or going on auto pay. Troy says that 30% of the members pay in person, which is income the gym is no longer receiving.
It would be easy to say the Davis’ made a mistake in not making members sign a long-term contract, which would guarantee revenue during a time like this. However, Troy didn’t want to do business that way.
“If you are honest and equitable, you don’t have to nail people into a contract,” Troy said. “We wanted to run a good business and run a good gym and we didn’t want to lock anyone into a contract. Looking back, yeah, it would have been secure income, but at the same time, what is it doing to the consumer? It’s holding the consumer into something they don’t like. I’d rather not be in business than to have people go, ‘Yeah, I got tied into that stupid gym contract for nine months and I didn’t like it.’ We rely on people wanting to be here.”
With 30% of their clientele gone, the Davis’ are hoping the remaining 70% stick around with them. However, they understand the severity of the situation and there’s a chance more members will leave the gym.
“I hate to say that I’m anticipating it because our customer base is really loyal, but reality is reality. If this thing stretches out two, three or four months, people are going to start pulling back to save money and one of the first things to go is the ‘non-essential,’” Troy said.
Just because members aren’t allowed to go inside Olde Iron Fitness, doesn’t mean that Olde Iron Fitness can’t go to its members. Troy and Karina are utilizing social media to stay engaged with their members. Between teaching online classes, posting workout tips on social media, and sending out individualized workout plans, the Davis’ are trying to figure out new ways of keeping their members active.
“We are expanding our knowledge about how to get things out to our members,” said Karina, who teaches an online Zumba class. “We are starting on new platforms to get information out to our members. We want to keep people moving, active and motivated.”
Along with Karina’s Zumba class, the gym also offers an online yoga class and at a member’s request, Troy will fill out a workout plan tailored to that specific member. While they aren’t making extra money with the extra work, the Davis’ feel it will pay off in the long run.
“We want our members to stay interested in their own health, even though they can’t be here directly,” Troy said. “So, we are going into their homes via email, YouTube, Facebook and Instagram. We’re not making any money doing that, but the tradeoff is we are keeping our members interested and happy through this, and that’s what we feel is our job.”
While it’s hard to put a positive spin on such a difficult situation, Karina hopes that more people will become active and focus on their health, both physical and mental.
“This shows how important your health is,” she said. “It’s not just a physical thing, it’s a mind thing. You start feeding your mind with positive and good thoughts and good energy, that’ll get you out of being sick.”
The Davis’ are no different than the thousands of other small business owners who are figuring out how many days they can survive before their doors stay permanently locked. While the Davis’ cannot control how long non-essential businesses will stay closed and how long this pandemic will continue, they can control their outlook and will try to remain looking toward the light, even in a dark time.
“Of course, I’m worried,” Troy said. “I worry about it every day. But I’m also a man of faith and I have to bend that route. I can’t worry myself into being sick over something I have no control over. All we can do is make the best with what we’ve got. If we make it, we make it, and if we don’t, we don’t, but we are going to go down fighting. We gave it our best. We are going to stay positive and upbeat and that’s the message we are pushing to people and that’s also the message that we have to live by, because we have to live by example.”