We talked to three small businesses who, thanks to their community, didn’t just survive pandemic hurdles, they thrived.
XTherapy: Committed to helping people move, sweat, and connect
At a time when people needed nourishment of their minds, bodies, and souls, boutique fitness studio XTherapy continued to build and support their community through pandemic challenges.
“We’re happy to report we made it through a volatile year where, unfortunately, other studios did not,” says Tamera Rude, X-Therapy’s Director of Impact Operations. “This was a big learning year for us.”
XTherapy offers spin and high intensity interval training (HIIT) classes. “We want this to be a social experience above anything else,” says Rude. “We have a candlelight spin class in the dark. It has a cool vibe, and that ‘don’t care, no one’s watching, let yourself go’ feel. All our spin classes are rhythm based and we ride to the music.”
Members in the full-body HIIT classes never see the same class twice. “You feel like a badass in there,” says Rude. “We offer Friday Happy Hour after the last class each week and serve champagne and mimosas. We’re excited to be a part of creating this community. People who started as strangers go for weekly brunch now. It’s a community forward social experience, and our people belong here.”
Founded in 2018, XTherapy celebrated year one in May of 2019. In their second year, they doubled their member base. Then, the pandemic’s onset in 2019 meant the studio missed their second and third anniversary parties. Because the business runs in a membership-based business model rather than a pre-purchased punch pass, they rely on recurring revenue, and COVID made that tough.
“Turning memberships on and off meant turning our cash flow on and off as well, which we did about four times during COVID,” says Rude. “During those off times, we had to get super creative in how we were going to keep generating revenue when we’re in the business of human contact. These were significant downtimes that went on for months each time. We needed to find ways to keep that customer engagement so we could get as many people across the field along with us.”
XTherapy’s 6,000-square-foot basement was adapted to run socially distanced HIIT classes. Two smaller studios were renovated into one larger space. “We partnered with a parkade and built a roof-top studio so people could sweat outside,” says Rude. “We literally ran our classes from basement to rooftop.”
They also rented their spin bikes, delivering them around the city in a U-Haul. Their filmed classes for members to follow along went so well they subleased 40 more bikes out of Red Deer. These solutions will remain part of XTherapy going forward. They now have a greater capacity to host in-person guests, as well as remote members through their XOnline On-Demand platform.
“We continue to be committed to doing everything we can to keeping our members together, sweating, and moving,” says Rude. “We’ve lived a year outside our comfort zone and that’s where the growth and magic can be sparked.”
YEG Scoot: Showcasing Edmonton’s beauty in a thrilling new way
In the business world, sometimes it takes the unexpected to push potential to new limits. When the pandemic hit, that’s exactly what happened at Travel Gurus, Alberta’s most award-winning independent travel agency. In a pivot to keep staff employed through times of uncertainty, YEG Scoot was born.
“It came out of that necessity, and it’s turned into something so much greater than our expectations,” says Hidar Elmais, founder of Travel Gurus/YEG Scoot. “We’ve heard such great feedback from our local community and tourists from across Canada exploring Edmonton.”
YEG Scoot’s high performance e-scooters are available for one or two-hour Pick-up & Go as well as several “Exclusive YEG Experiences” that explore the city’s downtown beauty in a new way.
“On Fridays we have our YEG Nights Experience for singles and couples. It showcases the vibe of outdoor night life downtown and on Whyte Ave. There’s music, glowsticks, and all kinds of outdoor events,” says Elmais. “We recently added our Ghost Scoot to tour some of Edmonton’s really cool haunted buildings on Saturday nights.”
Each experience is more than just a cool ride, there’s local food and other stops involved too. “We support our local restaurants 100 percent,” says Elmais. “Guests select their choices through our website. We pay the full menu price with a 20 per cent gratuity. We don’t ask these businesses for any special favours or discounts.”
Both Hydar’s businesses deeply appreciate Edmonton’s supportive environment. “We have a really exciting thing going on here right now. Edmontonians, including programs like the Downtown Business Association, have been steadfast supporters of local business while people from our community helped us out when we launched in May, coming in from the suburbs to experience downtown in a safe outdoor way.”
To give back to their community, Hidar and his team launched YEG Night Market, inspired by the well-known Richmond Night Market. Held Saturdays from 8 pm to midnight on Whyte Ave., there’s no charge to vendors and Travel Gurus covers the cost of the staff and DJ.
“We want to ensure all our local businesses are earning money and YEG Scoot is there too. Check us out on Instagram. It’s been the best thing we’ve done for our local community so far.”
Shop Chop: those who evolve, thrive
A reimagining of an original hair salon operated by two hairstylists with a passion for retail, Shop Chop launched in 2016 as an evolution of its predecessor, Shampoo Hair Studio.
“My partner Prudie Anderson and I opened in 2004 exclusively as a hair salon,” says owner RJ Eccles. “We had six chairs in 1,100 square-feet for 12 years, the entire time knowing we wanted to open a retail store one day.”
Since 2003, Eccles and Anderson have been imagining what they sell, how they would sell it, and how they could transform their space to meet their vision. “We wanted the space to maintain a smaller, fully functioning hair salon and incorporate a retail area that would feel independent yet complementary to the salon,” says Eccles.
In 2015, the duo began mapping out the ideal space and ordering their products. One renovation and rebrand later, and Shop Chop launched in 2016 with a new design including 400 square feet of salon space with three chairs, and 700 square feet of gift shop. Guests can take care of their haircare needs in the intimate salon space and purchase anything from home goods to jewelry and accessories, hair care products, crafts and games in-person, and since June, online.
When the pandemic hit, Eccles says Shop Chop was “stressed yet blessed.”
“While the shutdowns, capacity limits, mask enforcements, and financial uncertainty were stressful, our business model provided us a lot of blessings,” says Eccles. “A combined four months of salon shutdowns was crippling to many of our industry peers, but our retail space allotted us a revenue stream to make it through the times we were prohibited from hairdressing.”
Their online platform not yet available, Eccles and Anderson expected a few random requests for shampoo or candles. A shipment of puzzles intended to be canceled arrived two days after they closed the shop and turned that expectation upside down.
“We posted them on our Instagram page and next thing we knew, we had dozens of DMs with every puzzle reserved that evening,” says Eccles. “That was the start of three months of madness.”
The pair came into the shop daily, posting Instagram stories and creating a cult-like experience.
“It was posting, DMing, and selling. Our online following grew by 30-40 per cent over the 12 weeks of shut down,” says Eccles. “We just happened to be selling the things that people wanted during those stay-home orders. People were clamouring for puzzles, crafts, bath products, plants and pots, and art.”
As people woke in the morning to check out Shop Chop’s stories, curbside pick-up boomed. Behind the scenes, the website and online store were coming together. With June’s reopening approaching, Eccles and Anderson performed a whirlwind renovation to cut the salon down to one chair and expand the thriving store once again.
“After 25 years of hairdressing, we decided this was the perfect way to enter the final phase of our careers as stylists. We can now share the chair, and this brought my workweek down from 60 to 25 hours.”
Eccles says when they look back on 2020 in 20 years, he and Anderson won’t remember the hassles of the pandemic. Instead, they’ll remember working harder than ever before to provide people reprieve from what was going on in their lives at the time.
“It was a real shared experience between us and people we only knew by their Instagram handles.”