On the morning of my 44th birthday, I had to close the doors of my two California indoor cycling studios, CycleBar Culver City and Santa Monica, due to the outbreak of COVID-19. Not fully understanding what was about to happen over the next four months, we prepared for a two-week shutdown. Several Zoom meetings and happy hours took place until we found out that April 1 was going to become May 1, then June, eventually reopening on June 27, 103 days later.
Once I knew this was going to be at least a month, I had to pivot—and fast. I tapped into my CycleBar franchising community and quickly followed the lead of others and rented out our bikes to our riders. With that, we created our own virtual platform with our CycleStars for our at-home riders, becoming a great way to stay connected to our community, while receiving a small amount of income to help keep my staff on payroll. This model kept 80 of my riders connected to our community for the three months that followed while the rest of the accounts were frozen.
During this time, we started to prepare for our return, first and foremost focusing on the safety of our riders and staff inside our four walls. We developed new cleaning protocols, rewrote our employee handbook, and started purchasing cleaning supplies, gloves, face shields, face masks, thermometers and hand sanitizer. When it was time to recall the bikes, we brought back half of them to accommodate our required smaller sized classes, spaced six to eight feet apart inside our CycleTheatre. Inside the studio, we built a plexiglass shield in front of our CycleStar and installed REME HALO air purifiers into each HVAC unit. We created a touchless check-in process and a one-touch studio where riders would come in and literally not have to touch anything except for their bike. We reformatted our rides to a 30-minute class, allowing more time to clean and sanitize in between classes, less exposure time with the public and to help riders ease back into their fitness. We were ready.
Each week since our re-opening, like many other small businesses in California, we’ve addressed obstacles and adversity. With the ever-changing numbers of the virus, each announcement from the state would cause a ripple of panic, and riders would cancel. We have been open three weeks as of this writing, and we have had 1,133 riders total in that time, compared to a year ago where we had 4,143 in those same three weeks. We have lost 200 members and counting, and we have gone from 36 classes per week to 22. We were over 80 percent capacity back in March, and we are now struggling to hit 50 percent with half the bikes. At noon on July 13 after our morning classes finished, we were told that all indoor fitness facilities had to close down again unless they could move outdoors.
...unless they could move outdoors.
At 12:05 p.m., I contacted both of my landlords to get approval to use the space outside of the studio. I called one of my riders who is an audio specialist and had him meet me at the studio to take apart our sound booth and make it mobile. At 3:00 p.m., I ran over to my second studio, met my manager and showed her how to maneuver the operations. We dragged bikes and equipment outside. I headed back to Culver City to start moving equipment and bikes, and at 5:30 p.m., we held our first outdoor classes at both studios.
We were blown away by the outpouring of love and support from our riders. The riders who attended our first outdoor classes were thrilled, and as they got off their bikes, everyone said it was the best class they had ever taken. From there, word spread, and we started receiving phone calls from the community asking if they could join our outdoor classes. Two days later, we were interviewed by our local Fox News affiliate. Inside Edition called, and then Fox Digital. The phones were ringing.
We are up to 60 percent capacity this past week in our outdoor classes. We’ve gained new members and have seen the return of those who had cancelled their memberships. I put the word out on social media asking for shade solutions for our riders, and friends and clients showed up with their pop-ups ready to go.
I believe that good physical and mental health is key to weathering this COVID-19 crisis. As time goes on, we will need to pivot again, but my goal is to keep our studio open, keep our riders and staff safe and healthy, keep people moving, and keep our community #cyclebarstrong.
Steph Sklar-Mulcahy is the owner of CycleBar Culver City. Two months before the COVID closure, she opened her second studio, CycleBar Santa Monica. Outside of the studio, Sklar-Mulcahy is a two-time Ironman finisher; a podium finishing age-group triathlete; a competitive powerlifter; and a 10-time participant and fundraiser for the AIDS/Lifecycle Ride, which is a 545-mile, seven-day bike ride from San Francisco to Los Angeles to fight against HIV/AIDS. She wakes up every morning with a purpose, knowing she has created a community of riders that inspire her and inspire one another through health and wellness.