We all had our share of challenges and setbacks from the COVID-19 pandemic, especially small business owners, but how you handle adversity says a lot about you. My wife Stacey and I had setbacks of our own as Charlotte, North Carolina, franchisees of StretchLab, a boutique assisted stretching franchise. Like all of you, we faced challenges in 2020 that were impossible to prepare for, but we accepted them by pivoting the way we did business. It resulted in sustained and expanded growth.
We first got involved with StretchLab in 2018. I was working a full-time corporate job, and Stacey was a nutritionist and full-time mom. I remember reading an article about the business potential of assisted stretching in The Wall Street Journal, and that’s what sparked my interest in possibly pursuing a business opportunity with StretchLab. I attended several discovery days and it became clear to me that this was something I wanted to be a part of; not just because I wanted to own a business, but because I was a big believer in assisted stretching, the benefits it offers, and the potential we saw in the Charlotte market. In the end, we couldn’t ignore the potential we saw and our passion for the brand and product.
We opened two StretchLab studios in Charlotte in summer 2019. Then COVID came out of nowhere and all of a sudden, we had to shut down. We knew right away that this was a pivotal moment for us and our business. How we responded to such strict limitations would determine the success and longevity of this venture. We got to work and reacted the best way we could, which was to do right by our members and our staff. We communicated, we tweaked our offerings, and we remained positive and financially vigilant. During the shutdown, we still needed to provide our members with stretching services, so we offered one-on-one online sessions with our certified flexologists, and we expanded our merchandise and equipment selection while providing front door drop offs. It was important to me that our members remained proactive and engaged in their stretching and that our staff kept busy and were compensated. We had some rough days, but we are proud of what we were able to accomplish during a time of fear and uncertainty. Our pandemic strategy did well enough for us to safely reopen, retain our entire staff and open a third location this past November. Whenever I look back on 2020, I won’t think about the bad times; I’ll think about the hard work we did, the things we learned, the success we had and the good things we did for the people that needed us.
For any business owner, big or small, who is still hurting from the pandemic, I have some advice for you. Communication is key, whether it’s internal or external. Your customers are equally as important as your employees. Transparency goes a long way, and it builds trust and leads to strong relationships. Be financially conservative, and be positive. Keeping team morale high and staying connected helps a lot. Sometimes you need to remind yourself to have fun, and sharing that energy with your team makes a difference. Finally, don’t be afraid to reassess your leaders and talent. We took some time to evaluate our management and made some upgrades. We brought in some new people that played a big role in helping us survive. Don’t accept defeat or be satisfied with what you have. Always look for ways to improve and grow your business. Be willing to take risks and think outside the box. 2020 forced us all to do that, and you can learn a lot about yourself as an entrepreneur and achieve things you never thought you could. We certainly did.
Steve Hitzemann owns and operates multiple StretchLab studios with his wife, Stacey, in the Charlotte, North Carolina, market. With three young kids at home, the couple stay on the move with family activities and find joy in giving back to their community. Steve continues to preach the benefits of stretching to anyone that will listen or that will join him on a ski or kiteboarding trip, depending on where the snow is falling or wind is blowing.