How a boutique fitness business successfully went virtual

Staying connected to her customers remotely, this gym owner is increasing membership through the global pandemic.

Brit Rettig had big plans for 2020. January marked the fifth anniversary of GRIT Fitness, the boutique fitness center built around the motto, Retraining women to be stronger than their circumstances.

The Harvard Business grad was organizing a group wellness retreat and designing a new state-of-the-art boxing facility. 

COVID-19 thwarted it all.

But Rettig quickly moved her business in a new direction by taking steps to make her fitness centers virtual.

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How to provide on-site services in an online world  

First, Rettig changed her perspective around the need to provide workouts in a typical gym environment.

In an industry where physical space is key—from spin bikes and surround sound to high-fives and yoga flow—what’s a fitness center without the actual center? 

GRIT's motto had never seemed more relevant. And she was up to the challenge.

"The authenticity of a brand is dictated by its response to a crisis," she said. "This was my opportunity to prove that I was better than my circumstances."

This mindset made it possible for Rettig to focus on shifting the on-site services her members loved to an online space they could use.

Keep customers connected with real-time virtual tools

When Dallas shut down, Rettig focused on showing up for her customers in new ways. She knew how much this close-knit community (aka the GRITFAM) looked forward to the classes and the camaraderie.

So, with her phone and a tripod, she quickly started to livestream from a private Facebook group, and 100 people tuned in immediately. 

“It wasn’t perfect,” she said. “But it was so much fun.” 

This early experiment proved her members would innovate along with her to capture the sense of community they loved about GRIT, pre-lockdown.

And the collective awkwardness of working out together yet apart just heightened everyone’s sense of connection—and humor. 

When folks kept coming back day after day, it became clear that they cared more about social interaction than production quality. The women’s empowerment community she’d spent years building in person had transcended any actual building in a virtual business environment.

“I thought, wow, this didn’t cost me anything, and it’s working,” Rettig said. “But I shouldn’t be surprised. Connection and community are why people loved coming to GRIT in the first place.”

That lightbulb moment informed GRIT’s virtual class design moving forward, where none are pre-recorded. “By doing everything live, people get to see the flaws. They get to see me when I fail doing a push-up or slip on the sweaty floor,” she said. “This is a big differentiator for us because keeping it real is what GRIT’s about.”

Build virtual engagement with members

To build up virtual engagement, Rettig’s been working on new ways to add value for her GRITFAM while staying true to the authenticity that defines her brand.

Take the recent goal “re-setting” workshop she streamed from her living room. “Let’s reflect on the last six months: what went well and what we’re proud of,” she said. “Then let’s make a decision right now to make 2020 a victory and not a tragedy.”

It’s this aspirational attitude, backed by her savvy business background, that’s led to a 40 percent increase in GRIT memberships since the pandemic started.

“As long as you’re a part of something bigger than yourself, and as long as your motivation is love and not fear, you’re going to be OK,” Rettig said. “That’s easier said than done, of course, and you can’t do it by yourself.”

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