It takes a special person to open a group fitness studio during a pandemic. But while COVID raged in mid-2020, Natalia and her husband turned their vision into a reality, going all-in from the start.
They coined the term GOAT – Group Open Air Training – to describe the unique characteristics of their new business. GOAT Santa Cruz is not a typical studio space -- It's a spacious outdoor area that's perfect for social distancing, with plenty of room to avoid close contact with others.
Her clients were craving in-person workouts, and the wide array of outdoor classes Natalia and her crew offers has provided a lifeline for them. They don’t even mind the portable toilet or the occasional windstorm – they show up to work out!
Special thanks to Natalia, owner of GOAT Santa Cruz, for being our special guest on this episode!
[00:00:00] Natalia: And so part of the problem though, is that there was no electricity, there was no power. So it's just a parking lot, right? It sounds like—how are we going to do this, right?
I mean, yes, there are rechargeable portable sound systems. I said, “Oh gosh, that's a hassle every single day. There's no way.”
Then suddenly, the light bulb turned on for us. We have an electric car, and that car powers the whole gym. We run everything off of this car.
[00:00:31] Claire: Hello and welcome to Good Moves, a podcast by Punchpass. On our show, we have wholehearted conversations with fitness and yoga studio owners to learn more about the unique ways they run their businesses and the inspiring ways they live their lives.
I'm your host, Claire. I ran a thriving yoga studio for eight years, and I've been part of the Punchpass team for almost as long. We have so much to learn from each other. Let's jump right in!
Welcome to Good Moves. We've got Natalia from GOAT Santa Cruz talking to us today. Welcome, Natalia. Can you just start out by telling us a little bit about you and your business?
[00:01:07] Natalia: Yeah, definitely. My background is in group fitness. I'm a group fitness instructor. And actually, if you told me two years ago that I was going to be running a business, I'd be like, “Nah, no way.”
So there were definitely some silver linings to the pandemic. My husband and I started a business about a year and a half ago now called GOAT Santa Cruz and it stands for Group Open Air Training.
We really embrace the working out outdoors concept, given COVID. It’s been an amazing experience since we started. Gosh, there's just a lot to talk about it, but yeah, it's my baby.
[00:01:53] Claire: No, I completely agree. Obviously, we do a bit of research before these episodes, and I looked into your business. And I can honestly say it's one of the most unique approaches we've seen, especially since COVID, but just in general. I was so thrilled to see it.
Can you describe your setup to people that aren't familiar with what you do?
[00:02:12] Natalia: Yes. It's a little bit unconventional. We essentially took a group fitness studio and put it outdoors. It's under a covered tent.
The workout space is about 40 feet by 60 feet so that gives us plenty of room to spread out. People feel very safe and physically distanced. And then we have the music amplified. We also invested in some headsets: Sound OffTM headsets which kind of give it that silent disco feel sometimes—and equipment.
We essentially brought the studio outdoors for people to come and take outdoor fitness classes with us.
[00:02:46] Claire: That's fantastic. And am I right in saying that you've got the two spaces? So you've got the main fitness area, and then you've got a cycle alley, you call it?
[00:02:53] Natalia: Yeah. We call it Bike Alley. That's totally new. We were trying to—people love their cycle classes, but not honestly, not everybody does. It's essentially a big parking lot that we have.
So, given the space we had and the constraints we had—both space and sound. We can't have two songs and two classes going on at the same time outdoors. So we kind of expanded to a little—what we call Bike Alley so we can do classes concurrently. That's worked out really well.
[00:03:24] Claire: Amazing. So can you tell me what type of classes you offer? What's your lineup? Because it's quite diverse.
[00:03:30] Natalia: It’s a lot. When I was first coming up with the schedule 18 months ago, my husband, who's not at all in the group—I mean, he'll take classes, but he's not a gym person.
He's like, “Are you sure you want to do all of that?” And I'm like, “Well, yeah, people like variety.”
But a big part of it is that we've partnered with Les Mills, who provides us with the licensing for some of the really popular formats: BODYPUMP™, BODYCOMBAT, and SPRINT. So those are the trademark formats that we offer. And I think that having these Les Mills fitness classes really gives us an edge.
But we also have Barre, Barre Sculpt classes, the standard cycle class, yoga, and high fitness, which is a really fun dance type of cardio class. We really just try and mix it all up and give people a variety.
[00:04:14] Claire: That's really cool. I love the lineup. I had a look, and it looks amazing.
What did your business look like before you took this step? I'm really curious to know where your community was before that and what sort of structure you had before this big idea.
[00:04:28] Natalia: Yeah. Well, it didn't exist. There was no GOAT Santa Cruz before COVID. So it was essentially our primary instructors who had a good following in our local conventional gyms and me.
When I decided to start GOAT, I called them up and said, “Hey, are you interested in teaching? How about you come and teach with me, and we'll just see how far this goes?” And it's gone really far.
[00:04:57] Claire: Has the format and the way that you had it set up always fallen within the mandates and things like that for your area, so you've been able to continue uninterrupted throughout the last 18 months?
[00:05:10] Natalia: Yes, definitely. We are in California on the central coast, just south of the Bay area, Silicon Valley. There were definitely some pretty strict restrictions at the peak of the pandemic.
We were still able to operate—to function because we were outdoors and could be very physically distanced. People were able to feel comfortable coming and working out without a mask on.
And don't get me wrong. I think masks have saved lives, but I can understand how physical exertion with a mask on can be very challenging.
We were able to say, “Hey, when you're in your space on your mat, you can take off your mask and workout, and we're outdoors.” And of course, people could choose to keep their masks on and that's totally fine. But that really gave us an advantage and a lot of the conventional gyms that didn't have their outdoor space set up would offer that.
[00:06:05] Claire: So is it something you're seeing more people doing when you say that other gyms with outdoor spaces—is this an idea that's caught on in your area? Or are you guys still really the only ones doing it this way?
[00:06:15] Natalia: That's a great question. Some of the smaller boutiques that have the parking lot space to kind of use did that. Now that the masks are no longer required—at least in Santa Cruz and my area—they've moved back indoors.
But that doesn't mean that everybody is completely comfortable going back indoors, even if it's okay to do so.
Some of the bigger corporations invested a bit more in their outdoor space so they could maintain a longer. To be honest, we have very mild weather. We like to complain, “Ooh, it's cold,” but it's it never snows. So we have that in our favor.
[00:06:55] Claire: That's a huge factor. So is it something you've thought about expanding? How are you feeling now that the pandemic is obviously—fingers crossed—starting to ebb a little bit, and we're all out and about a little bit more.
Do you think people are going to start showing up outdoors? Are they coming despite the fact that it's outdoors, or do you think they're coming because it's outdoors and they enjoy that environment more than a typical gym environment?
[00:07:19] Natalia: It's a combination of all of those. We get participants who are on the very extreme with COVID precautions. And they're probably never going to go back to an indoor gym. We get participants who never liked the indoor gym. So being able to get their workout outdoors is just the perfect combination.
Then, we’re kind of getting some of the people that, because of COVID and this realization that they have to change some lifestyle habits, they've got to walking outdoors, jogging outdoors, being outdoors.
Some people see our setup and are like, “Oh, I like being outdoors. So I'm going to try some of these classes.” These are some of the newer fitness participants. And so, it's been a good variety. And then, there are just people that are dedicated to the instructors in the classes that we offer. And they're like, “We're staying with you even when our other gym opens up again.”
[00:08:12] Claire: Right. So you had instructors—you were saying before—that had their communities elsewhere and other gyms and things like that. And they were for the most part, able to bring those communities over to you? Because that's a huge part, then, of building your client base.
[00:08:26] Natalia: Oh, huge. Yes.
[00:08:27] Claire: So that's where a lot of people have come from. And then obviously, I imagine a lot of word of mouth; it's fairly unique.
[00:08:32] Natalia: Word of mouth, yes. It is a different concept.
[00:08:34] Claire: Brilliant. That’s amazing. So do you think you’d take it further or is this your one and done?
[00:08:44] Natalia: I'd have to like split myself in half. I just feel like we worked really hard to build our brand. And by expanding, I would be fearful of losing that—there's very much a personal connection with everybody that helps.
I'll never say never. And the way we set up the name of the business as GOAT, Santa Cruz, it could be GOAT anything. So we left that window open, but at least for the near foreseeable future, we're going to stick with just this one location for now.
[00:09:21] Claire: Was that a conscious decision to set up the brand? Can you tell me a little bit about the process of setting up the business?
I think you said before that this is not really your wheelhouse. You’re just a fitness instructor. So many people are like that.
We get so many yoga teachers and things like that that have to make this big leap from just wanting to offer what they offer in terms of a class, and then they have to do this actually a huge step. Just because people are doing it all the time doesn't make not a massive step.
Can you tell me about where it all started, how it all felt at the beginning, what your priorities were and how you got it off the ground?
[00:09:59] Natalia: Well, so my husband and I—even though I was obviously the group fitness person, he's always been supportive and goes to classes. He knew how much of a big part of my life group fitness had been. And so, in May of 2020, we were like, “Hmm, this is not going anywhere. The whole gym thing is kind of—it's not happening.”
So, he'd always kind of wanted to run a business, but we never quite knew what it was. You know, like food service. But again, neither of us are business people, but there's always just that illusion of having your own business. So we decided to just take this idea, develop that concept of being outdoors, bringing that studio to the outdoors in a way that could potentially be sustainable past the pandemic.
So we researched it. We did hire somebody—a business consultant to help us legitimately write a business plan because, again, I didn't know any of that before this. And then he walked us through the formalities of setting things up with the state, with local authorities: permits, insurance, all the boring stuff. “You just tell me what to do, and I'll make sure I do it.”
We also hired a designer to set up our website. And that's actually where Punchpass came in because we were going to try and develop it, so you kind of purchase your items in a cart, and then that's it— kind of like the punch cards essentially, right? And we knew there were apps out there that are for booking classes and memberships. But it was our web designer who did a bunch of research, found different options, and presented us with Punchpass.
[00:11:45] Claire: Cool.
[00:11:45] Natalia: And so, that actually worked perfectly. But the concept of it was just sitting on our patio—my husband and I—saying, “Okay, what are we going to do? And are we going to go for it? Because obviously, it was a huge time and money investment to start a group fitness studio.
We kind of did what you shouldn't do, which is put your house as collateral. And it was an amount that we could swallow, but it was definitely like, “Okay, are we sure about this?” But we kind of thought if we didn't do it, we wouldn't regret it. And that was kind of where we had to take that leap of faith.
[00:12:22] Claire: It's brilliant because I think there are a couple of ways to go about it, obviously. But the two main ways are kind of starting small and just getting the word out, maybe setting up in your local park, that kind of thing. But you guys really went all the way for the launch.
So was this your structure from the beginning: the branding, the location, your basic setup at the site? Has it been the same since the beginning? You started as you went on?
[00:12:46] Natalia: Yes and no. Yes and no. I mean, I did want it from the beginning to feel very much like a professional space, thought out quality: a quality experience.
A lot of times, people—early on in the development of this concept, people were like, “Why don't you just start at the park and just see how the classes go?” And I was like, “No, no, no, no. I want more than that.” And as a Les Mills instructor, I also was like, “I really want to bring these formats to people.”
And I can't just do that because there are licensing fees, and there's a whole thing that it's involved. And so it was like, “No, we're doing it all or, or we're not doing it.”
[00:13:27] Claire: No, it's a beautiful package that you've got now. It's amazing. It's crazy. Yeah. It's brilliant. Can you tell me a little bit about how you got started in the fitness industry? So obviously, you're affiliated with Les Mills now, and that's kind of your jam. But where did it all start? Why is this something that's important to you?
[00:13:44] Natalia: I've always been an athlete. Growing up, it was soccer, cross country, and tennis. As a young adult, I gravitated more towards just staying fit and going to the gym.
I have to confess, my true “I knew it was for me” was a BODYPUMP class. I got hooked on Les Mills BODYPUMP probably about a decade ago or so. And I was like, “Man, this is amazing.”
Because as a team sport like soccer and other sports I'd done, it kind of feels like I'm on their team and we're going to win. But that kind of opened the door for me. I decided to become an instructor for BODYPUMP. And then, since then, I've learned other formats as well.
[00:14:27] Claire: Awesome. So the fitness stuff obviously comes easy to you with the business. Are there parts that you struggle with still? Are there still areas—because you do have to wear, I think, so many hats these days.
[00:14:38] Natalia: I've learned so much. I am the handyman, the IT person. I am the house cleaner. You name it. The gardener, I'll do it. But no, it's been great. It’s been fun.
But you know, the challenge is also—as the boss lady, as some might call me, you have to make some decisions that even though your heart says, “No, I really want this to happen”, you have to look at the numbers. You have to remind yourself, “This is a business,” and make those decisions as best you can.
And conversely, on the other end, because as the boss lady, I want to do something, then I can do it. Like, “You know what? You get a free class,” or “You get to come for free.” Whatever, you know? We do a lot of really fun fundraising activities. And I think that's just a huge part of our community. We give back to our community. We do fundraisers, which I think is important.
[00:15:35] Claire: Can you tell me more? I didn't see a lot about that when I was looking into you. So can you tell me more about what sort of things you do? Because we're kind of focused on that at the moment at Punchpass.
We want to give people these opportunities because it is such a great thing to do. It's a win-win, which is our favorite thing.
[00:15:48] Natalia: We’ve actually been able to use the donation option for Punchpass every month, but not every month. We've done probably like seven or eight this year.
We pick a local nonprofit that has an impact locally, and we decide to allocate all of the passes sold for that one specific class to this nonprofit. And so, it's just been such a great way to connect with different organizations. They hear about us, and we spread the word about all the hard work they do.
We've been asked to raise—gosh—anywhere from 500 to over a thousand dollars for each of these events. And a hundred percent, we just write the check, and it all goes to them. It’s been really cool to be able to do that.
There isn't that corporate ladder of like, "Well, let me see if the corporate office is going to let us do—" it's like, "No, we're doing it. We're going to raise money. We're going to give it all on that day.” So there've been some fun aspects of running the show.
[00:16:48] Claire: Yeah. Do you guys do much around the holiday? So do you have anything coming up or….?”
[00:16:54] Natalia: This is going to be our second time around. Yeah, we're pretty new at all of this, but we always do Thanksgiving. It’s pretty big. We'll just do some fun workouts on Thanksgiving morning. People like to sweat it out before they go over the big meal. Last year we closed from Christmas to New Year's just to give everybody a break.
[00:17:22] Claire: That's perfect. That’s a very Australian thing to do. We do that down here.
The whole country kind of closes down for a week. When I was living in the States, it was like the day after Christmas, and I was back at work. I was like, “What is this? This is not the way the world is supposed to work.”
So yeah, that great drifty week is a great time to take off down here. But obviously, it's a little bit warmer than it is where you are.
[00:17:42] Natalia: Yeah, that's true. But that's okay. It's nice to just snuggle up on the couch and watch movies.
[00:17:46] Claire: Yeah, absolutely. So, just touching on the community side of things, one of the things that I think a lot of—particularly new—studio owners and business managers who kind of fall into that role find difficult is managing their staff.
We touched on it a little bit earlier, but a lot of your instructors came from other places, and you had a personal relationship with them. Has it been an easy transition then to be “their boss?” How has that relationship evolved during this process?
[00:18:16] Natalia: You know, generally, it's been great. I was wise in choosing the people I chose to bring onto the team. I treat them as my most valuable asset, which they are. Especially in a group fitness setting, amazing instructors are worth everything. We're all friends; we all get along. And managing it has been a challenge for me—although, in past jobs, I have been a manager. But it's been different when there's more at stake.
[00:18:48] Claire: It's not necessarily, I think, something you choose too. When you have these sorts of ideas, I think that sort of gets forgotten in making the deal. “We have this business; we’re going to have these people.” It's like, “Oh, all of a sudden, I'm managing people,” which is such a variable. But I think it takes a lot of people by surprise, so I'm glad to hear that it's going so well.
[00:19:08] Natalia: So far, so good.
[00:19:09] Claire: So far, so good? Not too much turnover? Do you feel like this outdoor fitness studio is something that they're going to stick with when gyms—and hopefully, six months from now when the world is looking somewhat back to normal? They're obviously very happy with it?
[00:19:21] Natalia: I think so. I hope that the compensation's competitive enough and that they feel that people are there for them, that they're willing to stay, even if they have other options.
The way we have it set up at GOAT, it's not a membership. It's a Punchpass, and then we offer just a one-month-at-a-time unlimited pass. But it's not a membership where participants come and whoever the instructor is, who cares? They're paying the membership, and they're going to come by class.
It really puts more emphasis on the instructor delivering a really high-quality class because people are specifically coming to that instructor’s class. So it really is in favor of keeping the quality high, I think.
[00:20:10] Claire: I would imagine you get lots of people mixing and matching, though, and coming to lots of different sessions because everything's included. People crossing over from one to the other?
[00:20:19] Natalia: Yes, there are people that take so many different classes. I’m like, “Wow! Is there a class you don't like?” And that's why—we had originally started with like a ten-visit punch card. And then, there are gym rats that want to take two or three classes a day, most days a week. And I'm like, “Well, that's not going to work on a punch card. You're going to run out in a week.” So we came up with just the monthly.
We kind of stayed away from membership, primarily because I want people to consciously make the decision to come to GOAT. I don't want to just charge them and then they're not coming. That's not what my business is about.
[00:20:56] Claire: Yeah, it's interesting. Isn't it? That can be a little bit of a tool, I think. That set it and forget it membership, and hopefully, they'll forget it or not feel confident calling to cancel. And it works for some people.
But yeah, sometimes you want that energy of people being active participants in what you're offering. I think that's really fantastic. It's super cool.
And your capacity's right on. I had a look at your numbers, and it looks like your classes are full, but not too full. And everything's going really well. So I think it's always really interesting how that all sort of works out. You don't have 70 people trying to book into a 25-person class, but you don't have three.
[00:21:32] Natalia: Yes.
[00:21:32] Claire: Do you feel like you're actively marketing at the moment? Do you feel like you're kind of in that cruising along level? Where are you at with that side of things and finding more people?
[00:21:39] Natalia: We're always looking to just tell people we're here. Obviously, the peak hours are always going to be high-impact, you know, impacted classes. But there's always room for a little bit more. We recently added some early morning, like 6:15 a.m. in the morning workouts, and those have been more successful than I had expected—
[00:22:01] Claire: Oh, that's fantastic.
[00:22:02] Natalia: —which is crazy. Like, “You want to come here in the dark and cold and exercise, but okay. We'll do it.” I'm always reaching out.
We partnered with the triathlon club. We do our fundraisers, which get our word out; social media—we’re super active on social media. I just figure why not? Let people know we're here. We'll expand or shrink as needed.
[00:22:28] Claire: I'm super curious. I'm definitely going to be keeping an eye out because like I said, it's very rare that you come across something—everyone thinks their business is unique. They run—and quite often they are: they do it in a slightly different way.
I think, especially in the past 18 months, to have a business that's never gone online or considered doing recorded videos or anything like that—has that ever occurred to you as part of the strategy? Or the in-person is just working too well right now?
[00:22:52] Natalia: You know, that's a good thing you bring up. I was just watching this webinar about the future of group fitness, and a really key aspect was offering—obviously, digital options are out there, and there are thousands of streaming.
I am never going to compete with that because that's just not what we are. That’s comparing apples to oranges. But you know, it was definitely like the consumer—the participants—the people that come to the gym or would likely come do want a balance of at-home—either content available or live stream and in person. And they like both.
At GOAT, we currently don't have any. I haven't taken advantage of the content library that I know is in Punchpass, but I've started to think, well, maybe we could, I don't know.
[00:23:45] Claire: Well, now that you've got your people that know you and know your instructors, that's quite often a good time to start. I mean, starting fresh with—as you said, there are so many in the marketplace now that just putting yours out there and saying, “Hey, I'm doing some videos, come watch,” is probably not going to go so well at the moment.
It might have, two years ago, but not now. But yeah, to take your current community and give them those options so they can do a 6:15 a.m. class maybe at home instead of dragging themselves would be—it's interesting.
[00:24:10] Natalia: Well, so let me tell you. Part of our uniqueness, I guess, is when we were putting together GOAT, one of our biggest challenges was finding a physical space. Then, we were looking for just a parking lot, and we were like, “Just a parking lot. We're going to put some speakers out and just get our workout done under a tent or something: some shade.
We came across a pretty much substantially-sized parking lot in kind of an industrial warehouse area neighborhood, which was perfect because there are no neighbors that are going to complain because we like it kind of loud.
Part of the problem though, is that there was no electricity, there was no power. So it's just a parking lot, right? It sounds like—how are we going to do this, right? I mean, yes, there are rechargeable portable sound systems. I said, “Oh gosh, that's a hassle every single day. There's no way.”
And then suddenly, the light bulb turned on for us. We have an electric car, a Nissan Leaf. And you see where I’m going with this?
[00:25:16] Claire: I don’t know that I do, but keep going.
[00:24:10] Natalia: We did some research, and a Nissan Leaf, like all 100% electric cars, is just essentially a big battery on wheels.
So like you said, we wear many hats here in the small business world.
We put on our electrical engineering hats, and we installed an inverter in the car. And that car powers the whole gym. We run everything off of this car.
[00:25:44] Claire: So the car is now part of the gym set up rather than being your car.
[00:25:47] Natalia: Yeah, exactly. And we take it home, we charge it when it gets low, and we drive it back. The next morning, the lights are on, the speakers are on, and everything's charging.
So I thought of that—if it was a live stream, I was like, “Well, we don't have internet, really. We're in a parking lot. It would all be kind of on a mobile device—which is possible.” So it just makes you think like, “How would we do this?”
[00:26:08] Claire: It’s totally possible, but yeah, definitely a unique situation. I love it.
[00:26:14] Natalia: It's interesting. So we can definitely just pack everything up and take ourselves to a different parking lot if we need to.
[00:26:22] Claire: So you didn't go for something with a view or anything particularly beautiful? It wasn't important to you to be—I mean, I imagine getting prime real estate in Santa Cruz, even for a parking lot, is probably not the easiest thing to do.
[00:26:33] Natalia: It was hard. That took us the longest. That was our biggest roadblock: getting the physical space.
[00:26:38] Claire: Well, just to convince someone that all you want is a parking lot. So you don't even have—so there's no attached office warehouse or anything like that? It's literally—you’ve just taken a parking lot?
[00:26:48] Natalia: We rent the storage containers. We have this big tent; we do a portable toilet. People do not come for the bathroom. They come for the amazing classes. If you think like, oh, the people that used to go to like the spa that had the nice sauna, I'm like, “We don't have any of that.” You can come if you want to come to get your workout.
[00:27:11] Claire: Totally. But you attract your people. Your people are your people, and you do what you do. And if they're not the right people for you, then there are a million other gyms, and they can head over there. And that's the beautiful thing.
So can you describe your community? Is it a little bit of everything? Who do you think is most attracted to what you have to offer?
[00:27:28] Natalia: Most of our participants are female, and probably the majority are in like the 35 to 50 range. We definitely get some younger crowds. And I mean, there are some guys, but it's something about the American male. They don't lean towards group fitness no matter how hard I try.
[00:27:48] Claire: Interesting, isn’t it? So you don't do specific things for guys? You haven't gone down that road or, I mean, it seems crazy to have to, but…
[00:27:57] Natalia: No, it feels like it's not fair. I mean, obviously, everyone's welcome, and we have some very fit seniors that do all of our classes. I’m like, “Wow. I want to be like her.”
[00:28:06] Claire: Yeah, that's so aspirational. I love that.
[00:28:11] Natalia: Mostly women.
[00:28:11] Claire: Pretty classic. Do you get involved in how your teachers teach or is there a lot of trust there? I think there's very much sort of that line between what you want them to do and what they naturally feel like doing.
[00:28:27] Natalia: Because of the structure of GOAT, our instructors are all independent contractors. And so legally, I can't tell them what to do.
[00:28:35] Claire: Really?
[00:28:35] Natalia: They’re not my employees.
[00:28:37] Claire: So you can't tell them a certain greeting or a “Don't do that anymore?”
[00:28:42] Natalia: I can suggest like, “This is how I want people to feel when they're here.” There's a fine line. As soon as I tell them how to do their job, then they have to become an employee, which comes with a whole long list of…
[00:28:58] Claire: It's the same down here.
[00:29:01] Natalia: As independent contractors, they come, they teach their class and they invoice me however often they want to for the classes that they've taught.
Fortunately, for all of my Les Mills instructors, there's already a high standard and they know that a Les Mills class is going to be like this. For all the other classes, I brought them on board because I knew their style. I knew how they led their class and the experience that they provided. So I was confident that that was aligned with what I wanted.
[00:29:32] Claire: Beautiful. I noticed you don't have any specific beginners classes or any intro. Do you do intro sessions? Did I just miss it, or is it welcoming beginners, completely new to the gym environment into regular classes?
[00:29:43] Natalia: It’s interesting that you say that. The same webinar I was just watching—I was like taking notes. It talks about how it's so important to provide an introductory—not a package, but really help people who are starting from zero get into enjoying fitness. Because at first, it's not fun. If you've never—you're like, “Oh, I don't feel comfortable on many levels.” Whereas the elite gym-goers are like, “I like feeling uncomfortable,” you know?
[00:30:19] Claire: Yeah, absolutely.
[00:30:23] Natalia: So anyway, we don't, and that's definitely in my short list of to-dos. Because especially come the new year, I want to be able to offer at least some guidance that’s personalized, even within the structure of our classes that we already have.
Just saying, “Try these few for the next three or four weeks, and then try adding this other one that's a bit higher intensity and a bit harder. Because I think that in the long-term, that will help us maintain that longevity, especially with the newer people that don't have the habit yet, so forming those good habits.
[00:30:56] Claire: It's definitely an intimidating thing. I think, as a beginner, I still don't know exactly what people mean when they say go to the gym. I think that's really interesting: the idea that people can just go to the gym.
And it's like, “That's good. I know where it is and I know where to get through the door, but what do I actually do when I get to the gym?” I think that's so common now, and it's one of those things that's become so much the norm that I think a lot of people are afraid to ask these days. “What do I actually do when I get there?”
So, yeah, I think beginners stuff is great. And like you said, coming into the new year, it's a brilliant way to get those people in and feel comfortable. And it sounds like you would have so many people in the community encouraging their friends to come, but just to get them across that line as a beginner is that next step, I think.
[00:31:39] Natalia: Yeah. How to be just challenging enough but not so hard that they're like, “This is terrible. Why am I doing this?”
[00:31:48] Claire: Yeah, absolutely. You've got to figure out so much about them in those first few moments too. That is a skill, definitely a skill that it sounds like you and your instructors have. It sounds brilliant.
[00:31:59] Natalia: It’s on my list. I’m going to do that.
[00:32:00] Claire: I'm excited to see, I think it's going to go brilliantly, like everything else that I see. Did anything go wrong when you were trying to set up this business?
[00:32:08] Natalia: There are always little things, you know?
[00:32:10] Claire: But nothing humongous?
[00:32:11] Natalia: The only thing that I say we made a mistake with is our original tent site. We kind of decided to go on the lower budget side of things, and then we had some terrible windstorms, which was unusual. We don't really have wind storms in Santa Cruz, California. But last February, we lost—they were like a soda can, just crunched and destroyed.
And so we were without cover for like six or eight weeks. It taught us—I mean, we could've invested in something bigger in the beginning, and I think we kind of told ourselves, “Oh, this will be fine, this will be fine.”
We should've just gone with something better from the beginning. And I think that goes—we've done that with almost everything else, but it was a pretty big investment, so we kind of shied away from it. But in the long run, it cost us more to go through the rebuild. But we had an amazing GoFundMe set up to raise the money for the new and improved tent, which is what we have now.
[00:33:27] Claire: That's brilliant. So I guess the flip side to that is someone who set up a business from an idea to what it is now, which I think is a really robust, really legitimate full-looking business.
Do you have any advice for anyone looking at doing the same thing: taking the step from being a fitness instructor to that next big step into turning it into something a little bit bigger.
[00:33:52] Natalia: Great question. My two things of advice—and I'm a newbie. I'm still an infantile business owner—would be: just make sure it's something you absolutely love because I spend every moment thinking about it.
I have a seven-year-old daughter, and I actually have another job that I've neglected. I work in healthcare, but GOAT is my baby, and I think about it day and night. So if you're thinking about diving in, make sure 100% that it's something that you're going to enjoy.
Because as soon as you stop enjoying it, it's just work; it's not fun.
[00:34:33] Claire: Yeah.
[00:34:35] Natalia: And then the other bit of advice—and if it's possible, great. If not, I would say be cautious.
If you're solo, make sure you have the finances to personally just back yourself up for however long you can. And I'm sure any business consultant would tell you that too.
But I have my husband who works his non-GOAT-related job, which allows me to just focus entirely on the business. So make sure you have either some savings or some finances in line just to float your personal life. Survive. Pay the bills.
[00:35:15] Claire: Definitely. And pay yourself, hopefully, at least after the first initial period.
[00:35:21] Natalia: That's the thing. It's kind of like your child. You make a little extra money, and you just spend it on it again. It's run like a co-op in my mind: I have a little extra profit? “What else can I do for GOAT to make it better?” And this and that. So Scott's like, “Woah, just stop.”
[00:35:37] Claire: Right. Because I think when you're doing something for passion and because you do feel like it's something that's a service for people, I think you're totally entitled to make a good amount of money that makes you comfortable, so you're not stressed out.
But I don’t know. I just feel like these shouldn't be million-dollar businesses. If you're making that sort of money, then some way down the line, someone else is getting screwed over or, you know what I mean?
You should get to a point where you can relax and lean into it, but yeah, extra money should probably go back into the community, which is great. And that's what I love about you guys.
[00:36:13] Natalia: I've been able to raise the rate for the instructors a little bit here and there as one has progressed. We're able to bring that rate up— “You can invoice me,” and just other little perks that I'm able to offer because I don't need to make that huge profit. We're covering the bills; we're okay. So it’s good.
[00:36:32] Claire: Just as a side note to that because I think this is always really interesting. Do you offer any discounts to people that are having a tough time paying for your classes, or do you work with people?
[00:36:46] Natalia: Yeah, definitely.
[00:36:43] Claire: Cool. Awesome. I thought you probably did.
[00:36:46] Natalia: Definitely. It's usually towards the holidays, and you actually mentioned it, and I forgot. In our newsletter that we send out periodically, at the end of the year, I'll say, “Hey, if you know anybody that could benefit physically, emotionally, and mentally from exercise but can't afford it, let me know. We'll gift them some 10-visit punch cards just to get them through the holidays,” because sometimes, that can be really stressful.
[00:37:09] Claire: Yeah, that’s really good. I really love that.
[00:37:10] Natalia: We do discounts for students and here and there, where I see like, “Hey, we can flex it here,” we do it.
[00:37:19] Claire: It works out, and I think all it requires is for people to be honest and a little bit vulnerable, which I think is a good thing across the board generally anyway. If you're going to be open and honest with me then—
[00:37: 29] Natalia: It takes courage.
[00:37:30] Claire: Yeah, it does, but it's nice to accept the help. So before we wrap it up here, one of the things that I'm really curious about, especially with the last little bit that we talked about: what do you think is so important about exercise?
It's kind of an ugly word. I know it encompasses so much more than that, but why is it so important to you?
Why do you think you want more humans—I assume you want more humans to be doing this. What has it brought to your life, and what do you think it can bring to other people's?
[00:37:55] Natalia: Oh gosh, whether it's a group fitness class or a team sport, or just going for a run or a walk with a friend, in my world, in my mind, in my life, physical activity has maintained this balance in my life. Not just health-wise but emotionally. It becomes a habit that on a day you don't kind of get your heart rate up a little bit, you don't sweat a little bit, you're like, “Oh, I'm kind of missing something today.”
And that might sound very strange to somebody who doesn't have that habit, but I think besides just the health benefits that we all are very well aware of, especially in a group fitness setting, doing it with other people makes it not just a workout. It's an experience, and you share in it.
And every time you share in it, it just has this amazing effect. You feel better. You're like, “Oh, I feel really good after that class.” When you keep doing it, you want to keep doing it, and you get to know people.
I’ve been working out with a lot of these people for about a decade, and a lot of them have been working out for many decades together. Especially in the group fitness world, you hold each other accountable, you have fun, you laugh, and you sweat together.
That's quite a strong bond that I think is very valuable. And then people struggle to kind of connect with that, especially if they're not used to being around others and getting uncomfortable around others. You're really vulnerable when you can't breathe because you're working out really hard, and you look sweaty, and you're like, “Ah!” you know? But it's definitely a strong connection that you build, and I just think it’s so valuable, so worth it.
[00:39:41] Claire: I really think it must have been such a gift for people to have access to your space, especially in the last 18 months and even moving forward.
I just think it must have been such an important place and such an important activity for people to actually be able to go somewhere and make those connections and move their bodies. I just feel so much joy to think of it. It’s amazing.
[00:40:00] Natalia: I would see people on a daily basis face-to-face, which, as you know, at the peak of a pandemic, it was face-to-face within six feet—or more than six feet. And they hadn't seen their really close family in months, you know?
We had the honor and the privilege to be able to share this experience every day in person. It was a really special moment. And we may never go through that again, and I hope not because it's devastating. But for what it was, especially at the peak of the pandemic, having a space like GOAT really was a lifesaver.
It kept everybody sane.
[00:40:41] Claire: I have no doubt that it really legitimately was for a lot of people. I think it's a beautiful thing that you've created, and it just looks amazing. I'm so glad that you came and told us all about it today. I encourage everyone to go and have a look at what you guys have.
[00:40:52] Natalia: And if you’re ever in California, come.
[00:40:55] Claire: Oh, well, in the next year, we'll see. Fingers crossed. We'll see. If we head on down, I'd love to show up. Thank you so much for joining us today, Natalia. We really appreciate you being a part of Good Moves and Punchpass on the whole. Thank you so much.
[00:41:09] Natalia: Oh, Punchpass has been wonderful
[00:41:11] Claire: If you'd like to learn more about any of the guests that we featured on the show or about Punchpass, you can head to our website at punchpass.com.
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