Ten years ago, Annandale-based fitness enthusiast Lance LeTellier decided to open his own gym with an overarching goal of encouraging continual self-improvement, no matter what that meant to each client. Today, the goal has stayed the same but the audience is much larger, as LeTellier has expanded his small business into Foundation Fitness, a DMV-based franchise offering general membership, personal training, boot camps and more.
With the coronavirus continuing to spread, LeTellier was forced to close all seven locations—four of which are in Northern Virginia—in the middle of March. Since then, while grappling with the stress of uncertainty, the entire staff of Foundation Fitness has banded together to implement virtual offerings like age-specific classes, personal training, nutrition workshops and even Q&As with trainers.
From making the decision to close to partnering with local organizations to give back, here’s a look at LeTellier’s experience during the pandemic.
What was the experience of closing your gym locations like for you?
Closing has been a heartbreaking experience. My team and I have poured our hearts and souls into Foundation Fitness for over 10 years now. Foundation Fitness is employee owned and our team has invested a ton of time, energy and money into this business. I’ve personally reinvested everything I have into the company five times over and I have partners who have made similar sacrifices. To see it potentially destroyed through no fault of our own is devastating. Everyone knows how hard it is to build a successful company, and now imagine you put in all that work (10-plus years) only to have the government force you to close and potentially lose it all. I understand we all want to be safe, I have a 4-month-old son and grandparents, so I get it this is necessary, but the stress put on myself and all of our staff from the shutdown has been crushing. To make matters worse, the assistance we need is not coming fast enough and may never come.
You’ve launched an online fitness platform for clients. What was the process of creating this platform like for you and your staff?
We had a decision to make: We could sit and do nothing or try and be proactive to give both our members and staff something to do. Since our company movement is to encourage continual self-improvement, we decided to bring the gym to our members. Thankfully, I am a partner in Onist Digital Agency and we were quickly able to develop a platform where we could pay staff that aren’t working to create content and give our members and clients workouts to do at home while in quarantine. There are eight workout categories including home workouts, kids workouts, senior workouts, yoga, etc. We are also going to be adding a nutrition and cooking section soon, where we do live, weekly Zoom meetings with fitness experts to discuss different areas of fitness and allow members to ask questions. We are currently taking requests from members who join, so if there is something on the platform you don’t see, we can make it for you, which I think is pretty cool.
How have your virtual classes helped to keep your team connected with its clients?
I think it has kept clients engaged with their workouts and we’re now connected more with the community. We donate one meal or 20% of the purchase price of a FF-online membership to someone struggling during the pandemic or to local hospitals and food kitchens. I have wanted to do something to give back to the community for years and saw the perfect opportunity for that with this online platform. This helps my staff generate income and we take care of those in need; can’t beat that for a win-win.
You’ve partnered with MightyMeals during this trying time. Tell me more about that.
In addition to being Foundation Fitness CEO, my COO Patrick Bresley and I invested in MightyMeals almost two years ago. It is a great organization and it has been a great service for our customers who want to eat healthy, great-tasting food without the hassle. It has been an added bonus that we can blend our companies even further with Foundation Fitness Online and utilize MightyMeals channels to contribute to the meal donations they are already doing.
What do you miss most about in-person gym time?
Foundation Fitness has always been and always will be a community gym. We miss seeing our clients and members and we know they miss us. While we are doing everything we can to stay connected, nothing can replace the feeling of being in a gym that is like a second home.
What keeps you hopeful during this uncertain time?
Seeing how our staff has rallied and worked twice as hard when making half or less than their regular pay has been incredible and humbling. Our owners that can afford to do so have sacrificed their pay entirely to pay staff what they can, which they offered without me even asking. The massive support we have received from our customers has also been amazing. These signs keep me hopeful that we have banked enough goodwill to get us through this storm. We have strived for over 10 years to treat our customers and staff literally like family. Watching that family stick together through these hard times has been my inspiration to keep working as hard as I can to make sure we stay open for years to come. We have something special and I will do everything I can to preserve it.
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