Small Biz Saturday: Vie Fitness & Spa in Ann Arbor to take its time reopening

Health and fitness business to reopen in stages over time

The fitness and health business offered a variety of fitness classes in its studio spaces before the COVID-19 pandemic. (Vie Fitness & Spa)

ANN ARBOR – Having shut the doors to both Vie: Fitness & Spa locations on March 16, owner Heather Dupuis is taking her time to reopen the Ann Arbor personal training and spa business.

Indoor gyms around Michigan will be allowed to reopen on June 25, but Dupuis is putting the safety of her clients and staff first.

Dupuis opened her first Vie: Fitness & Spa in downtown Ann Arbor in 2004. She expanded the business to include a second story in 2008 and in 2014, she added a pilates studio located in the Arbor Hills shopping complex. She joked that, in 2020, she expanded again, except this time it was to offer online classes.

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Discussing the COVID-19 pandemic, Dupuis said that she and her staff had anticipated something would happen that would make her change things at Vie: Fitness & Spa but didn’t think it would happen so quickly.

“Everyone was pivoting. Clients were pivoting. We were pivoting,” said Dupuis, stating she started following news of the pandemic back in January.

She expected to stop group classes, cleaning “obsessively” and managing social distancing but she wasn’t prepared for everything to have to shut down.

“It was like ‘oh wow. Okay, I thought I was ready’ but it still surprised me.” She said she tried to prepare but still found herself reacting to things in-the-moment.

Vie Fitness & Spa has been offering virtual classes to clients while its studios have been closed. (Vie Fitness & Spa)

However, there have been both good and bad effects of the pandemic for the business. It has fewer clients and fewer staff members -- from 53 employees down to 17 employees -- but Dupuis said that the pandemic also pushed her to create a work out studio in her basement.

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From the studio, she manages virtual training classes that she says simulate the in-person classes through pounding techno music and personalized instruction.

Vie: Fitness & Spa offers three to four virtual classes a day during the week as well as personal training. Classes range from pilates and yoga to barre and spinning sessions. Participants can “drop-in” for $15 or pay a monthly fee of $85 for unlimited access to all of the classes. There is also a library of recorded classes that clients can use on their own.

The fitness business also offers monthly happy hours that serve as a time for clients to create a community, stretch, do yoga and talk about the impacts of the pandemic on their lives.

Dupuis said that she is in no rush to reopen. Her clients seem to find virtual classes more convenient and efficient and more and more are using the service.

Through a survey, she found that only 13% of her clients would be willing to return to in-person training, which she said isn’t enough to even consider reopening right now. In the same survey, she asked clients what would make them comfortable to return. She received a range of responses so broad that it wasn’t possible to implement them all.

According to Dupuis, it’s crucial to pick a good time to reopen her business.

“...The way that I see it is that you only have one shot at this. When you reopen, it costs money to reopen and if you don’t have enough business to cover the operations, you’re out of business in two months. Or for some people one month, or for some people three or five months,” said Dupuis.

As of now, she plans to reopen September 1, which gives clients and staff a way to plan. Saying that she is a realist, Dupuis first and foremost wants to make sure that her clients and trainers are safe. During the pandemic, she didn’t lay off her employees but gave them the choice to do what was best for them -- working virtually or taking time off.

Clients can anticipate the business to open its doors for personal training in September. (Vie Fitness & Spa)

Dupuis said it was important to take safety and health into consideration. “We’re a health and fitness studio so it’s important that they’re [clients] coming for health and fitness, not corona.”

She said she would feel responsible if someone visiting her gym became sick, so she created a phased reopening plan. First, she will open for one-on-one training, which will allow her to manage cleaning procedures and social distancing. Her spa will reopen later and group classes will reopen eventually, once she feels she can do that responsibly.

Dupuis anticipates that Vie: Fitness & Spa will continue virtual classes until January of 2021 and said that the business won’t be the same as it was before the COVID-19 pandemic. She envisions more of a hybrid gym with some virtual classes and some in-person training, but she can’t pretend that things are normal.

“I think they [clients] want normal so badly and us opening would, I think, be more obvious on how not normal this is. Because if you only have 13% of the people around, you’re going to feel that,” said Dupuis.

For Dupuis, it isn’t just about reopening Vie: Fitness & Spa, it’s about making sure that she does it carefully and responsibly.

Vie: Fitness & Spa has two locations. The downtown location is at 209 S. Ashley St. The Arbor Hills studio is at 3050 Washtenaw Ave.

Vie Fitness & Spa has two locations. (Vie Fitness & Spa)

About the Author:

Sarah has worked for WDIV since June 2018. She covers community events, good eats and small businesses in Ann Arbor and has a Master's degree in Applied Linguistics from Grand Valley State University.