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Opening a gym…in a pandemic

McKenzie and Jeff Kearns with sons Beckett and Holden.

When McKenzie and Jeff Kearns decided to open a business in the middle of a global pandemic, more than a few people thought they’d lost their kettlebells.

The co-owners of True Strength + Conditioning had been training and coaching clients in rented facilities for three years when the opportunity to move into their own space fell into their lap in March 2021.

They knew it well as the 2,200-square-foot space at 3501 McGillivray Boulevard was the former home of Aspire Fitness, where both had worked and trained for several years previously.

MI: What made you think you could open a business during a pandemic and succeed while so many others were failing?
MK: We had a significant online component to our business and we noticed that whenever the health restrictions were loosened, we’d have an influx of people coming back for in-person classes. We thought, “wow, people are wanting this and they see the value in it.”

JK: We already had our client base at other locations and we said, “why not? It’s already a pandemic, we might as well give it a shot.”

McKenzie and Jeff Kearns with sons Beckett and Holden.

MI: Did your friends and family think you were insane?
JK: They thought we were more insane when we first went out on our own four years ago. Being entrepreneurs was something that our circle didn’t do. My family all had set jobs with a pension and they thought we’d go the same route. We didn’t.

MK: There was definitely a lot of concern when we were in code reds (with the provincial health restrictions). We were pros at running boot camps and we run a tight ship with our online programming so we felt pretty secure.

MI: What did you do that enabled your company to avoid the many pitfalls presented by the pandemic?
JK: The big thing we were trying to get across was the online aspect. It wasn’t totally foreign to us but it wasn’t exactly something we were overly comfortable with, either. We had to dive in a little deeper. We embraced the newness of it all and we got people to understand that you need to move for your mental and physical health. The pandemic forced us to be nimble, able to pivot and think on our feet.

MK: We definitely took a hit with each shut-down but our clients believed in what we do. Some said they would continue with the same payment for online training that they had for in-person training. We had put in the time and effort for systems, platforms and an app. When you can offer both in-person and online options, you can snag both types of clients.

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