NYC Physical Fitness Training - Custom Performance NYC

Here We Go


I haven’t been ready to share this story until Cat reminded me that we need a new blog! So, appropriately, here we go.

As I reached for the door handle to leave, I froze. A paralyzing wave of fear and grief swept over me. My eyes welled up and I couldn’t move. It was Thursday, March 12, 2020.

“Ok, bye Greg!” I squeaked, my voice audibly cracking. “See you tomorrow!”

“Wait!” he shouted from across the room. I turned back towards the room and he leapt up from his chair and darted over. “You can’t leave like that!” he said. He reached out for a hug, “Everything’s gonna be fine!”

“What are we going to do?” I whispered, defeated, eyes down. I couldn’t hold back my tears and they rolled down my cheeks. I was so scared that I was frozen at that moment. I specifically remember my world closing in, right then and there.

As the leader of our small company, I try to lead by example and exude professionalism and confidence. But on this day, there was so much uncertainty that I welcomed the condolence. We were about to sail into unchartered waters, and I knew it was going to be harder than anything we’d ever done before.

It was the very tip of the proverbial 2020 iceberg.

On that day, our usually bustling physical therapy clinic was empty, except for me and Greg. The five other therapists and three front desk administrators were home. We were supposed to be traveling to the University of Virginia on that day for our annual “Running Medicine” Conference, which had been postponed hours earlier due to the rapidly unfolding COVID-19 pandemic. Given the last-minute rescheduling, we gave the staff a day off.

I went in to clean the clinic according to CDC guidelines to protect our staff and clients against COVID-19. When I arrived, I saw the door was open and discovered Greg was already there for the very same reason.

We were both there voluntarily, to clean and prepare. That’s the kind of work-family culture we have cultivated at Custom Performance. We all care so much about our small company, that we just show up. To clean, and prepare, without being asked, even on our days off.

Our business started five and a half years ago, with just me, and we have grown exponentially to a staff of eleven. We help runners achieve their goals and take pride in our work. As employees, we take care of each other as family. The bonds we have with each other are forged through our small business hustle, and our ability to be there for one another whenever times get tough.

Ironically, times got much tougher than we could have ever imagined for us after that day. As a team, we made the gut-wrenching decision to close our doors on Monday, March 16 for the safety of our clients and staff. For a small business with enormous overhead, whose service is touching people, this pandemic brought us to our knees.

I will be forever grateful to Cat and Leah, our management team of three, who were working around the clock, quite literally, when this happened. Having all hands on deck was critical to our survival and I could have never have done it without them. We met daily and talked all day and night, troubleshooting decisions.

I’m a physical therapist by training, with an entrepreneurial spirit, and I run our business operations as the sole proprietor. No schooling or online business class could have prepared me for this. The first few days, I’d cry every hour or so, just thinking about the hard decisions I was facing about laying off our staff. Every night, I’d sit on the edge of my bed and give myself permission to just openly sob. I’d weep in grief for those ill from the coronavirus, for my staff who would be furloughed by no fault of their own, and for my future, because my commercial lease has a management-biased “good guy” clause, meaning I am personally responsible for the rent. (Our current rent is for 3,500 square feet, in midtown Manhattan, for the next five years.) Everything was on the line, not only for the staff, and the business, but for me personally. It still is.

We did a relatively good job running our company, and that is the saddest part. Sure, our profit margins could be bigger, but we have been pragmatic and responsible for our growth. It didn’t seem reasonable that we had no options. But we didn’t. On Saturday, March 14, I went to Bank of America to apply “pro-actively” for a small business loan, you know, “just in case.” I was being responsible. By the time the application hit underwriting, we were closed. And closed businesses are not great payors. Neither are businesses who have never needed a loan. (Read: no credit history.) So we didn’t get it.

I followed the government SBA loans like a hawk. I prepared all my paperwork and got up at 1:00 am to apply for the first round of PPP money. Turns out, Bank of America only submitted applications on behalf of companies that already held debt with them. Oh, the irony. We didn’t have any bank debt.

Immediately, we had no choice but to switch all of our physical therapy and coaching services to virtual. As the pandemic swept the nation and New York City specifically, it became clear that we had to pivot to remain in business for a longer haul than we expected on that first Thursday. We had to sustain ourselves indefinitely.

For me, deciding to pursue furloughs for our staff was the hardest task I’ve faced to date. Knowing I was hurting the people I loved was excruciating. If I had known six years ago that I would someday have to do that, I would have seriously considered not starting our business.

Throughout this process, I’ve become a stronger leader. I’ve had to shoulder the burden in every decision, without clearly knowing if it was the right decision or not. I’ve had to decrease my transparency with our staff about finances because it started to erode morale. I’ve had to put on a cheery face when I’m internally stressed so that our team sees confidence. I’ve talked with staff individually to hear their concerns about their own personal crises and offered to be there for whatever they may need. I learned to preach hope, whether I had it or not.

The one concept we did not abandon during this struggle has been the idea of “team.” We work hard together, made the decision to close together, and are working together to get our business back on its feet. This is a “no man left behind” mindset, and I’m here for it.

The team of employees who remained dedicated over the eleven weeks of closure will forever remain on a pedestal to me. They will certainly go down in Custom Performance history as the team who kept the dream alive. They volunteered to give it their all. All for the success of the team. To me, that’s some unforgettable integrity and true dedication.

As we look towards the future of rebuilding our company on-site, we are sticking to our team mindset and I am maintaining my hopeful leadership position. We are all going back at reduced salaries and will work as a team to increase our revenues. We will all be responsible for cleaning protocols during the day. And I will be preaching hope from the rooftops all the while.

While closing and working remotely have been a challenge, more challenges lay ahead. Every day is a new challenge. Navigating the waters of re-opening in the center of a pandemic has been a tenuous, slow slog. We are facing setbacks and challenges that we have never faced, and we are operating in a landscape of our “new normal.”

As Custom Performance continues on our journey, we have to fight to stay open. We’ve had to use creativity in times of doubt. We’ve stretched and grown as a team. We’ve pushed ourselves more than ever before!

In looking back over the past six months, I recall one of the quotes that have comforted me during this time. On the phone with our investor, he said, “Wendy, you just have to give it your very best shot. You have to try your very best, and when you look back at this time, know that you gave it your all. That’s all you can do.”

And that’s all I have done, and all I will ever do. Here we go!

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