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Q&A: How Debbie Fung is adapting to a new normal.

The Co-founder of Yoga Tree Studios shares her strategy and advice.

In 2007, Debbie Fung co-founded Yoga Tree Studios with one studio in Thornhill and a vision to create a yoga community that was inclusive and accessible to all. Today, she’s built the business into an award-winning brand with five premiere locations across the GTA, offering 2000 classes a month. When COVID-19 forced doors to close, Debbie had to pivot at lightning speed to digitize her services and keep her community connected. 

 

What area of your business is getting your most energy and focus?

Yoga Tree social media channels, and pivoting to an online platform. 

 

What is the most important problem you are trying to solve?

How to weather this storm, and continue the momentum of growth we have achieved through these years to overcome the changes COVID-19 is forcing on businesses.  

 

What has been your most successful solution so far? 

Changing the way we communicate and connect with our community by expanding our programming online immediately once our doors closed on March 15, 2020. 

 

How have you been staying connected with your customers and employees?
Before COVID-19, our company had already leveraged the use of many softwares including Egnite, Homebase for employee/instructor schedule management, database management via Mindbody and other software’s to support our daily operations. 

But when city-wide quarantine order was put into effect, #Virtualislife!  

With customers, we are connecting daily via our social media platforms and have been offering free daily Instagram LIVE classes since March. This week, we’ve launched our LIVE virtual classes where our teachers now can see each student’s pose and suggest modifications and verbal adjustments. Yoga on Demand was also launched this week to offer students with HD quality classes that can be streamed on TV.

We are also staying connected with our team via virtual meetings, group chats and collaboration through Egnite.  

 

“Having a clear and realistic picture of where your business stands financially will help you make good decisions as you move forward.”

 

What financial resources are you tapping into?

Unfortunately, we had to place part of our operations staff in furlough in hopes that we can weather the storm and hire them back ASAP. Rent is the next challenge for many small businesses, with no income, it makes it extremely challenging to pay full rent without any streams of revenue coming in. This is the case for many facilities across the country. We are currently rallying together with other small business owners via savesmallbusiness.ca to plead for rent relief measures for small businesses. 

It’s going to take a while (even if the city allows the non-essential business to open) for our city to return to its normal state. This includes having enough cash flow to sustain several slow months with decreased customer foot traffic and sales post-COVID. We have applied for the $40K loans for eligible businesses that are federally backed but this doesn’t solve all the problems with cash flow.

We need to continue to focus on digital transformation and in contrast, it is not something that enterprises can implement as a temporary project. At Yoga Tree, COVID-19 has fast-tracked our digital transformation — but it is here to stay. We are rethinking our business model and our strategy and accommodating to work from home needs that most likely will be the new normal when this is all over.  

  

What has surprised you? 

When the first COVID-19 case was reported in Toronto on January 25, 2020, we immediately issued a notice to all students with all the safety measures our studio put into place, including hand sanitizing stations, updated cleaning protocol and the installation of medical-grade air purifiers in each studio room. I think we’ve been transparent in communicating with our members as things unfolded and feel that COVID-19 was something that didn’t appear overnight and surprised us. 

What surprised me was that we are more resilient and adaptable than I thought. We quickly found solutions to difficulties and adjusted our actions accordingly to make it work.  

 

How far ahead are you planning? 

Before COVID-19, we were ready to break the ground at our newest Yorkville location. Our focus has now changed since COVID-19 and we are now prioritizing digital transformation at Yoga Tree.  

 

What keeps you positive?

Our community online! There’s so much love, support and gratitude with this community and each individual is trying to uplift each other by leaving positive affirmations after our live classes and by taking care of their mental and physical wellness. 

 

What message do you want to share with entrepreneurs right now?

Take the time to fully understand your current position.

Having a clear and realistic picture of where your business stands financially will help you make good decisions as you move forward. With everything that’s happening right now, we will be at an all-time low and might overborrow from institutions. Knowing how much you need to cover current expenses is a great start, but also don’t over-forecast on loans and sink yourself deeper into unmanageable debt. 

Although government-backed loans are helpful, it requires you to take out at least 50% of the loan in the first six months and if it’s not managed properly, it will do more harm than good for a small business. 

 

 

 

Get more insights and advice directly from Debbie Fung by joining our WOI Virtual Event, What Now?: How Entrepreneur Debbie Fung Is Adapting to a New Normal. It's happening live on Wednesday, April 29 at 2pm, or you can find the recording — plus more timely advice and resources — on our What Now? page, built for women entrepreneurs in partnership with BDC and Cisco.