Gaudet Fitness redefines it’s community with digital
Shelley Gaudet always envisioned Gaudet Fitness Solutions as more than just a fitness studio. She wanted to create a community hub for women to exhale the day, to feel motivated and motivate others, a space inspired by her own fitness journey.
And over the past four years, that what the Paris, Ontario-based fitness studio has become. But in March 2020, like nearly every business on main streets across the country, GFS felt the threat of COVID-19 bearing down. And Gaudet wasn’t sure what things would look like going forward.
“Half the reason (women) love going to this gym is because of the friendships that they made – and I really worked on that,” says the fitness trainer and nutrition coach. “And then COVID-19 hit and things were different.”
Or they seemed to be. Regulations meant shutting down the gym, the centrepiece of GFS. Gaudet says the community had been built around word-of-mouth so digital identity had never really been on her mind. But COVID-19 made it so digital seemed like the only way forward.
“(We had) a very active Facebook group where they talk to each other and give each other advice,” says Gaudet. But she knew she needed more, she needed virtual classes and a digital identity, some way to keep the momentum she’d built over the years. “Everything I did from the middle of March to June, I'd never really done before, never considered doing.”
She found herself hosting live video chat classes and recording videos for the women who frequented the studio to watch later. “I didn’t even know that you weren’t allowed to put regular Top 40 music in your workout videos,” says Gaudet.
In August, the County of Brant received a grant from Digital Main Street to launch a Digital Service Squad (DSS). Gaudet started working with her local BIA to tap into the program which combines grants and one-to-one support from the Province of Ontario and the Ontario BIA Association alongside partners like Google to help main street businesses strengthen their online capabilities and plan for the digital future.
“The Digital Main Street squad has been working on improving my website, making it more user-friendly and more accessible to people,” she says. “They’re also working on improving the look of my brand on social media and helping me build templates so my posts stand out.”
Gaudet says although the pandemic has changed the way the fitness world operates, the digital transformation has brought some unexpected benefits. “Am I having to work harder? Yes. Am I having to hustle more? Yes. Am I having to work to engage an audience that is primarily virtual? Absolutely. Is that easy? Absolutely not. But it's certainly doable,” says Gaudet. “And I feel like my skillset has increased so much in the past six to eight months.”
And not just her skillset, but her community. By going online, Gaudet has managed to grow that community she worked so hard to create beyond her main street fitness studio. Gaudet says she has a women tune-in for live classes from Vancouver and several from Waterford, a town 30-minutes south of Paris.
“I train a lady online who’s 71… we do personal training and she lives in Ottawa,” says Gaudet. “So for all it has affected my gym, there’s been a lot of positives.”
Written by Andrew Seale
Digital Main Street was created by the Toronto Association of Business Improvement Areas (TABIA) with direct support from the City of Toronto. DMS is also supported by a group of strategic business partners, including Google, Mastercard, Shopify, Microsoft, Facebook, Intuit QuickBooks, Square, Yellow Pages and Lightspeed.
A $42.5-million investment from FedDev Ontario brought together the Toronto Association of Business Improvement Areas, Communitech, Invest Ottawa and the Ontario Business Improvement Area Association to expand the Digital Main Street Platform in order to support more businesses going digital as a response to the impacts of COVID-19 in Southern Ontario.