Where Business Innovation and Community Come Together

Even while signs of stress hang over the heart of my downtown, I am warmed by countless stories of perseverance, selflessness, ingenuity, and reciprocity of businesses and the community. This post highlights the story of one business that could have gone under. But thanks to the commitment and support of clients, it found a way to withstand the financial crisis and bring people closer together.

So many businesses have adapted to the crisis by incorporating innovative strategies, such as bolstering social media to connect virtually; incorporating technology to enable sales and service delivery on-line; or filling gaps by providing desperately needed products and services, such as food delivery and technology support. Regardless of the strategy, one element seems to transcend the success stories. Businesses that are adapting well seem to have forged a strong sense of community. Such businesses recognize that the very values that they uphold are what keep their customers engaged: a shared sense of purpose, a desire to connect, and the idea that “we are part of community”. This sense of community is central to their “why statement”: their very value proposition to customers and to the world.

I have personally encountered businesses in my own community that have sought to reinforce a shared sense of community, all the while innovating to adapt to circumstances. A theater company that serves youth moved its activities on-line, including coaching, dance lessons, and productions, while offering its services for free to those who cannot pay.  An eatery that is providing meals for critical health workers when it is not delivering fresh, healthy food to peoples’ doors. And a bike shop that loans bicycles to those who cannot afford transportation. Stories like this abound.

I would like to take a moment to highlight the gym that I am engaged with. Max Edge Fitness Training is a fitness and training studio, based in Hampton, NH, for people of all ages and abilities, whether one is training to compete on an Ironman Triathlon or has the goal of running in their first 5K. I recently interviewed Jay Collins, owner of Max Edge, to learn how he adapted to the crisis in a way that brought his community together. The following is a summary of our interview:

You have been doing a lot to engage the members of your gym these past few weeks. You even delivered exercise equipment to my home. Can you describe your experience over the past month?

Jay: This past month has been the hardest of my career. When we first learned that COVID-19 had hit the United States in early March, it seemed so far away. That was a Thursday. By Saturday, the news was all over the headlines. Weirdly, the gym was packed that day. But there was an ominous feeling in the air. By Monday, attendance had dwindled and I knew that we had a moral obligation to keep our members safe. After sitting down with my wife, who manages the business, and my step-son, who helps run the classes, we determined that we had to shut down. Immediately.

On Monday evening, we reached out to our members to break the news that they were shutting down the gym. We said, “if you stick with us—and maintain your membership—we will deliver equipment to your door. Plus, we will provide virtual workouts each day, offer one-one one consultation and coaching, and host virtual events for people to come together as a community.”

What was the response from your members?

Jay: I couldn’t believe the response. So many of our members stuck with us. Some have lost their jobs, so I told them “pay what you can, even if that means you can’t pay. You have supported us for a long time and now it is my turn. I am awed and heart-warmed by our members response”

What is the core value that drives you to stay connected with the members of Max Edge?

Jay: Max Edge is the anti-corporate gym and our members are like a big family. I know everyone’s children, we celebrate birthdays and weddings together, have welcomed babies into the world, mourned at funerals, and supported any who have faced daunting personal challenges. People know how supportive this community is. We always go above and beyond to give value to our members, and that value is the personal touch that we provide: the fact that we are a family business that is present at the gym every day, we give personal tips and provide coaching, we adjust workouts to meet the needs of individuals, and we celebrate the hard work and successes that we all together.

What are some of the things that you have done to foster this sense of community and family?

Jay: In addition to loaning equipment out, we post daily challenges for those who have ski trainers, erg machines, and wind-resistance cycles. We hold virtual workout sessions and that tends to motivate people and keep them connected. We even do virtual coaching to help keep people on track.  And we just started providing virtual workouts for kids several times per week. They love it! Oh, and we had a virtual happy hour with over two dozen members joining in the other day. It is important to celebrate and pull each other through this.

How has this experience impacted you and what is your take-away?

Jay: This experience reminds me that it is not all about business. It is about balancing passion for the job with the desire to connect with community. Ultimately, has pushed me to develop a suite of virtual services, which I have always wanted to do. But right now, this is about coming together around we all love supporting each other through this time.