I’ve never been much of a whiner though my older brothers would argue that point. But this Covid-19 crisis has really got me feeling like I have a good reason to start. It kills me that “We’re all in this together” was such a brilliant marketing phrase, to bring us all in, but it is just wasn’t true for so many reasons. I’m not going to argue the validity of the pandemic. There are some people who believe that it’s all a hoax and there are other people who believe it’s the end-times. Most people are somewhere at the midpoint on that continuum. To be sure; it is a medical and societal concern, a human and economic concern. And sadly, has become a political concern. But all that considered, it is still a concern and it will be for years.
At Gymfinity we cleaned when we were closed and cleaned again before we opened. We developed stringent requirements that our staff would operate by. We closed when we were told to close and didn’t open until we were told we could. We stayed below the required percentages of people allowed on site and we enacted so many protocols that sometimes we felt that rather than a gymnastics program with safety procedures, we were more like a safety procedure company that had gymnastics as a side gig. But we did it, because, as we often tell the children, we’d rather suffer doing right, than prosper doing wrong.
I have always believed that how you do anything, is how you do everything. We stepped up and weathered the quarantine, and we made protocols to keep kids safe because that is what we do. We had our soft opening with limited hours so our high level kids could safely return without being at risk (not only to reduce exposure but after not doing gymnastics for nearly 3 months, skills have to return slowly or run the risk of injury or developing fears), other places came back to full right out of the gate.
There were rules that were established, and we are rule followers, but the rules changed. They changed with such velocity and frequency that we often couldn’t keep up. One day we have rules, the next day we would have none; by dinner that night we would have rules again. Our state supreme court, in a blatant political maneuver, eliminated the Safer at Home standards, and then Dane county reinstated them, but some counties did not reinstate them. In fact some friends who have businesses outside of Dane county literally laughed when I told them that I couldn’t open, that I have staff wearing masks and that I have spent thousands on cleaning and cleaning supplies so I could just open again. They laughed. The Wisconsin politicking made my business the butt of a joke.
So, my business is not on the same footing as others in my industry that happen to be outside my county. They were allowed to open and operate generating revenue to sustain themselves while my wife and I dug deeper into our savings account to purchase and install hands-free sinks in the bathrooms. Other places paid no heed to the restrictions and opened early or operated like it didn’t apply to them. None of it seemed funny to me at all.
Then there were the timelines. Some businesses were defined as “safer” or “more essential” and allowed to stay open. Some waited until Phase 1, some had to wait until Phase 2. Why is your ice cream parlor more “essential” than my children’s activity center? I take a kid’s temperature before they are allowed to enter the building, make them wash hands once inside, are you doing that before they get a tub of butter ripple? Why not? How is it that we are supposed to be “all in this together”?
We opened with a 25% capacity restriction. So, we were allowed to open and resume our expenses, but we are not allowed to make enough money to survive. When we were told that the county was considering extending Phase one, my wife and I were up nights worrying that we would not be able to resume classes and camps. How could we pay our staff, our mortgage, or our utilities? There is no loan to cover normal operational expenses when you are open. So, here we are, having to maintain numbers well under our break-even, and children’s activity centers are not high margin businesses.
Yes, maybe I am whining a bit. Maybe I am a little salty that other places seem to have had an easier go of it than we had, some skirted rules, some massaged the system to make it work for them, and some just had the benefit of location. But I would not reverse one decision we made because what we did, and are doing is right. While others may slide forward by luck or happenstance, you can catch us chillin’ up here on the high road.
And this is what we do.
And this is how we do it.
Some kids may not return to gymnastics programs because families may feel it is too much exposure, too much risk. Some kids will return. I want both of those families to know that Gymfinity took every step possible to make it safe. When all this is done, we will still be the ones who did it right, and others will still know it.