Mt. Airy fitness trainer found way to adjust to pandemic reality

by Len Lear
Posted 3/26/21

How does a once-thriving Mt. Airy fitness training business that had contracts with several area nursing homes and senior citizen centers in addition to numerous at-home personal training clients manage to survive when the pandemic eliminated almost all of its business?

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Mt. Airy fitness trainer found way to adjust to pandemic reality

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How does a once-thriving Mt. Airy fitness training business that had contracts with several area nursing homes and senior citizen centers in addition to numerous at-home personal training clients manage to survive when the pandemic eliminated almost all of its business?

“I had to take a long, hard look at my business model and figure out how to re-invent it and make it work during a time when I no longer had customers willing to attend large indoor or outdoor exercise groups,” replied Yvonne Ferguson-Hardin, 56, a West Mt. Airy resident who owns and operates Fergie's Instructional Training (FIT) at 47 High St. in Germantown.

“One year after the heavy hammer of the pandemic and all the restrictions related to it, my business continues to re-evolve and put the pieces back together again. My ‘Efficacy in Aging' Health Programs continue to exist but on a smaller scale and in a different mode.”

Ferguson-Hardin is conducting virtual classes through a hybrid model of in-person, in-studio participants while also catering to participants on Zoom. “The orders to shut down fitness centers and  to ‘remain at home’ had brought my formerly bustling, growing business to a grinding halt,” she said last week. “The strategy I put in place was to first teach free classes on  media (Facebook) to keep my business visible and to help those people now at home to stay motivated to continue moving and stay out of the kitchen.”

The British-born (Jamaican heritage) Mt. Airy resident moved to the U.S, in 1987 and quickly discovered that the typical high-calorie, high-fat American diet caused her to gain weight, so she joined a Bally's Fitness Center and enjoyed the workouts so much that she eventually became an aerobics instructor herself.

She taught classes at The Bodyshop in Horsham, The Sporting Club in Center City and Riverside Aquatic Club on the Main Line. She also enrolled at Temple University, where she earned degrees in therapeutic recreation and physical education/health sciences. She also married and had three daughters. After being a supervisor at wellness facilities and long-term care homes for several years, she opened Fergie's Instructional Training in 2009.

Before the pandemic, Ferguson-Hardin became well know and respected for “The Efficacy of Aging,” a series of classes specifically designed for senior citizens in Northwest Philadelphia. Just before the pandemic started, West Mt. Airy resident Ruth Joray told us, “Yvonne is a positive, affirmative inspiration who has made a difference in my life … She brings out physical ability and endurance I had thought were long gone.”

During the pandemic, according to Ferguson-Hardin, “I have stayed in touch with about 50% of our clients and purchased and delivered special equipment for them to use in virtual classes. Making follow-up calls, developing new marketing strategies and paying for new advertising while applying for relief through grants and delaying bills and trying to stay sane has been a real challenge. 

“Pre-pandemic, I would have hired staff for my new studio that opened on Jan. 4, 2020, and I would have been offering more in-person programing and special workshops … Dedicated class participants are returning (slowly) to in-person classes, and I have new participants whom I have only met on Zoom. Plans to open a larger studio later in 2021 to add more space for social distancing and to have special programs for mental health improvement and help people to return to a functional fitness level again are anticipated.”

When asked what was the hardest thing she has ever done, Ferguson-Hardin said, “It was to completely break away from working for others and transition to working on my own business 100%. I have never regretted it, even through there have been struggles.”

The Mt. Airy fitness expert wanted to take this opportunity to publicly acknowledge and thank “my bootcamp participants who helped me to pay the rent at my new studio when business was down. They reinforced my need to continue, and with their generous support, they made it possible. They are Donna Biddle, Mary Santarelli, Barbara Keck, Gina Donato, Robin Vadel,  Jack Law and Sharon Benjamin.”

For more information: transformurlifetoday.com or facebook.com/transformurlifetoday. Len Lear can be reached at lenlear@chestnuthilllocal.com

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