WHEN COVID HIT, THIS OWNER DIDN'T PANIC—SHE PIVOTEDAuthor: BARRE3
Ever since Mariel Pain opened barre3 Clarendon Hills in 2017, community has been the driving force behind the studio. “We’re a little town of 9,000 outside of Chicago,” explains owner Mariel Pain. “The whole town is characterized by warmth and welcome, and I wanted to share my passion for barre3 with it—to bring in a culture of good health.” With a background in school social work, Mariel’s approach to exercise aligned perfectly with the barre3 philosophy. “We’re trying to inspire, uplift, and strengthen people,” she explains. “It matters more how exercise makes you feel than how it makes you look.”
Mariel quickly built a strong and supportive community in her studio, and everything was going along swimmingly—until COVID-19 brought the world to a screeching halt in March.
Mariel closed her studio on March 15th, not knowing when she’d be able to reopen or what she’d do in the meantime. Such uncertainty can—understandably—send business owners into a panic spiral, but Mariel kept her calm and did what she does best. “I chose to write a letter to my studio community,” she says. “I simply asked them to stay with me.”
Mariel and her team quickly pivoted, first teaching classes from their homes via Instagram or the studio through Zoom. “We’d do two to three live and recorded classes per day,” says Mariel. “Our clients loved it. I think that early on in the pandemic, people lost their routine, and they missed it. They thought, ‘I’m not feeling good right now,’ and they chose to bring things into their lives that would make them feel better, from the inside out—like barre3.”
But she didn’t stop there. When the weather warmed up, Mariel reached out to the park district to reserve a pavilion where she had done pop-up classes before opening her studio. Starting Memorial Day, she and her team taught a full schedule of outdoor classes—a move that allowed her to not only maintain nearly all of her existing memberships, but to gain new ones, too. “Other people in the park started noticing us, walking their dogs or strolling their kids by our classes,” says Mariel. That accidental advertising, combined with a new offer of a week of free classes for new clients, provided a welcome boost to memberships.
Like any good leader, Mariel is reluctant to take all the credit. “My instructor team is absolutely phenomenal,” she says. “They’re willing to grow, open to change, and totally dedicated to barre3. I’m so blessed with this team.” She’s also drawn strength from other barre3 owners around the country. “I’m so inspired by the entire barre3 owner network,” she says. “They’ve been a source of strength and knowledge—a total wealth of goodness throughout all of this.”
So what will happen when the weather turns and the frigid Chicago winter rolls in? “We’re going to keep going outside as long as we can,” Mariel says. “And we just opened our studio doors to offer three indoor classes a day.” She’s also offering a Livestream-only membership for $49 per month, which will give clients options for how they prefer to practice barre3.
“This whole time, I’ve turned my focus towards positivity and light,” says Mariel. The few times she’s felt discouraged, emails from clients have come just in time to lift her up. “One client told me she’s been practicing more barre3 than ever. Another told me she’s been providing Hospice care for her mom and is a frontline worker, and she said she needs barre3 more than ever to take care of her spirit, but also for her physical strength. Barre3 means the world to them, and that’s my motivation. I don’t even feel that my job is a job—it’s a passion. I just make it work.”
Mariel sees her role as one piece of a much bigger picture. “Across the country and all over the world, barre3 teams are bringing the pure joy of movement to life in our studios, in outdoor spaces, and into the homes of our clients,” she says. “It’s my responsibility as instructor and owner to take good care of my movement community, recognizing that our barre3 classes are a powerful remedy for stress, and that every client brings a different story with him or her to their barre3 class experience each day. It is my mission to help clients connect with the way movement makes them feel, above and beyond how exercise makes them look. It is my passion to encourage people to feel balanced in body and empowered from within. I’m grateful for the opportunity to grow my studio stronger during the hard times and to watch it thrive in the good times. What an amazing journey this has been so far.”