In mid-March 2020, just before California mandated its initial coronavirus shutdown, Marnie Alton – founder of renowned LA fitness studio M/Body – knew something was very wrong. Her 60-minute, Barre-inspired Saturday class had just eight people when typically, there were 30, plus a waitlist.
Her instincts were right: The statewide shutdown came the next day. “I remember sitting at my kitchen table with my team, eating pizza, wondering, ‘What happens now?’ We were shell-shocked, but we knew immediately we had to connect with our community.”
Alton’s outreach to her clients via Instagram Live was meant to be a simple check-in. Instead, it became her first-ever online class. Said Alton, “The first one out of the gate had a couple hundred participants. Then a few days later, we did another Instagram class and 1,000 people came.” Very quickly, Alton knew she needed to monetize her efforts. She made the conscious decision to move her Instagram participation group over to her own site, and M/Body Online was born.
While online classes had long been in her sights, the pandemic pushed Alton to execute immediately to save her business, continue paying her people and, of course, serve her passionate clients. One “lifesaver,” according to Alton, was the PPP loan she secured through Torrey Pines Bank. “The experience of working with my banker during this stressful time was actually exceptional.”
But many other aspects of the transformation from in-person to online offerings were much harder. Alton and her team had to learn on the fly, and much of what they needed wasn’t available. “We had to figure out how to produce content, how to do lighting, and everything in LA was sold out. You couldn’t buy a microphone, you couldn’t buy a webcam. It was crazy.”
Alton recalls that social media was the only marketing tool she used to get the word out. It did help that several of her celebrity clients, including Drew Barrymore and Robin Wright, suggested that their social media followers check out her initial Instagram classes – a marketing boost most companies can only dream of.
Today M/Body Online is a thriving business, with more than 1,500 members paying a monthly fee that is well above the industry standard. The business offers more than 40 different pre-produced videos, plus livestreamed classes. “I knew we had something of value to offer our local loyalists,” said Alton. “But I couldn’t be more thrilled that we now have members taking our classes from all over the world.”