Personal trainer Keena Lampkins added virtual options to her business plan at Four Friends Fitness long before the pandemic hit, but expanding those plans was also part of future plans. Then suddenly everything changed.
When the business was closed for a few months during the start of the pandemic, she had time to brainstorm on how she could move forward in what was then a startup three-year-old business at 8106 Old Kings Rd. Even though the concept of her personal training business is to operate in small groups of a maximum of four women at a time, even that didn’t help when everybody was at home.
It was an especially confusing time considering the entire job of a personal trainer is based on human interaction. That worked well for people trying to get in shape before COVID-19. But at a time when interacting could mean contracting the virus, personal trainers had to become more creative and entrepreneurial than ever before.
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“Adding virtual offerings was in my personal and business plans, but I thought I’d add that option three years later,” Lampkins said.
“It was the first time I had tried it, so there was a lot of trial and error. I tried various types of software that’s tailored to the fitness industry before I finally found something that I liked.”
I reached out to Lampkins because I knew that personal trainers were especially hit hard in the early stages of the pandemic. At a time when COVID-19 was wreaking havoc nationwide, and people were even less likely to go to their local gyms, a lot of personal trainers found themselves out of work.
Gyms are high-touch businesses and that played a huge role in many not being able to make it during the early days of COVID-19. About 22 percent of U.S. health clubs and studios have closed permanently since the pandemic began, according to the National Health Fitness Alliance. The organization reports that the U.S. fitness sector has lost $29.2 billion in sales in the last couple of years.
Needless to say, those facts were heavy on her mind, but Lampkins was highly motivated to succeed. Former and current clients played a huge role because they made it clear that they still needed help and they wanted to support her.
“I’ve never been a stranger to hard work, but at one point I was working more hours than ever in order to accommodate women who were suddenly balancing children and work from home,” she said. “Whereas my day would have been 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., suddenly I was starting at 5 a.m. and ending my last appointment at 8 p.m."
Lampkins said she’s used to reinventing herself. The Jacksonville native said she spent more than 20 years in the health and wellness industry, supporting women from all walks of life before she started her business.
Experiences in physical therapy motivated her to earn a degree in sports medicine from Jacksonville University, and she got a job at a local practice before she graduated. She discovered an appreciation for physical therapy when she was injured playing basketball in college. A tear in her ACL kept her off of the basketball court for eight months. When she was finally able to return she just didn’t feel like she could physically get back to where she needed to be able to play the sport.
“I was done with playing basketball my sophomore year, but being an athlete teaches you discipline and that’s helped me my entire life,” she said. “I’ve always led an active lifestyle and I enjoy helping women with their fitness goals."
Lampkins worked in physical therapy for 14 years before she took a leap of faith and started her personal fitness training business in 2017. She had started working part-time with just a few clients and kept adding clients through word of mouth.
The idea to start a business was actually planted when a friend asked her to work with a lady who was house-ridden. She realized how much she enjoys teaching exercises for functional strength, improved mobility and weight loss.
“I was amazed at how much of a difference we could achieve with basic exercises,” she said. “I didn’t know then that this was the sign I had been waiting for all my life…That’s how Four Friends Fitness was born.”
So when times got especially tough, Lampkins said she not only thought about new ways to market the business through social media and paid advertisements, but she also thought about how far she had come, which motivated her to succeed.
"When I first moved in here there were just mirrors on the wall and I didn't have much equipment. The floors were even tile, which is not recommended for a gym. I only had two second-hand treadmills, some hand-me-down weights, and a bike. I just knew I had to get started."
Cheryl Lynch, a business advisor at Cultivate Advisors in St. Augustine, has worked with Lampkins since the first year she started the company. The relationship began with her doing a financial analysis of her business and helping her with accounting needs.
“She’s tenacious and has survived hurdles prior to COVID-19,” she said. “So if anybody was going to survive COVID, it was going to be her.”
Lynch said one of the biggest reasons for her success is that she’s receptive to taking advice.
“She’s always trying to fine-tune and improve her business,” she said. “She really understands the importance of working on the business and not just in the business. She dedicates the time to focus on running the business and she’s open to pivoting when necessary. She’ll do whatever it takes to succeed.”
Lampkins is modest when it comes to her strengths. She says the biggest lesson she's learned from the pandemic is to not be afraid to seek help.
"Having the right staff and seeking help is everything," she said. "Hiring the right people can make you or break you, because you can’t do it alone."
Marcia Pledger is the Opinion and Engagement Editor for the Florida Times-Union. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.