The sudden closure of a favourite hangout can often trigger a mix of emotions as we struggle to adjust our routines and begin the task of seeking a substitute. Depending on our level of commitment to a preferred business, the disappointment can be tantamount to trauma. Yet how many of us would actively battle against the odds and stop the closure of our chosen sanctuary?
Local Hawthorn gym, OrangeTheory (10 Oxley Rd), found out precisely how people felt about its potential loss when a humbling newsletter was circulated on 16 May 2023 notifying members of its inevitable closure. The notice blamed an all-too-familiar set of challenges, such as “the macro environment, cost of living, interest rates and economic pressures” as well as “lockdown”. The liquidation process began almost immediately and it looked as if rising economic hardship had claimed yet another victim.
The US-based OrangeTheory opened their Hawthorn branch in 2018. Their particular business model establishes a ‘community spirit’ amongst its members through social gatherings and a WhatsApp group. New co-owner Bec explained, “Our members all connect in a group chat to share information and encouragement about work-outs as well as social events, and this connection proved invaluable when the gym abruptly closed, because members were able to stay in contact with one another.” Former member turned co-owner, Mel added, “At first, we noticed on the WhatsApp chat, there was a collective grief that the gym, and therefore the established community, was lost. People were devastated. Then something quite magical started to happen.”
The community-building paid unexpected dividends when, unprompted, the members decided to try and ‘take back’ their gym from receivership. Mel stated, “Talk of loss started to turn to calls for action among members in the group chat. We had members who were accountants, lawyers, marketing managers, removalists, IT specialists and journalists all now offering their services for free to save their gym. In the start, people with accounting and law backgrounds poured over the books to assess the financial situation. Jeannie, who has legal expertise, helped us navigate the liquidation process and assess what was possible.”
Member’s enthusiasm proved vital in organising a way forward and to save the gym from bankruptcy. Financial help however was equally necessary. Bec stated, “40-50 members offered to pay their fees six-months in advance. Through their help, amazingly, the gym’s community managed to buy out the previous owner and stopped the liquidation.” Once their fortunes shifted, the work to reinstate the business began. Bec added, “Head coach Toby connected with former workmates at a removal company to salvage the gym equipment after it was warehoused during the liquidation process.” For now they will run as a pseudo “not for profit” operation, says Bec, “to keep the lights on and we will be fully reopening soon, thanks to our incredible community.”
Some members of the group had begun to see the community fostered at the gym as a lifeline. Erin, who lost her brother in a workplace accident, stated that being part of the group, “allowed me to heal”. She explained, “I was caring for his two babies and crippled with grief and anxiety when the local OrangeTheory opened its doors. After training every morning I could feel the support of the community established there. Learning of her struggle, the members even raised $5000 to support Erin’s brothers' children. An events manager by trade, Erin was one of the first members to volunteer her skills as a ‘thank you’ to the group who had supported her most.