“I was teetering on the edge but wasn’t ready to fail. What we’re doing here is too important; we’re helping to keep people sane, giving them an outlet, and helping them take care of their health.”

This is how Matt Spencer, owner of CrossFit Orillia, located at 7 Progress Drive, described his situation when faced with having to close his facility during the Covid-19 lockdown periods. With such drastic restrictions, Spencer realized that he would need to turn around and think about his business in a whole different way.

His business did not qualify for most of the government relief programs, but he eventually discovered an opportunity through his contacts with the Orillia Area Community Development Corp. (CDC). The CDC helped Spencer secure a loan from the federal government’s Regional Relief and Recovery Fund, which is designed to help businesses like Spencer’s – that had fallen through the cracks – cope with and recover from the pandemic.

“The help I got from the CDC was paramount. It came just in time and gave me a buffer. It allowed me to invest and push ahead instead of having to pull back.”

Spencer had purchased the CrossFit Orillia business in 2019 after being introduced to the sport at a CrossFit facility in Barrie. While operating his own marketing and video production business, Spencer trained with CrossFit, and began coaching as well. It was during his investigation into becoming a Level 3 certified trainer that he learned of the Orillia opportunity.

With his Level 3 trainer certification, something that less than 1% of all CrossFit trainers have attained, along with his business background, Spencer decided to go for it. He bought the business and was happy to see positive results soon after becoming the new owner of CrossFit Orillia.

Then Covid hit. Spencer was afraid he’d have to give up the facility, until he found assistance through the CDC.  What also helped Spencer was his personal commitment to the CrossFit brand – the company’s mission statement is to empower the community to be their best. Spencer was determined to keep offering the health and fitness benefits of his services – with or without a gym.

“As a business owner, it doesn’t matter what’s going on; you have to put on a brave face and lead,” said Spencer. “It’s not easy to do. My strategy was to stay one step ahead. I said to my team, ‘here’s what we’re going to do and it’s going to be amazing!’”

Spencer began scheduling live online workouts, offering digital memberships to the gym, and even set-up one-on-one training sessions in clients’ driveways. New activities, such as a 5-week digital push-up program, were offered to members.

“I think I would have found a way to keep things going,” said Spencer. “But getting the loan has made a huge difference and I’m so thankful that the CDC staff were able to sort through all the details and help make it happen.”

Not only was Spencer able to retain his facility, but he found an innovative way to support and build the business by embracing digital membership solutions. It has helped the business to actually grow by 28% in 2020 and allowed him to hire his first full-time staff member when the gym re-opened last fall.

Spencer was so successful in his response to the challenges he faced, that CrossFit Orillia received the “Overcoming Adversity” award from the Orillia District Chamber of Commerce at its 2020 business awards ceremony. The Chamber created the new award category in response to the challenges of Covid-19. 

“The theme of the past 12 months has been one of re-thinking what we do here and how,” said Spencer. “I’m extremely thankful to the dedication of the CrossFit community in Orillia, and now beyond, thanks to technology, and to the CDC for supporting us through these challenges. Health and fitness are needed more than ever now, and we’re committed to the cause.”

To learn more about CrossFit Orillia visit https://crossfitorillia.ca/ or call (249) 288-2646.