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Monday, October 5, 2020

Meet, Discover & Support Project: Body in Atlanta

This October, Blavity is partnering with Google to put a spotlight on Black-owned businesses and show how customers can support them with the #InTheBlack campaign. This week, our #InTheBlack business feature is Claudia Fitzwater, owner of Project: Body, a boutique fitness studio that creates an inclusive, safe space for women to reach fitness goals, while remaining accessible and culturally sensitive. 

Project: Body is all about empowering Black and Brown women through fitness and exercise by incorporating versatile fitness disciplines to help them become their own #bodygoals. 

We talked to the fitness expert about the importance of creating a culturally conscious environment for women of all shapes and sizes, the support received from the community amid the COVID crisis and how her team pivoted to meet their customers’ needs virtually this year.

Tell us the story of how your business got started.

Fitzwater: I started teaching 10 years ago for different fitness studios in the city of Atlanta. I was also an avid visitor at different gyms and fitness studios. I started to think about a place that could welcome everyone and expose them to different disciplines that offer boutique private services in other parts of the city. I wanted to expose people to yoga, pilates barre and strength training and mix them up. I also wanted my friends and people in my community to come and work out instead of telling me “Black people don't do pilates” or “Black people do not do yoga” and things like that.

Project: Body is an independent fitness studio that welcomes all types of females and empowers them through fitness and physical exercise. Project: Body is a place where women are encouraged to love their bodies. We work hard to make our instruction culturally sensitive and respectful of women’s bodies. As a female and minority owner, I am aware that BIPOC [Black and Indigenous people of color] need to be represented and included in the fitness and wellness industry. That’s why my trainers are mostly Black and brown women. 

How has your city influenced you as an entrepreneur?

Fitzwater: I owe everything I have to Atlanta, it has really been a city that has welcomed me and given me excellent experiences. It is also a city with a lot of pain. I think the city has given me the confidence I need to pursue my dreams. I know a lot of Black people come to Atlanta for different opportunities. But I am also aware that despite the city being considered a mecca for Black people to thrive, it is a city with a lot of disparities, especially for Black communities. I think both sides give me fuel to continue with my journey and inspire me. 

How have you been able to connect with customers and drum up support for your business?

Fitzwater: One of the most valuable things from Google is how easy it is for my clients to leave reviews and share their experiences about our business, they provide feedback that is useful for people before they come to see us. Also, my Google business profile makes it easy for customers to search for our location, information about our services and policies, and updates or changes. My profile also allows me to feature our products and allows people to see and schedule classes.

Can you talk about the resiliency of your business and how you were able to successfully pivot despite the impact from COVID-19?  

Fitzwater: Before COVID-19, we were an independent boutique gym providing in-studio fitness classes at our brick and mortar location. We had between five and seven classes per day, seven days a week, with a rate occupancy of 14 - 16 clients per class. We closed our doors on March 11, due to a stay at home order and mandated closure of nonessential businesses. In May, we started offering outdoor classes in two different parks. We faced new challenges. There was a lack of appropriate equipment and our clients were really not interested in bringing their own or they just did not have access to any to bring. So we made an investment to purchase resistance kits for our outdoor classes. The response to this new feature has been really positive and has allowed us to replicate the in-studio experience outdoors.

The pandemic and temporary closure of our business had an impact in terms of sales, but also brought with it the opportunity to create a digital extension of our brick and mortar location. It also transformed the way we reach our customers by allowing us to offer our services to a broader community and motivated us to sell our branded equipment to make the in-studio experience right to the homes of our customers. It’s definitely not an easy time to be a Black-owned business. The way I see it, I could allow this reality to overwhelm me and stop me, or use it to explore new paths with my business. I know COVID-19 will hit Black-owned businesses harder, but I refuse to be a business that fails my customers. I will continue to strive as a business owner and citizen to support initiatives that help Black communities and give back. 

How has your business benefited from the surge in customers seeking ways to support Black-owned businesses?

Fitzwater: I would say that I am pleased to see that the current events and pandemic have really further exposed the disadvantages that small businesses and especially Black women faced in the US. But, these events have also helped our customers understand that the reality [of the situation for Black businesses is] access to capital and the path [that] Black and minority business owners go through is completely different. So, by putting our stories out there, by telling people that the entrepreneur path, of course, is not easy for everybody, but has more challenges for Black, minority and women-owned businesses is really important.

Make no mistake, we are Black but people don’t just support us because we are Black. Beyond being Black-owned, Black businesses provide quality and essential services, and despite all the issues we thrive. Yes, we have benefited from the supporting Black resurgence, but I also would like to see long-term policies, resources, and local support for our businesses.

Moving forward, how can customers best support your business by engaging with your Google Business profile? 

Fitzwater: Reviews and purchasing our products help. Also, posting about our business or adding their own pictures to reviews would be great. You can find out everything about our business by going to our Google business profile and now with stay and home orders lifted, you can see us in person in our studio on 1 Moreland Avenue SE Atlanta, GA 30316. 

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Black-owned businesses are vital and it’s important that we show support in every way possible. So whether you’re searching for restaurants, salons, bookstores, gyms, boutiques, or any other business near you, show your support by ordering takeout, writing a review, buying a gift card, or making a donation, all with a little help from Google. Want to know more about Project: Body, specifically? Visit their Google profile and show your support in helping businesses near you stay #InTheBlack." 

This editorial was brought to you in partnership with Google.



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