How Yuhui Chen kept SBM Fitness afloat during the pandemic
Editor’s note: This is a one in a series of posts looking at how local small businesses survived the pandemic.
In 2010, Yuhui Chen, founder and CEO of SBM Fitness, was a single mother with two children and a determination to provide them with the best life possible. She started her business as a female minority whose English skills were not native, but whose perseverance drove her to share with her community a passion she knew and loved.
Her children, Mia and Sean (pictured below), joined her in 2013, but it would be another three years of persistence and patience before the business started to flourish. In 2016, SBM grew its corporate wellness program, placing itself on a fast track to success.
A mere four years later, SBM was forced to close its doors when the coronavirus pandemic prompted a mandate requiring all non-essential business to cease in-person operations. Yuhui, her children, and their tight-knit team of trainers had to strategize to maintain client engagement and keep their business afloat.
Despite their faithfulness in knowing that they would open their doors again, they would not concede to remaining dormant until that eventual reopening. They invested time and effort into contacting local tech companies, pitching online fitness program offerings, and delivering virtual instruction. They confidently pursued this venture with conviction that their offerings as a fitness studio didn’t result in just a workout; access to good fitness education and routine affects mental health, sleep, long term internal health, susceptibility to disease, productivity, mood, and more.
For these reasons, it seemed clear that local companies would have an interest in their employees’ fitness regimens and overall health, particularly during a time in which anxiety-inducing and depression-exacerbating restrictions were brought on by the pandemic. Although grateful and fortunate to have a seemingly indestructible support system that included community and client relationships, the fear of another shutdown, a rise in rent, and having seen the failure of so many other small businesses plagued Yuhui with an unshakeable worry over the future of her own business and the SBM family.
Through this year’s challenges, Yuhui never considered giving up on her business. Although turbulent and stressful at times, she recalls the hardships of her journey as a business owner with an inspiring optimism, speaking to how much she values the benefits of perseverance, pivoting business models when called for, being humble, appreciating a simple lifestyle, and choosing to deliver a passionate, reliable, and thoughtfully crafted program to others. She was able to keep over 22 employees on her payroll system, 70% of them women.
When asked what the hardest and best parts of this year were for her, Yuhui shared the following sentiment:
“I’m sure I am speaking for many people in describing what has been the most difficult challenge for my family and me during this pandemic, and that has been the loss of the face-to-face connection. I think the best part of surviving this is knowing we are not alone. We as humans will never lose faith. Instead, we shall overcome.”
Photo of Yuhui Chen by Brianna Caldwell (c) 2021; photos of Yuhui’s children, courtesy of Yuhui