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Kiko Ezeonwuka_resilience-in-the-face-of-covid-how-we-saved-our-business

Resilience in the Face of Covid: How We Saved Our Business

My brother and I in Japan. We emigrated to the United States when we were 7 and 9 years old.

My mom was the typical Japanese woman. No more than 5 feet 2 inches and under 100 lbs. But she was scary as hell.

I was born in Tokyo, Japan. Before I had turned four, my mother died, and my father remarried shortly after. When I was seven years old, in 1992, my family emigrated to the suburbs of Chicago due to my father’s work. My father traveled a lot for work and my mom (I will refer to her as my mom since she is the only mom I remember) was a homemaker so we spent the most time with her. My brother, who is 18 months older, and I lived in constant fear because our mom was quick tempered, and physically and emotionally abusive.

Resilient and self-disciplined, I live life with a lot of risk. Since my birth mother died in her thirties, I always think “I’m next.”

The back of her hand often came out of nowhere, or a dish would fly toward me. I remember one night my punishment was to sit Seiza style (Japanese proper sitting) with my knees on the floor and my buttock on the top of my feet. My mother put a video camera in front of me so I wouldn’t shift from my position and left the house for hours. I also remember her constantly pulling my hair and I always had clumps of hair missing the next day.

2009: The last time I visited my parents in Japan. We were estranged for a decade between 2010-2020. My son helped me reconnect with them in December 2020.

My parents never talked about my birth mother. No one outside of the family knew that my mom was actually my stepmother. If it were never discussed at home, how could we bring it up to people outside of our family? I remember my brother and I being curious one night and we snuck into our parents’ room to look through our family album. There were many empty slots in the photo albums. There is a photo of me as a baby, with my dad, with my grandparents, then an empty photo insert.

It might seem like my mother was a terror, but she always had three meals on the table, and I have fond memories of helping her around the kitchen. Since becoming a mother myself, I can appreciate that she always had restaurant worthy, home cooked meals on the table. She was also the one who woke up every day at 3:30am to take me to figure skating practice. I was a competitive skater from the age of seven to 16. For nine long years, she took me to practice every morning before school and after school. I appreciate her for instilling that kind of discipline in me at such a young age. It gave me a strong work ethic that I have carried throughout my life.

My childhood has a lot to do with who I am today.  I know that a hug and “I love you” is all that a child needs to hear at the end of the day.

2013: Vacationing in Thailand. We rode elephants in Chiang Mai and my elephant happened to be pregnant. I ended up pregnant with my first child on this trip and elephants have had a very special meaning for us since.

Jemand, my then boyfriend and now husband, and I met at Rutgers University in 2004. It was also the year I ceased contact with my parents due to personal differences.  I was 19, working at an accounting firm, but soon became interested in Massage Therapy. I became a certified massage therapist and did that for nearly ten years until my second child was born.

Jemand had been working as a personal trainer for a couple years and I encouraged him to branch out and do his own thing! Unbeknownst to him, I paid $5,000 (which was a lot of money for a 24-year-old at the time!) and hired a well-known mentor in the fitness industry to guide us in starting our own business.

Success came quickly.  By 2011, we opened our first Eze Fitness location in Neptune City, NJ. A year later, we opened our second Eze Fit location in Brick, NJ. In 2019, we partnered with another coach to open our third EZE Fit location in Howell, NJ.

Kiko Ezeonwuka_resilience-in-the-face-of-covid-how-we-saved-our-business
The team at EZE Fitness!

Although I was always a part of the business, in the early years, it was more in an emotional way.  I was and will always be Jemand’ s biggest cheerleader and supporter. When our second child was born in 2017, it made sense for our family for me to quit the spa as a massage therapist and focus on the family business full-time.

On March 16, 2020, our gyms were shut down due to COVID-19.

We have three children–our son, Kai and daughters Aya and Umi. Jemand and I have lived in ten different apartments between the years 2004 to 2018. It’s been a wide range from basement apartments, studios, rat-infested apartments, one bedroom, to luxury apartments. We are proud of each one because it reflects our accomplishments and growth together. Our last apartment was a two bedroom we shared with our first two kids, and our 90 lbs dog Winterfell, until we were finally able to afford our first home in 2018.

Kiko Ezeonwuka_resilience-in-the-face-of-covid-how-we-saved-our-business
My three children. Kai (6), Aya (3), and Umi (1). Growing up in a household where my parents never showed affection, I strive to give my children the opposite everyday.

On March 16, 2020, our gyms were shut down due to COVID-19.

Our team at Eze Fit had been preparing for the possibility of a full shutdown for two weeks prior. We started adjusting our in-house group class experience by cutting the maximum class size and length in half.  This was our best-case scenario if still allowed to stay open. However, at the rate that the coronavirus was spreading throughout NJ, we knew that this would be short lived, and we would be forced to go fully remote.

We had over 100 membership freezes/cancellations in the first two days alone. I said to myself, “Wow, there goes two weeks of payroll right there.”

Kiko Ezeonwuka_resilience-in-the-face-of-covid-how-we-saved-our-business
With my husband hosting our annual Ezey Awards to celebrate the fitness accomplishments of our Eze Fit members.

When “the shutdown” happened, we were forced to go from an intimate and high-energy gym that thrived on hi-fives and hugs, to running classes via Zoom. Within the first few days of the shutdown, our Eze Fit team worked for days to get the online program launched. We filmed an entire library of workouts with the coaches and set up a workout app with On-the-Go workouts.

On social media, we were trying our best to stay positive about switching to an online program. Behind the scenes, I was a nervous wreck. We had over 100 membership freezes/cancellations in the first two days alone. I said to myself, “Wow, there goes two weeks of payroll right there.” But Jemand and I stayed calm and collected for our team.

We had been talking about launching a virtual program within Eze for nearly a year. The pandemic forced us to create an online program, as unpolished as it was in the beginning.

Kiko Ezeonwuka_resilience-in-the-face-of-covid-how-we-saved-our-business
With my Eze Fit Team hosting an outdoor charity event due to COVID.

The response we have received from our Eze members that made the transition online has been so rewarding. They have expressed their appreciation a hundred times over. We would have lost so many of our core and longtime members without Eze Fit Online. We have members working out with us virtually from all over the world. We also have new friends and family members of Eze members who have signed up.

As much as we have stayed positive with the shift we had to make, it is easy to feel overwhelmed and even somewhat sad to see what Eze Fit has become in the gym. One of our core values at Eze is the triple A. That means showing Attention, Affection, and Appreciation toward our members. We LOVE hugs, high fives, and the personal touch with our members when we train them. COVID has changed everything in the gym. We must rush members out so we can fog and disinfect in between classes, and members are apprehensive about getting in anyone’s personal space. It is disheartening to see at times.

There’s no greater feeling in the world than knowing you had a positive impact on someone. I believe that if you work solely for money, you will never truly feel satisfied. When I was a massage therapist for ten years, the connection I made with my clients and knowing that my work left them feeling better than when they came in was so fulfilling. This same feeling is what fuels our passion for Eze Fit.

There will always be challenges of owning a business, and you’re never fully unplugged from it. Knowing that what we created at Eze Fit is helping so many people gives me a higher sense of purpose. Live your life with passion, and the money will follow. Money is simply an exchange of energy.

The biggest challenge that came with COVID was constantly adjusting the course and implementing strategies to keep our gyms up and running. How do we keep our members virtually engaged so we can still retain them? What can we do differently? How do we motivate them? We never thought that our competitors would be home gym equipment, especially spin bikes. There was a big learning curve with navigating the online platform.

Kiko Ezeonwuka_resilience-in-the-face-of-covid-how-we-saved-our-business
Just me, myself, and I in my basement gym after completing an amazing live Zoom class via Eze Fit Online.

Our coaches learned how to run live Zoom classes within a few days of the gym shutdown in March 2020. We ran, and are still running, 40 hours of live virtual classes a week. By July 2020, we added a fourth location two doors down from our Neptune location.  It would be our virtual studio so we can still run our live virtual classes even when the gyms open back up.  A lot of our friends who are gym owners were amazed, “What? You’re opening another studio when business is down and might shutdown forever? An online studio? Why?”

Business was unpredictable, but it’s okay. Stay the course, adjust when necessary, and we will get through it together.

We did it because we knew we will be able to impact more lives with Eze Fit Online. We did it so there will be a place for members who couldn’t come back into the gyms for the foreseeable future.

There has not been a time in our business where we relied on our team to come together as much as this past year. I became a better listener and communicator for our team. I also learned to let some things go. Business was unpredictable, but it’s okay. Stay the course, adjust when necessary, and we will get through it together. My kids’ schedules and school were out of my control.  I had to let go of tasks that realistically couldn’t get done.

My #1 supporter will always be my husband. We are and have always been one unit. I did not grow up with strong family ties or a sense of belonging. Jemand has given me so much love in my life and with that, my heart has grown so I’m able to be the best mom and wife to our family. We support one another in our business decisions and respect each other’s opinions. I think it’s important for our team to see the respect we have for one another and our family.

My family. My safe place.

My kids are also my big inspirations. They fill my days with so much love and I’m constantly in awe of what they’re thinking. Recently, in December 2020, my son Kai helped me reconnect with my parents. He told me to stop fighting and call my dad. This was such a huge moment for me because we had not spoken in ten years. My parents were not present at our wedding and haven’t seen any of their grandchildren. I will forever be grateful for my kids to aid in this healing process.

I want to help as many people as possible with Eze Fit Online. I want to help women, especially moms, find themselves again. I resonate with them so that’s my superpower. I want women to feel fulfilled, to reconnect with their husbands.  Becoming a mother can leave you with a sense of identity loss. But with self-love and self-care, I believe that you can become powerful beyond measure. Eze Fit Online will help so many women around the world who do not feel comfortable or have time to go to a physical gym. They will feel empowered and accomplished!

In the face of adversity, you will know how powerful you can be. If COVID hadn’t happened, we would not have been forced to shift our business model and start a whole new online business. If something doesn’t scare the living hell out of you, then you’re not growing. There is a reason for everything that happens in your life. You can learn to be uncomfortable so that it pushes you to new limits.

The best advice I’ve ever received from another woman is “You will never get this time back with your children. The days are long, but the years are so short.” Also, “Never stop dating your husband.” Business, marriage, and motherhood is a constant juggling act, but I know that I am my best self when I have balance in my home life. I can choose to skip bedtime stories with my kids because I’m exhausted and I know I have to get back to work but spending precious time with them leaves me feeling so content. I know that hiring a babysitter is expensive but getting away from home and going on a date with my husband reconnects us. When I’m happy at home, it transfers to all areas of my life.

Visit EZE Fitness and discover more about their fitness programs

Visit EZE Fitness Online for a free one-week trial

For recipes and meal plans, click here

Instagram: @ezefitness

Facebook: Eze Fit Online-Train At Home

 

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