We’ve all heard of the sad stories of small businesses going under during the past 18 months of this Covid-19 pandemic. A sector of Ontario’s small businesses that were hit hard by closures and safety measures were boutique fitness centers. These centers had to close their doors for months on end, and when the province started reopening, they were left behind due to distancing rules and lack of physical space. Independent fitness instructors and boutique studios were quickly forced online, most without adequate compensation. That’s when Haley Bowler-Cooke, Founder and CEO of Fit Portal and host of The Uplift Lifestyle Podcast, led her currently all-female team to create a space for fitness instructors and studios to streamline their online income.
Fit Portal is an online portal for boutique and independent fitness businesses to have their empty spots in classes filled up by fitness lovers at an incomparable market price. This portal was dreamt up by Bowler-Cooke when she was looking for a specific type of all-access pass to her favourite boutiques and couldn’t find one. Bowler-Cooke recalls, “I asked for a pass to my favourite fitness boutiques for Christmas and realized that I couldn’t get something that gave me access to everything I wanted”. The conception of Fit Portal was initially an online portal for in-person classes, where people in London and Toronto could see high-quality available classes near them and sign up at a low cost. The intent behind the platform was to entice fitness enthusiasts to support small and independent businesses without having to commit to the full price of monthly or yearly classes. Its initial purpose was to fill empty spaces in classes that would otherwise be losing out on the income. These classes were offered by the fitness providers at a discounted rate, as financial accessibility to everyday fitness, small business elevation, and compensation for fitness providers were integral to the objective behind Fit Portal.
“Fit Portal is about mutual benefit and a shared economy business model that’s all about supporting small businesses. We don’t charge the boutique studios or independent instructors a membership fee, they just get to utilize the platform for their content and make money doing it” – Haley Bowler-Cooke, Founder & CEO of Fit Portal
Initially gearing up to launch in early 2020, Fit Portal recognized the need to reimagine their business model to suit our instantly digital and socialization-free world. Out of the over 30 vendors that Fit Portal had in the pipeline to work with, over 50% of them had closed during the first and second wave of Covid-19 in Ontario. “All of these professional fitness instructors who lost their jobs were now teaching on Instagram or Zoom and not getting adequately paid, and that’s when we decided to shift into the online space” Bowler-Cooke states.
Fit Portal is internationally accessible and is set to become a staple for avid fitness enthusiasts to find their favourite quality fitness classes at a reasonable cost all while supporting the small businesses that need it the most. With added growth impact from business advisor Brennon D’Souza, CEO and Founder of DIBZ, FitPortal has built a sturdy foundation to succeed. Bowler-Cooke holds a vision for Fit Portal that includes scalability and accessibility, as well as continuing to grow her currently all-female workforce. The ethics and soul behind the company will drive it to success, and its malleability before, during, and after the pandemic will keep Fit Portal at the forefront of boutique fitness access for everyone.
Fitness instructors and boutiques can now upload new classes to Fit Portal whenever they like, share live on-demand or pre-recorded classes, and participate in the world of digital and remote income generation with ease.