Local software company helping fitness classes go online

BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) A local software company is making it easier for small fitness businesses to make money as facilities are closed.

As the Charlotte-based company Punchpass saw coronavirus spreading quickly overseas in early March, founder Chris Patton moved to immediately integrate Zoom into his in-person and online class management software.

The new technology gives businesses an opportunity to offer strictly online fitness classes. Punchpass helps 1,100 clients in 50 countries put their schedule online, sell and take payment for classes, and manage reservations.

"A yoga studio that may offer yoga or meditation, these business owners feel like they've got a role to play, and this lets them reach their clients and play that role," said Patton.

Patton says the video chat service is a supplemental tool to reach students wherever they are in the world.

"We hear that story from a number of studios that they're reconnecting with former students who moved away, who for one reason or another, they love the instructor, they love the owner, they love the vibe of the studio, but their job took them to California. Now, it's easy for them to take classes at that studio," said Patton.

Punchpass automatically creates Zoom meetings on behalf of businesses, so students receive an invitation about 20 minutes before class. For the instructor, it's as simple as setting up a well-lit space and turning on the webcam.

Hot Yoga Burlington has been using Punchpass for years and was one of the first to jump on board.

"Not only did I need it, but I can't work without it," said Bill O'Connor, the studio's owner.

Forced to close his facility, O'Connor immediately moved to online classes. The result, he says, was a boom in business.

"When we sent out the email we were doing this, I got this great response from people from all over the country that came to classes when they were here in town, and now they're enjoying the classes again," said O'Connor.

As clients from the University of Vermont who'd been coming for years headed home, the company's reach expanded coast to coast -- with customers in California, the Caribbean, and the United Kingdom. O'Connor says because the online world offers so many yoga classes, he turned to long-time students familiar with their format to help make the transition. He created a monthly subscription model. The unlimited content is all free and available on his website, but he requests a $25 monthly donation.

While O'Connor says he doubts this model solely could support the business long-term, it's propping them up during this time.

"We're able to pay the rent and the teachers are all getting paid, as well," he said.

O'Connor says he anticipates more fitness businesses will turn to online classes, and it's a trend that will likely change his business and the entire industry forever. For now, he says the software is a valuable resource for studios struggling to survive.