NOT MUCH STOPS Lake Forest’s Rebecca Asfour in her tracks. But ask this owner of The Dailey Method in Lake Forest and Vernon Hills to walk you through what the last six months have been like and it causes even her to stop and catch her breath.
“We knew something really bad was coming,” Asfour recalls of the news of the pandemic shutting down boutique fitness studios and small businesses like hers. “Our clients were getting nervous and our class attendance started to fall off.”
Then in mid-March, the governor deemed small businesses like The Dailey Method as non-essential and had to close.
“The day after I closed the studios and cancelled all of our classes, I taught my first class virtually on Facebook,” she says. “I could tell that people needed to move and connect in a safe way. For me, movement is my grounding, my medicine, my therapy—and I know this is true for my community, too. I needed to figure out how I could best serve them and do it quickly.”
What Asfour didn’t expect was a community that would rally around her. She had clients who were nervous to take in-person classes because of COVID-19 but they wanted to keep their memberships with the studio.
“The generosity and commitment to our studio is something I’ll never forget,” she says. “So many of our members kept their memberships going even when our doors were shut. This was incredibly motivating to me—in those really dark hours when giving up would have been much easier. But our teachers stepped up and agreed to teach from home. Our barre classes translated incredibly well online—no equipment needed. It took us about six days to figure out how we could use Zoom to teach, we created new class formats that were shorter and more focused, and soon we had a full schedule of barre and cycle classes online. The quality of our online classes was amazing and we had hundreds of people moving with us each day. In the early days of the pandemic, our online community truly helped each other stay connected, grounded, and sane.” Today, The Dailey Method continues to teach virtual classes and record them, giving members more than 400 saved classes they can take on demand.
As restrictions on fitness studios relaxed, Asfour enhanced her class offerings. “Now we have indoor in-person barre classes as well as cycle (50 percent of pre-COVID-19 class capacity is allowed) at each studio,” she explains. “There is a class available at almost any hour someone wants to workout with us.”
As Asfour began to regain her class momentum, the clamor to bring back the athleisure and loungewear apparel she sold at the studio reached a fever pitch.
“There’s always been this part of me that wanted to have a retail store,” she says. “Last year, we expanded our in-studio retail selection quite significantly. It was a natural extension for us to sell cute workout wear and cozy, athleisure items. We offer high-quality pieces at reasonable price points, and we carry smaller, niche brands as well as well-known ones like Spiritual Gangster and Beyond Yoga. I try on and test everything we sell and I can make recommendations on what will work for clients.”
Using the technical skills she honed as she took her fitness studio online, Asfour launched her online retail space, “Raleigh Bird.” “Raleigh” is the name of her 10-year-old daughter and “Asfour” means “bird” in Arabic. Just in time for the holidays, Raleigh Bird customers can buy online and pickup in the studio, ship to their house, or even select $5 local delivery, which means you can receive your purchases the very next day.
“Now having our retail online, we can serve our customers who are coming to the studios for class and the ones who are staying at home. Plus, with local delivery, we are able to offer a convenient experience. It gives people the ability to shop local but at Amazon speed.”
In spite of having to navigate a year filled with challenges including supervising e-learning for her two young children, and sharing home office space with her husband Charlie, Asfour has never wavered in her commitment to keeping her studios open.
“I channel the power of positivity,” she says, having just celebrated her fifth year of owning the Lake Forest studio. “I haven’t always done this, but in the last several years, I’ve found that if you approach a challenge by looking at the opportunities and possibilities around it, you can turn it around into something positive. I’ve always wanted to figure out how to teach online and have an online store and 2020 just told me it was now or never.”