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New business owners prevail in pandemic era

By John Seelmeyer

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Nicole Shutt had created a limited-liability company, leased space in a neighborhood shopping center at 6135 Lakeside Drive near Bartley Ranch and was prepared to realize her lifetime vision of opening her own fitness studio early this spring.

And then this virus starting going around.

But like several hundred other business owners who continued to move forward, Shutt managed to get the doors of Studio Sculpt open despite shelter-in-place orders and consumer wariness about the pandemic.

The City of Reno issued 234 new business licenses during April, May and June — the period covering the worst of the pandemic shutdown.  That’s about 30 percent of the 793 new business licenses issued during the same period a year earlier, but it still represents a lot of optimism among entrepreneurs during tough times.

A dance graduate of the University of Arizona and professional ballet dancer who is certified as a barre and Pilates instructor, Shutt had dreamed of opening her own studio during the nine years that she taught at other studios around Reno. Realization of her dreams took a couple of unexpected turns.

Nicole Shutt opened Studio Sculpt during the pandemic.

Faced with the stay-at-home orders of the state government in early April, Shutt began offering a free class on her Instagram page at 7 a.m. daily. Before long, the page had 3,000 followers.

“I think it laid the foundation for future success and acted as an incredible way to give back to my community during a challenging time,” she says.

At the same time, Shutt was reworking the financial projections for Studio Sculpt. Her business plan had been built around revenues from 12-person classes, but pandemic restrictions limit class sizes to 10.  That may not seem like much, but with drop-in rates beginning at $22 — annual memberships also are available — a difference of two students per class amounts to more than $40.  Multiply that by seven classes a day, five days a week, and the potentially lost revenue becomes significant.

Virtual classes offered on a new Instagram channel help take up some of the slack and allow Studio Sculpt to reach a far larger pool of potential students worldwide.

Health-department regulations, meanwhile, required Shutt to re-think how the studio would use its space. Instructors now place individual stations before class to ensure that students always have six feet of individual space and don’t share equipment.

So far, it’s working. Studio Sculpt reached several of its six-month goals within three weeks.

In fact, Shutt thinks the pandemic shutdown may have played a surprising part in the fitness boutique’s fast start.

“After several weeks of sheltering in place, clients were desperate for a safe space, a sense of community and mindful movement,” she says. “Many clients learned that their mental health directly correlates with their ability to move.”

Read more news about COVID-19 in Reno

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