Andrea Lee- Clinic Founder & Osteopathic Manual Therapist
We have all experienced the many ups and downs that COVID-19 has brought us. It has deeply impacted our communities, our economy, our emotional and mental health, and even our relationships. As a small business owner, I am directly impacted in all of these areas in some form, and as hard as it is to stay positive, especially on days like today where new lockdown regulations are in effect but, I am determined to remain hopeful. However, I felt that it was important to share what I have experienced behind closed doors, not for sympathy, but for awareness of what small businesses like mine have been experiencing. As I look forward to another year of helping our clients achieve a better way of living, I am deeply committed to keeping my dream alive, and hope that increased awareness will help other businesses to do the same.
When I set out to create Natural Alignments, I did it with the intention of creating a full body health and wellness clinic that had a strong focus on collaborative practitioner treatments that allowed us to not only heal our patients, but also educate them. This has been a dream of mine for nearly 10 years, and when I finally opened Natural Alignments in September of 2020, I did so in the heart of Mississauga’s Courtney Park, a largely corporate/ industrial area.
I signed the lease for my dream location in January of 2020. When the stay at home order came into effect in March 2020, many of us assumed it would be in effect for 2-6 weeks. I felt hopeful that my business would survive this short period and I would be able to open as scheduled. As you well know, that didn’t happen. In April 2020, I was faced with the difficult decision to either break the agreement and forgo the large deposit that I had made when I signed the lease, or stay on track and begin construction. I chose to push on as I was determined to pursue my dream. Of course I had no idea at the time that we would still be here two years later, operating a full service wellness clinic in an empty corporate/industrial community.
As many businesses were working from home in the early days of 2020, we experienced countless delays pertaining to our building permits, as the city was operating on a skeleton staff. We then ran into delays when starting build out, as a lot of the construction crews were on a mandated lockdown and materials were on backorder. These perpetual delays, forced a push of our grand opening until September 2020. Although this wasn’t the grand opening that I had imagined, we had tremendous support from the Mayor of Mississauga, Breakfast TV and others, as we were set to open that week. Little did I know, we were on the brink of our longest lockdown yet, and once again I had to pivot to abide by these new regulations, opening with the fraction of the visitors we had hoped.
In the initial lockdowns I, as a Osteopathic Manual Therapist along with other specialties, was not allowed to work as we are not considered essential care providers. As well, we had to hold off on opening the doors of our brand new yoga studio. As the restrictions were lifted, we still had to operate at reduced capacity, again limiting the number of patients that we could see in a day. In the yoga studio, only 3 students could practice at one time in our 20 student capacity space. This prevented us from opening our yoga studio until late fall of 2021 when restrictions began to lift. This most recent lockdown has closed our yoga studio yet again.
Grants & Rent Support:
Many friends and colleagues have asked, “Why not apply for one of those government grants or rental subsidies?” Well, the unfortunate answer is that Natural Alignments is not eligible for ANY of the current government grants, loans or subsidies. We did not open our business in 2019, and because we were starting from zero, as all new businesses do, we cannot show a profit loss. As government support only considers this key factor, and are not willing to evaluate individual cases, we are not eligible for any aid.
After many strategy meetings with accountants, and despite countless appeals, we were left without financial support. Each appeal resulted in a new suggestion of who to reach out to for help. By the end I had emailed multiple departments at the CRA, our MP, MPP and the leader of the opposition with no avail. Repeatedly I was told that we were the case that “slipped through the cracks”. I even reached out to media outlets in the hopes that someone would hear my story and offer some suggestion I hadn’t already tried. I was forced to make a decision to continue contacting government officials, media, and fight for consideration or to focus on building the business. As the only owner/manager of our business I decided the best use of my energy was to focus on growing the business.
Thankfully, our landlord has been on our side. Even though we did not receive a rent break through 2020 or 2021, I was able to negotiate a later “opening date” which allowed us a small gap before having to pay rent into 2020. As well, I negotiated fixturing money into our lease agreement which set us up to have a bit of a financial buffer. However, the domino effect of this has prevented me from paying down the personal loans that I took to open the business andI had to take a series of new loans.
Impact on our Practice & Practitioners:
As I was dealing with these operational and financial issues, I was doing my best to put on a positive face for my team of talented and knowledgeable practitioners. I opened Natural Alignments with a strong team who eventually felt that they too needed to pivot and leave the clinic, as our large corporate complex was a “ghost town”. This was understandable as they were not seeing the volume of patients that we had all hoped for.
Once again, I pivoted. I built a new and even stronger team, working to make them feel welcomed and supported, only to face another lock down. This lock down prevented us from meeting, creating content, sharing ideas and methodologies and getting to know our clients in the corporate complex we set out to support. Despite my own marketing and sales background, I decided to reach out for help. After seeking professional marketing consultation from various professional agencies I was continually met with the same end-statement, “Considering the unprecedented time we are in, you are doing all you can. There is little more we could do to help you.” So where do I go from here? If multiple professional marketers are suggesting I keep doing what I'm doing and hang-tight, who do I reach out to for help? Our practitioners and our clinic still have bills to pay, so we can’t just hang-tight!
As hard as these days are, I do have to think of how far we have come. 2021 brought us vaccines, and more insight into how COVID works and who is at risk, and we have more knowledge than we did when we started in 2020. 2022 is proving to be hopeful as we have boosters, what appears to be shorter lockdowns, the intention for students to go back to school and office workers to go back to the office. These things give me hope.
I, along with the practitioners here at Natural Alignments have been so grateful for the dedication and commitment of our clients coming to us for treatment, reserving a spot in one of our yoga classes, and showing support for us on social media. Each appointment booked, each yoga mat occupied, and every little heart tapped on your phone screen keeps us moving forward. I know that good days are ahead, and I hope these hardships that I have shared allow you to see that behind every small business is someone who is fighting to keep their dream alive. We are all struggling in these difficult times and it is more important than ever to stay focused on what we’re thankful for. I am thankful to all of you who have supported me and my dream.
As always, we are here to support you in your wellness journey. I, along with all of us at Natural Alignments, look forward to seeing you in person or virtually to get you feeling your best.
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