What happens when a business founded to improve the lives of all who walk through it doors has those doors closed by a global pandemic? For La Niecia Vicknair, founder of the Los Angeles boutique gym Thrive Health Lab, the answer was simple: find a way to keep giving the community what it needs—even if it’s for free.
In a true case of meeting the people where they are, Vicknair and her team of 15 trainers are now streaming virtual workout classes through Instagram. And she’s relying mostly on donations and a loan from the Paycheck Protection Program to carry the business through.
Black Enterprise caught up with Vicknair to talk about how she’s continuing to serve the physical and mental wellness of her community, even through the stay-at-home order.
How did you end up starting a gym?
I went to Howard University and majored in interior design. Long story short I didn’t feel like I was living a fulfilling purpose. I had a strong desire to figure out a way to help my family, and those in my community, to do better—move, eat well, and basically become a better version of themselves. So in 2016, I became a personal trainer and later on that year actually ended up losing my father to morbid obesity. He had a heart attack. So I took my inheritance, and I opened up a gym. I just don’t want anybody else to have to lose their parents or family members.
Why was it important to you to open a boutique gym in a black neighborhood?
As we know, the African American community has a very high health disparity—case in point, everything that’s going on with COVID-19. The area that my gym is in, View Park-Windsor Hills, is typically known as a very affluent African American community. However, we don’t have resources that maybe the Westside has. We don’t have boutique fitness gyms, we don’t have juice bars, we don’t have salad bars. So for me it was really huge to bring something to where I grew up and where I currently live and not having to drive to other areas where the teacher was never a minority, which is fine but I feel like there are some things that they can’t relate to that we deal with as African Americans. For example I used to take a barre class and they were like oh you need to fix this and fix that and I’m like I actually am a trained dancer. That’s my body shape, that’s not my form. I have a big butt; it’s going to stick out.
Before the pandemic, was all of your revenue coming from memberships?
We have a couple of things. We have drop-in classes. We also do quarterly personal development workshops. Our last one was in January on vision boarding. Another way that our income comes in is virtual training. Not that many people do it, a lot of people enjoy the in-house training, but if somebody is on vacation they’ll do some virtual training with us. We also have PDF meal plans, I partner with a caterer who does meal prep. And we’ve done kid camps. So those are different ways that we bring revenue into the business, but the majority of our people that come to the gym are on a membership.
And since coronavirus, what has that pivot been like?
That pivot happened within five hours. We immediately took our entire class schedule, and we put it on an Instagram Live stream, just for free. For us, it was more about providing a service for our clients so that they can have a sense of normalcy and know that we’re there to support them during this time. We have about three classes a day, which can range from meditation and yoga, kick classes, barre classes. Right now we only ask people for donations, because some people are in a position where they can give and some people aren’t.
So it’s not generating revenues, but it’s still in line with your mission of empowering the community.
For me, it’s like how can we still be of service. And the best thing I could think of was, let me just get in everybody’s phone that everybody’s already on. It’s really important to be able to make that accessible for our community. I have had clients email and text and say thank you for today, I really didn’t want to work out. I think, in honesty, we’ve all had our hard days. When you become inactive, depression can easily creep up on you. When you exercise, it releases endorphins. You just feel better. We are passionate about getting results for our clients, whether that’s physically, mentally, or just creating a safe space for people to grow. And we really, really love what we do.