Annenberg Radio

Innovation at the gym amid a pandemic

The turbulent journey of a small business owner to keep his gym alive during COVID-19

Amid the pain and distress over the last year, the pandemic may have been an impetus for invention. Maddie Gannon shares the turbulent journey of one los angeles business owner to keep his gym alive.

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About ten years ago, a cardiologist told Alan Sereboff he had two years to live.

“I was on death’s door. And when I say that, I am not being hyperbolic.”

Working as a screenwriter, Sereboff was 80 pounds heavier than he is now and caught in a loop of unhealthy habits. He wrote from ten in the morning to ten at night and ate hot pastrami at 4AM every day for 20 years.

“Finally, I walked into a CrossFit gym one day, CrossFit Hollywood. And long story short, it changed my life.”

From there, a weightlifting session became a daily ritual.

“It saved my life. I wouldn’t be here otherwise.”

Sereboff wanted to share the wealth. In 2015, he walked away from screenwriting and opened his own indoor gym called CrossFit Mindset.

That’s from the gym’s Facebook page and for five years, similar sounds poured out from CrossFit Mindset every day. Sereboff was living his dream of helping people live better and healthier lives through exercise. Then, in March 2020...

We all learned of COVID-19, and it began to spread. Sereboff immediately tried to implement every safety precaution he could.

“I was going to home depot, I was going wherever I could to try to scrounge up disinfectant that wasn’t just disinfectant, but virucides. And they were really hard to find.”

And, Sereboff did find some. But just a few weeks later, scientists concluded the virus could spread through droplets in the air. Applying virucides to workout machines was useless when gathering indoors at all was dangerous. So, Sereboff personally built pods out of PVC pipe and shower curtains for his members to work out in. Each one cost up to $200.

“Which may not sound expensive, but there were eight of them. When you’re a gym that’s losing members like leaves off a tree during fall, it becomes terrifying.”

With membership plummeting and rent still due, in late March, indoor gyms were banned, and Sereboff had to shut down completely.

Senior lecturer of entrepreneurship at USC, Albert Napoli, said the strict and often inconsistent nature of COVID-19 restrictions on local businesses heightened the economic toll of the pandemic. All business owners could do on their own, he said, is try to be resourceful and have a creative mind.

“It’s always been vital to an entrepreneur, but even more so during this pandemic.”

In late May, CrossFit Mindset was completely closed and losing members—fast. Then, during protests across the country following the killing of George Floyd, the owner of CrossFit made comments undermining the movement. Sereboff immediately disaffiliated from CrossFit and changed his gym’s name from CrossFit Mindset to Mindset Strength & Conditioning.

“From a moral and ethical standpoint, there is no choice.”

Then, in mid-summer, Sereboff tried to hold outdoor workouts in his gym’s parking lot.

“I was having a real crisis of conscience, charging full price and watching my members walking out in essentially a dirty parking lot. So enough is enough.”

He found a better outdoor space and moved his entire gym. A month and a half later, the owner of the land decided to put his own gym in the space. Sereboff was left scrambling in the midst of a pandemic—again.

“I look back at this like you start to feel like you’re running a ship that is in the middle of like a sea of icebergs. And if you don’t change its course appropriately, you’re going to hit an iceberg and you’re going to sink.”

After over half a year navigating that sea of icebergs, it all started to come together for Sereboff in late fall when he found an outdoor space on Sunset Blvd.

“We’ve always wanted a turf run to push the sleds on and they’re fenced in, so nothing is going to get taken. It was kind of a dream scenario.”

Now, sereboff is fully set up in his outdoor space, and is starting to hold workouts.

“People are hungry for this. They are hungry for any sense of normalcy.”

Sereboff declares mindset strength and conditioning fully an outdoor gym from this point forward. The rent per month is thousands of dollars less than it was at the indoor space. In fact, he says he wishes he would have set up like this from day one.

“I’ll make the statement, that this is the best place we’ve ever been.”

Sereboff’s journey has come full-circle. Just as a cardiologist’s warning was the catalyst for Sereboff to change his life, the pandemic was the propelling force to re-invent — and better — his business.