Tribute Boxing still in the ring after two tough years
Tribute Boxing opened its first gym in Abbotsford in 2016 before it realised the lucrative possibilities of Docklands’ office workers a year later. The corporate lifestyle, with its long hours spent sitting at a desk, presented an obvious need waiting to be met.
“One thing that boxing gives, in my opinion, more than general activity is stress release more than anything else,” CEO Mikaela Welti said.
“There’s something therapeutic about hitting pads and hitting a big boxing bag that can really wash away stress and relax the body.”
Ms Welti and her team found a dream location at the bottom of Collins Square, which buzzed with the potential of 40,000 workers in the immediate vicinity.
In those early years, Tribute Boxing had normal waitlists of five to 10 for its prime-time classes, which already fit 30 to 42 people. It seemed to be doing something right to attract so many clients to a sport with an intimidating reputation.
“It’s been explained to me a couple of times this way: you come to Tribute Boxing to learn how to box, but you stay for the community and the people,” Ms Welti said of their client feedback.
A large part of that community quickly crumbled as work from home orders rolled out in March 2020 as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. From those uncertain times, and even since restrictions eased most recently in November last year, only around 2000 workers have been passing through Collins Square’s doors each day.
“The reduction of people was just astronomical,” Ms Welti said.
The various stages of lockdowns were undeniably a grind for staff. First, they moved classes online.
Then, as rules changed, they moved them outside on pitch black winter nights, before eventually bringing them back inside the building with density limits. Across all the waves of COVID, Tribute Boxing was closed for a total of 365 days during 2020 and 2021.
Ms Welti and her colleagues had sleepless nights worrying that they might go the same way as many other gyms during the pandemic. Luckily, they had something unique up their sleeve: their trainers were employees, not contractors.
“It was something that we did hold as important for our employees and our coaches, giving them that employment stability,” she said. “And it actually did help us over COVID because it meant that our trainers qualified for JobKeeper, which wasn’t the case for a lot of gyms.”
JobKeeper payments, small business grants and members who generously did not suspend their memberships kept the business running for nearly two years. The return to their gym has been gradual, with many memberships still suspended, but Ms Welti is hopeful the new financial year will bring a big movement back to the office.
“Now it’s time to put our heads down, bums up and show people why it’s great to come back to the office,” she said.
Ms Welti believes businesses could leverage partnerships with gyms like Tribute Boxing as strong incentives for workers to return to the office. The main hurdle, she said, was the psychological impact the pandemic had inflicted on people’s sense of certainty, attitudes to work, and social anxiety.
“You don’t know what’s going to happen next. It’s all kind of up in the air, so commitment to gyms is not as high as before,” she said.
We’ve got to get used to a new norm again unfortunately. I feel like we continually say that, but it’s so worth it, and we have to do our job and prove that.
Tribute Boxing has changed up a few things to support the return of the community that set its gym apart. It’s starting to focus more on mental health, with tailored education sessions, breathwork, mental toughness and team building challenges.
Ms Welti is a dietician, and other staff are trained counsellors, so they are using the skills of their staff in a more holistic way.
She said that the pandemic had a silver lining for Tribute Boxing because it “lit a fire cracker” under the business. It’s now working on an academy, retreats and corporate events, which she said it would not have done if not for COVID-19.
It’s also calling out to any Docklands residents interested in becoming part of its community to get in touch.
“There’s still a lot of work to be done getting the city back to what it was and memberships back to what they were. But it has definitely pushed us to diversify, and I think in the long term that’s really going to help us as a business.”
Tribute Boxing is located in Collins Sqaure, Docklands and is open Monday to Saturday.
For more information: tributeboxing.com.au/docklands.html