• Cass Lau

Through a Lockdown and Back Again: The Back Story of Moving to 251 Jalan Besar



ACF v3.0 was God’s gift to me this year.

You can stop reading here if you think “here’s another one of her Godly stories again.” But the entire journey since we got wind that there was a unit that fit all our criteria was available up until the 19th of June (when we were allowed to ACTUALLY PROPERLY OPEN) was unlike any other. And I do wish to immortalize it in cyberspace.


I’ll attempt to bring you through the timeline without too many yawns and thoughts of “when is she going to get through this” as best possible. No promises though.

I can’t find a better way to start this so here goes:

The quest to find the next location where we would move to started a year ago in June 2019.

We LOVED our current location where we had resided the longest, particularly for the amazing food finds and the community that the location brought in. But the ACTUAL physical location left much to be desired. So we (“we” meaning the management team) simply asked a question:

“Did we want to stay here? If we did, we would have to redo the entire place... Would that be worth it?”

As time wore on, the answer became a resounding “NO” (though we really did like the neighbourhood).

We wanted to move ASAP.


But we had till March 2020 on our current lease... ample time to find a new location that would have to be: (1) accessible to our current community, i.e. around Jalan Besar, (2) MUCH BIGGER.


Many Misses

Never for the life of me would I have thought I’d be scouring the market for a business location. I mean, who would’ve? I did envision moving ACF to somewhere better, but the tiresome process of picking the perfect place had conveniently escaped this fantasy.


But the issues and gaping holes where we once were, plus the fact that I just really wanted to get out of the box as soon as I was done with work, made me think: I really need to make ACF a place I want to be proud of.


This began the search for ACF3.0.


Number #1: “The one beside a Weightlifting Gym”

(For lack of a better name and I also shall neglect to mention what that gym is called)


We visited a couple of locations, but eventually whittled it down to two that were the closest to our criteria.


First was a 3-unit shophouse that we stumbled across which used to be a massage parlour. It had ample bathrooms and the option of expansion into a second storey unit with a rooftop (that Lokies fantasied would be where we would hold throwdowns and barbecue parties).


This place was a little rudimentary, and required a whole lot of imagination and hacking of walls to put together, but we would be able to do it if we had to.

We were showed around by a jolly old agent. He was really pleasant and accommodating, but I suppose that would come with a salesperson personality and the potential of another deal cut.


The location was pretty big but these shophouses were inaccessible compared to our current location. The number of crossings needed to get there was complicated and the roads poorly planned out.


The only bonus?

A REALLY GOOD rental quote from the landlord. After all, it WAS pretty out of the way.


“This is Plan E.” I told CK, my headcoach.

Number #2: “The one with the roof”

Jackie (the resident handy-do-everything-guy on the management team) contacted us with the announcement:


I don’t know why we never saw this unit sooner!

Well, just two blocks off from 315 Jalan Besar was a two-storey pale green shophouse that was well-maintained, having been office to a light shop for a number of years before. The place had been left empty for a few years — clearly the landlords were in no hurry to get tenants, for reasons i’ll leave you to cook up.

We walked in to the first floor. The bare concrete floors ran from the shutters to the end of the room, highlighting the depth and height of the location. I reserved my comments, but my heart was literally POUNDING.


“Let’s take a look upstairs shall we?” the agent with a thick french accent asked. He had a drawl which seemed to doubt our ability to move into this place. He probably thought that a gym wouldn’t hold any weight (no pun intended) for a two-storey building such as this.


We headed up the stairs to see a beautiful roof that ran above us. I could not control my excitement any longer.


“I want this one.” I told CK.


Sometimes i’m really like a spoilt child who just declares things in the hopes that I would get my way. But I knew his thoughts were in line with mine. Jackie definitely was— his smile beamed brighter than ever. Lokies on the other hand was bouncing off the walls with his signature “YAAAASSSS” following closely behind him.


I looked over at Jackie and nodded imperceptibly. And into real estate agent mode he went, asking for specs, the price, and guiding the conversation along.

We talked about it immediately after the viewing. THIS WOULD 100% BE PLAN A.

[side story: we had considered and asked about just renting level one, given the budget that we were on, but i’m glad we made the call to have both floors!]


So we put in a bid. And we waited in anticipation for a positive reply.


I was scheduled for a family holiday to Paris in November.

As i sat on the plane, I drew out a plan of the ACFv3.0 i thought i’d like to see materialise. DECLARING that Plan A would happen:


While I was on a different time zone, I still waited for updates from the team.


None came.


After what seemed like forever, Jackie reported news from the agent that the landlord was hesitant to allow a gym to operate in a historical building. Even with the promise that we would get the building properly protected and insured, he didn’t budge.


Soon, it was radio silence on his part.

Back to Plan E

Despite our badgering, we realised that maybe we did not have the two-storey dream gym as an option anymore. But our lease was coming to an end and we had to make a decision FAST.


And so we landed back at the first place we looked at.

I started to convince myself of the potential of this new location. Well yes, there were issues with the location but we could make it work.

MAYBE we could knock down a few walls...

I could imagine an office right about here...

The registration counter could go here...


We brought the contractors in to look at the space for a quote, and I could hear the costs slowly creep up as we spoke, simply because of the hacking that had to be done.


Everything about that location felt wrong, but there were no other open doors available. So we proceeded with the plans.


I was doubtful, but also praying that Plan A would get back to us.


The End

By December, it was time to make a deposit for the new place. Jackie had sorted out the relevant finances and we signed a cheque to formalize our interest.

As with every end of year, I would have to go for a few events. This time, I was heading off to a short staycation with my girls while the paperwork was going on, and just as we arrive at the resort, a text from Jackie comes in:


“Hey guys, a semi-good news.

The Jln Besar shop house say to let us rent now.”

(that's Singlish for "they have agreed to taking us in as tenants")

My response: alamak (Malay – An exclamation word to express shock or surprise)


After this guy practically GHOSTED us, he turns around and says ok.

AND we had just submitted the deposit for Plan E!


“CAN WE WITHDRAW THE CHECK? OR CANCEL IT?” i ask.


Jackie does the necessary. We were lucky. The landlord had not yet processed the cheque.


Wow.

I quickly messaged Marv:


Putting the pieces together

With the administrative work well on the way, we had to quickly start on construction and getting in an architect to do up the plans, bearing in mind the structure of the facility, fire regulations, etc. etc.


We planned a timeline which would match the lease ending for our current location, and to tide through the long Chinese New Year holiday period.

We had to be prudent with the costs BUT I really just wanted to do it up nicely once and for all, and to have a place that I was proud to show off to my friends and family.


We talked to a couple of architects, and contractors, and eventually figured that we could do it without a designer, and just needed some construction direction. And what do you know? In comes my dad to the rescue!


Trained as an architect, he could advise us how we should structure the facility, the position and layout of the first and second floor, putting in things we never had before: a changing room, a massage/consultation space, front desk, merchandise area, and waiting area.

We also signed with Seng Joo Huat, a contractor where one of our members worked at. The fit was perfect. We had people who understood just what we wanted and needed to advise us accordingly and to ensure that we had the resources to built a space that was functional and beautiful.


Laying the Foundations

By February, we had to begin work on the building, otherwise risk paying double rent that would just eat into our cash.

TOILETS— would be the highlight of this new place, after receiving endless “opinions” on the state of the last one. Watch this video for Jackie's highlight of his favourite part in the box.


Whilst work began a little slowly with incomplete plans, we needed some kind of breathing space to plan as they built, and decide on the necessary material and paint that would go into the structure.


The leisurely pace also gave us room to wait for the delivery of our order from ROGUE and China which I’ll share later— faces challenges of its own.

This pace was also a result of a very Singaporean mentality of being “paiseh”. For us, a small company with 5 business owners, no one dared to make the call on what stone we should use for the changing rooms, or what finish we should use for the front desk. What color we should paint the walls... etc etc. (Or at least this was my perception and yes, I am guilty of this wishy-washyness)


I had my views, but I also doubted them, and simply needed validation from CK or my dad. That was another layer which made the decision-making process that much slower. I eventually learned that I had to just be ballsy and make the call, to trust in my own judgment.


Changes to the Team


*Warning: this MAY be slightly cryptic, but if you know, then you do. Documenting what happened here, but keeping the details fuzzy for confidentiality’s sake.*


As we prepared to move, it became evident that there were some changes that needed to be made in Management. While the instinctual response would be “hey let’s wait until we move and settle down before we address this issue”, I simply could not wait.


Yes I am inherently an impatient person, but beyond that, I needed change to happen and it needed to happen stat.

It is when the business is literally going through a major change that it is opportune for an overhaul. Stress levels are high, but if the dust settles (literally) after the move is done, issues will also settle and the glaring problems will soon be ignored... again.

We ultimately came to an arrangement that would be beneficial to the business and the parties in question, making sure that while the business could grow and continue to operate, our individual stakeholders were happy with the arrangement as well.


So yes, we headed into #CircuitBreaker (the fancy schmancy name that was christened for the lockdown period in SG) with a new team.

And I had to get used to a new level of dynamics with that change. After all, it was something I had asked for.


COVID-19 Delays


This damned virus

By February there was news of this strange virus that came from China and may be reminiscent of SARS. People who were found to have contracted this virus were forced to be under quarantine, some even hospitalised. Fatalities were also reported overseas.

It was unfortunately a situation where we hoped that ignorance would be bliss. But the numbers growing locally by March, with the news that our neighbouring countries were entering a lockdown scared the sh*t out of me.

We had literally just moved and paid our FIRST month of rental.

Renovation works were massive and we had taken a couple of loans to support the move. Expenses sky rocketed and the horizon showed that it may possibly not be offset by any potential revenue.


Members were already freezing their accounts with the news and recommendation that one should stay home to avoid and prevent the spread of the virus.


On the 27th of March (Friday), we did a workout on the bare floor of our old gym. I did not realise how much space that place really had. 😂


Some socially distanced photos:


We opened our doors on the 31st of March (a Tuesday), after closing some days for the move from 2.0.


Classes were held in smaller groups, and consistently booked out because people were excited to try the new space (i’d like to think).


That Friday, I went for lunch with a bunch of people from the #LunchCrew at Astons, waiting with bated breath for the announcement by PM Lee scheduled for 3PM that day.


I was still hopeful, thinking about the lineup of social media posts I had prepared and planned ahead to release, which would reveal upcoming programmes and events for the new space.


That’s was the 3rd of April, when the government announced plans for a nation-wide partial lockdown, what they would call a #CircuitBreaker, which was slated to start on the 7th of April.


Christina and Alyna rushed to the local supermarket, NTUC at an attempt for a grocery run. They later sent a photo of the snaking queue that extended into the mall. Thus began the pandemonium of instant noodle and toilet paper hoarders.


CK went into his rant of disbelief, which turned into a series of questions that I could not hear. My mind was ringing. What the hell do we do now?

That week, whilst we watched other boxes react to the news of the lockdown, I had to learn how to exercise self-control in my response. Our members were waiting for the next steps, and people were already putting their accounts on hold.

Kylie, the new addition to the management team reminded me that as much as the temptation to respond immediately would be there, we had the luxury of a day to meet up and discuss our next steps as a team. After all, making an unmeasured announcement would be hard to retract. And we simply had to trust that the members would trust us enough to come up with a viable solution for everyone.


I put up a holding reply to the members that we would let them know what was next for Actualize by Saturday.


“Why God? After all this promise, it had to come down to this?”


I was in disbelief. Fearful, but holding on to a sliver of hope that He always makes good His promises.


Equipment Rentals and ZoomFit

A flurry of events and plans ensued, with the single goal: Keep the community going.


We decided to launch ZoomFit, our online version of CrossFit. This would build upon a few of the online workouts that I had already put up in anticipation of a growing number of our members travelling and getting quarantined at home.


I was also somewhat thankful that people like Jasmin had self-quarantined a week earlier (out of social responsibility) and I was already writing an online programme for her, which was a good foundation to start off from.


ZoomFit would be a workout programme that could be done at home from equipment borrowed from our box. CK faced a new challenge of being creative with home-based workouts, and our coaches faced a new challenge of learning to spot over Zoom and became pros at verbal cues and toggling screen sharing for the WOD, timer and even music.


I was still worried. But we had to move forward, trusting that our team of coaches would #MakeItHappen, and this new management team would pull through.


Shipment delays

Another blimp to the move was caused by the massive delays and increased shipping rates from the States and China— basically where we would get our equipment from. We needed to move by the end of March to avoid paying another month of rent. And that would mean having to dismantle the existing rig and lay down our existing mats as an interim measure so we could proceed with classes without a hitch.


To operate at an undefined and uncertain timing because of the erratic shipment schedule was bad enough. We had to coordinate movers and applications to get our goods in, otherwise pay for storage time at a warehouse. (There was a "Time-Limited Exemption" that we had to apply for to have people at our location, even if it was for a day.)


As though this was not enough, cases originating from foreign worker dormitories sky-rocketed to epic proportions (in the Singapore context) and a massive lockdown was placed on the dormitories. That meant that our contractors could not come in to work, even if we applied for a permit.


Every day we would poke CK for updates to the shipping so that we could anticipate the amount of help we needed to carry the equipment without the contractors. The poor guy was stressed enough as it is planning daily workouts, coordinating the filming for movement videos and now he had to add another duty to his list.


Our equipment came at different times through the three months, with different people offering to come in (with a permit of course), and we saw ACF3.0 materialize before our eyes, albeit behind closed doors.


I still could not fully enjoy the space however, with so many other concerns weighing on my mind.


Leaving you at this...

I know the ending feels abrupt, but 101 things happened through April to June 2020. Campaigns, events, writing to the government for grants, a billion social media posts, all with the hope of engaging the community and keeping everyone together for when we would meet again.


We got so much done! And tbh (to be honest), all these events would have been impossible without the support of a community rallying behind us, and trusting us that we would be in it with them for the long haul. Without the people, this would have just been silly ideas thrown around with no follow up.



Here‘s a list:

  • Equipment Rental

  • CrossFit on Zoom, aka ZoomFit

  • Yoga on Zoom, aka ZoomGa

  • Sunday Open Workouts

  • BASEline — Online Fundamentals

  • Online Personal Training

  • ACF360 Challenge, Black vs Yellow

  • Nutrition Hangouts

  • Create your own HomeWOD challenge

  • Coaches Q&A Live

  • Spot the Flaw

  • Count the Reps

  • Apply for the Active Enabler Programme Grant

  • Media Interviews

  • Onsite Photoshoots

  • MURPH — with the coolest TikTok style video coordinated through Zoom

  • Filmed the BEST SAFETY MEASURES VIDEO

  • ... and a whole bunch of little things in between


Now you see why this post would not be enough to encompass the emotions, events and happenings through those 3 months. I'd need to write a whole book!


I did question God’s plan in this whole matter. COVID-19 was after all a global pandemic and not an isolated event on Actualize.


But the move, the season, and the changes that came out of #CircuitBreaker changed the community, the business, and has undoubtedly changed me. And I suppose I can boast of the fact that DAMN, WE MADE IT.


For now... Let me catch my breath.

I'm just thankful we got our act together before our doors opened on 19 June 2020.

©casslauu. Proudly created while sipping a good cuppa.