A Business Tries to Decide Whether Its Location Is Perfect, or a Disaster

December 11, 2011 by  
Filed under Yoga Articles

Peter Wynn Thompson for The New York Times

Tamara Quinn, left, and Beth Heller own Pulling Down the Moon in Chicago, which offers yoga classes to women undergoing fertility treatments. After flooding, they are considering relocating.

Pulling Down the Moon provides services like yoga classes, acupuncture, massage therapy and nutritional counseling to women undergoing fertility treatments. Based in Chicago, with satellite locations in Arlington Heights, Ill., and Rockville, Md., the nine-year-old company has grown to 35 employees with $1.3 million in annual revenue.

THE CHALLENGE To continue serving 200 patients after a July 24, 2010, deluge flooded its 1,850-square-foot offices and treatment rooms on the first floor of a repurposed Montgomery Ward warehouse along the Chicago River. The United States Department of Labor has estimated that 40 percent of businesses never reopen after experiencing a disaster. Of those that do, at least 25 percent close again within two years.

THE BACKGROUND In 2002, Tamara Quinn approached Beth Heller, a fellow yoga instructor, about starting a business. Ms. Heller was surprised; she had been thinking of starting the same kind of business: one offering yoga classes specifically for women going through fertility treatments. While not scientifically linked to higher pregnancy rates, yoga, the founders say, is known to decrease stress and help improve circulation and may therefore enhance fertility.

Ms. Quinn had gotten off the fast track as Midwest ad sales manager for Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia to devote more time to her twins, who had been conceived with the aid of fertility treatments. Ms. Heller, a nutrition researcher who had suffered a stillbirth at 38 weeks, was then undergoing fertility treatments. (She has since given birth to two children.)

The partners opened Pulling Down the Moon — named for a Buddhist meditation — in the Chicago suburb of Wilmette, designing their own six-week series of six 90-minute classes. “Lo and behold, if you build it, they will come,” Ms. Quinn said.

In 2004, the business made a symbiotic move. To make referrals from one of the nation’s largest fertility clinics as easy and convenient as pointing a finger, Ms. Heller and Ms. Quinn relocated their business down the hall from Fertility Centers of Illinois, settling in on the ground level of a landmark building on Chicago’s Riverwalk. The floor-to-ceiling windows framed passing boats and Riverwalk strollers.

A sublease with the fertility clinic at what they considered “really fair market value” seemed just as salubrious to the health of the business — until, that is, seven inches of rain swelled the Chicago River up over the walls of its engineered channel and throughout the clinic and Pulling Down the Moon, both located on the first floor.

When Ms. Quinn and Ms. Heller arrived early on a Saturday morning, ready to mop, they were not terribly alarmed. The water was only about an inch deep. “It wasn’t like on TV, where you see it six feet deep and things are floating,” Ms. Quinn said. “It was like, everything will be O.K. Let’s light some candles, get the aromatherapy going.”

But it was not O.K. The building’s drains and sewers backed up, adding to the inflow of river water. They were told it would take weeks, maybe months, of restoration work. This they knew: They had patients scheduled that day, and they owned a service business that tallied about 60 percent of its revenue from this now-unusable location.

That morning, Ms. Heller called the doctors at an upstairs OB-GYN practice to ask if she could relocate some of Pulling Down the Moon’s operations and classes there temporarily. The upstairs doctors agreed, and yoga classes were held after hours in the reception area, with the furniture pushed aside. Ms. Quinn, meanwhile, e-mailed everyone in her local Women Presidents’ Organization, asking: “Do you know of a space where we can live?”

The business was lucky in other respects. Only one computer was ruined by the flood, and no data was lost because the company had no on-site servers. Patient information and schedules had been saved on the Web by outside providers.

Seven days later, Pulling Down the Moon moved into loft space a half-mile away. Not only was the search for a short-term lease made easier by the recession-fueled glut of commercial real estate, the relocation was smoothed by an operations manual the women had written to make the business scalable — one already road-tested by the opening of the company’s satellite centers.

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