Retreat goers have suffered through the extended isolation and scarcity of retreats brought by the pandemic. Beyond just fitness, retreats are an opportunity to interact and connect with a community. Today’s guest, Alison Katschkowsky, is a fitness and health transformation coach at CU Fitness. Alison decided to expand her services to include retreats knowing the overwhelming benefits of the activity for her clients’ well-being as well as her own. She chats with host Catherine Kontos on the tremendous value in reconnecting with people and nature and why retreats are a great way to achieve that. Listen in and find out more about Alison’s future retreat plans and tips on how to start planning your own!
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Retreat Goers Seeking Retreats During The Pandemic With Alison Katschkowsky
We have Alison Katschkowsky with us from CU Fitness. She is an incredible retreat expert. She’s been doing it for several years now. We have her here to talk with us on the show.
Alison, when we found you, we said, “She has to be on the show.” Welcome.
Thank you. I appreciate the opportunity.
Tell me a bit about yourself and your business, how you got started. What made you make the switch also?
I’m a fitness entrepreneur. I started off on my own before we even had social media and any of this other stuff. I knew I wanted to work for myself. I’ve been in the health and fitness industry for pretty much all of my life. I grew up a competitive athlete so I always wanted to do something in this industry. When I made the decision to leave my job and start my business, I had always enjoyed doing events and getting people together.
As I progressed into my journey, I knew I wanted to add retreats. I was just waiting for the right time to do it. Several years ago, I decided to add retreats as a way to connect and a way for people to experience community and make connections because that’s when real change happens for us. It’s when we connect with other people. As human beings, we’re designed and created to be with other people.
As human beings, we’re designed and created to be with other people.
Was it an easy process to convert into the retreat world as an add-on to your business?
I’m so glad you asked me that because we can always get good ideas of what to add to our business or something new to try but we’re not exactly sure what it’s going to look like. The first couple of retreats that I did, I felt like I was figuring it out as I went along. They were very small and they were local. I did one event that was a fairly close drive for my people to get to. I kept it small because I wanted to feel into the experience. I knew what I was doing and the experience was what I had in my mind that I wanted it to be. It’s blossomed from there.
Did you start a few days with a small amount of group of people? How did you initially start? To help the people that are thinking about doing it.
The first retreat I ever did was a local event. It was one day. It was here in Raleigh, North Carolina where I live. I rented a beautiful room downtown that was full of windows all the way around. It was called the Glass Box. People can rent it for private parties and wedding functions. My vision was this was going to be a day to reset and recharge for people. It took me three months to put it together because I was constantly trying to research and figure out what kind of experience I wanted, who was this for, what types of things was I going to do, how did I want to price it. I had to feel it out as I went along.
My coach was instrumental in helping me get the marketing knots together. I understand all that being in business but when you’re doing something for the first time, there’s always a learning curve that goes with it. I wanted to keep it easy on myself by having a local event. The next event I did was a weekend at the beach. That was easy because I’m two hours from the coast. It was an easy sell to people to get in the car to drive versus buying a plane ticket.
The next event I did, I took a group down to the Florida Keys where I personally have been on vacation for the last several years. I wanted to go to an area that I knew and understood the culture. I knew people there that could help me get things done. It wasn’t like I was a brand-new participant visiting an area. I couldn’t imagine doing a retreat without having somebody’s eyes and ears on the ground to help guide. I have blossomed since then.
The way you did it is low anxiety in a sense where you did it first locally. A one-day thing. Feeling it out and trying to see, “Do I like this? How is it going to work? Let me do a bit of a beta program here and see how it’s going work.” I like how you didn’t international. You still went within your country and somewhere you were familiar with the area which made it a lot easier for you. You didn’t have to worry about all those logistics. That’s a smart way of doing it when you first start. You’ve done how many?
I have done fourteen retreats. Leading to my 15th one, I’m taking a group to the Turks and Caicos in the Caribbean.
How many days are you going for? A week this time?
It will be for five days.
What are you focusing on exactly? What is your goal for this retreat coming up?
What I have found in my learning process with doing retreats is that I love to have a theme that I work with. I allow myself plenty of time and space when I’m being inspired as to where I feel called to take people and then what is it that I want my people to walk away with? I want them to come home with this renewed sense of who they are.
For lack of a better way to say it, a blueprint and a plan that they can follow so they can simply, in their mind, go back to the experience and let them enjoy that experience again. What I find is when I stick to a certain theme or a feeling that I want my people to have, it allows me to tap into my creativity and create a unique experience where I can play off the environment and the culture a little bit and enjoy some activities that are unique to the area where we go so that my participants feel like they’re getting away from their day-to-day life. That’s why people go on retreat and immerse themselves in a different experience.
It sounds like you’ve got a great blueprint. How did you have to switch it around or adapt to the new situation that we’re in with the pandemic?
I’m so glad you asked me that because, in 2020, I had five retreats on my calendar that I had to scrap like everybody else. In the beginning, nobody knew what we were dealing with and how long it was going to last. What I did was I had to allow myself to get back into the space of when I first started. How can I make this a unique experience that’s different, innovative and creative?
What I came back to was I took a small group to the mountains which is a two-and-a-half-hour drive from me. We were able to keep it small so people had plenty of space and their own quarters. There wasn’t that close contact that people were concerned about. Being in the mountains, we were able to be outside. When it looked like we could start to travel and do things again, one of my retreats was in the Keys. The State of Florida has different rules and regulations than a lot of other places so I was able to downscale what I had planned.
There were a few people that elected not to come but I still was able to create the type of experience that I wanted with a smaller group. This 2021, I took another group back to the Keys and it was amazing. It was so off the charts and life-changing for the people that came. It became evident to me how hungry people are traveling to get together.
How did you change it up in your marketing? A lot of people are fearful to travel, to get sick, to be around other people. How were you able to convince people to get to travel again?
People are people. What we have to remember as business owners is our clients, prospects and customers are looking to take their cues from us. If we make them feel safe and secure, they’re going to feel safe and secure. We, first and foremost, have to be in 100% certainty that what we’re doing is 1) The right thing and 2) Is exactly what our people need. With what we’ve all been through, there is nothing more that people need than a private, sacred, safe space to disconnect from the chaos that we’ve all had to live with and bond ourselves again and connect to our purpose.
At the end of the day, if we don’t have our health and a positive, strong mindset that lends itself to growth, being home and being fearful all the time is not going to do that. What we have to understand as business owners and entrepreneurs is that if the ball falls in our court to be able to provide that experience for our customers and if we feel like we can do that then we should be able and should do that. That was my mindset all along with all this.
We live in a big world. There’s a lot to see and experience.
What protocols did you implement to create this field of safety-ness?
The properties that I chose, I was very careful to make sure that they were following safety and cleanliness guidelines. It’s not that I don’t believe they were doing it to start with but it became apparent to me that places are much more conscious about how they explain that to people than they ever used to be.
They have to.
What I found in my messaging was that I had to be very careful with how I explain what it is that we were going to do. Use the word social distance. Use the words, “You will have your own room and your own bath. We will be spread out and we will be outside.” All the things that the experts have advised us to do.
A few people push back and say, “I don’t think this is a good idea for me.” I was completely 100% in agreement with them if that’s what they felt was the best thing for them. I never found myself in a situation where I was making people feel like they had to do it. You get to a certain point and people feel like they’re ready or they’re not ready. We have to be open to what that looks like for people.
If you don’t, you’re going to lose your business at this time. Not only the retreat business but in any business. I have to agree with you and I say it to everyone, the retreats business type of travel will be the hottest in 2022. They need a connection with other people, a reason to figure out what’s happening, what did I experience and recharge.
Instead of being fearful for the rest of your life, learn from that experience and transform yourself into this new way of living that we are, and who knows for how long. I completely aligned with your message there. Is there anything that you do during your retreat that creates that transformation that everybody’s looking for?
I do a lot of interaction in groups. I usually try to stay in line with my theme. My theme for Key West was to transform your life with time for you. It was a five-day event. I wanted that to be very clear but I also wanted the point to be clear that what we were working on were strategies for people to be able to disconnect for themselves so that they could still practice that when they got home.
One of the things that we always do in the beginning is a group activity where we’re able to outline what we have come for. Why are we here? What’s our goal while we’re here? That helps me in the other activities to make sure that I customize the types of questions and things that we do to fit that for each person. What I have found is to give myself plenty of time to open time when I’m scheduling a retreat. The first couple of retreats that I did, I tried to pack too much in it.
That’s a mistake that a lot of newbies do.
Now, I don’t do that. I leave plenty of open time because if have someone show up on the first day and they’ve got, “I’m going through a divorce and I’m looking to find myself again. I’ve never paid attention to myself and I have a tough time saying yes to myself.” When I get home, I have to keep that in mind with what we do so that they feel like they’re having the experience that’s right for them.
Do you have any room for that retreat? Are there still openings?
Yeah, I do. Believe it or not, I have one room left for my Caribbean retreat. I’m taking a group back to Key West. I love going to Key West, that’s why I always do events there. I have a beautiful property in mind for that and I have five spots left. In 2022, I have 3 or 4 locations already scouted out. I just have to nail the dates down. I love doing retreats. Eventually, I want to be doing one every month.
You’ll be traveling a whole lot, I see. That’s in the plan.
I love to travel. We live in a big world. There’s a lot to see and experience. For people like you and I who were meant to be on this planet to create a great impact for people, the retreat experience is something that I know that I was just born to do.
It’s an incredible feeling for the facilitator as well. When I’ve hosted, I come out of it feeling almost guilty that I got so much out of it.
For people that go, you can have an idea in mind about what you’re looking for but you walk away with much more than what you thought you were going to get. As a facilitator and I know you get this too as a facilitator, that is where I am in my best face to serve, where I feel like I can be super creative and hold space for the people who were there and experience it with them. We walk away a changed person, too. It’s not just the people that come and go and experience with us. I walk away impacted by what my people are able to do.
Do you do it on your own? Do you have help during the retreat?
I’ve done it both ways. I’ve done it on my own and then the last couple of retreats I’ve done, the one in Key West, I had a colleague join me. I did most of the sessions and then she taught a couple in it that was a wonderful compliment to my theme. I have a colleague joining me in Turks and Caicos for the same thing. She’s going to teach a couple of sessions, too. Our theme is about raising your frequency. There’s not a better place to go than Turks and Caicos for that. She’s teaching a session that will complement what I do. It’s a win-win for everybody who wants to do that.
Where’s your dream destination?
I love it. I’ve always wanted to go. It’s at the top of my bucket list. Until they open their borders, I can’t even begin to think.
They’re very strict on their borders and closing up quickly. It might be a while.
There are other places. I’d like to go to Italy and the French Riviera. I’d like to do possibly St. Lucia, that’s another place in the Caribbean I’ve never been to. There are lots of places that I can choose but someday, I’m going to take a group to New Zealand.
Where can people find you? Where can they connect with you?
They can come over and join my free Facebook community. It’s called Living Your Ultimate Life Through Fitness and Self-Care. They’re welcome to send me a DM through Facebook if they want. I’m also on Instagram, @FitStyleGal is my name. People are more than welcome to send me a message and ask. I like to have an organic conversation. I still respond to all of my messages, none on my team does that. I feel very strongly about that.
Where can they find the retreats? Within the group?
I have a retreat website where they can see all of my trips that are coming up. It’s called CUFitnessRetreats.com.
Is there anything that you’d like to offer to the RetreatBoss community?
Yes. Anybody who would like to hop on a quick consultation call with me, I’m happy to offer that as a free gift to your audience. If people have questions about retreats or traveling, I’m happy to offer my time.
Thank you so much for coming and adding value to our show for our audience. That’s it. Follow Allison on her Facebook group community and also on Instagram, if you wish. Whatever is more convenient for you. I hope to meet you one day in person and create some magic. Thank you very much. Take care of yourself and have a fantastic retreat.
I will. I can’t wait. I’m so excited.
- CU Fitness
- Innovation Avenue: Fitness and Self Care Revolution
About Alison Katschkowsky
Alison is the owner of her own fitness studio (CU Fitness) and holds numerous certifications both in training and within the group fitness industry dabbles in athleisure clothing and style, she also enjoys writing for health and fitness publications. She feels a calling to help serve her clients through customized fitness and self-care programs to help coach and inspire them to achieve a higher level of health, fitness, and longevity. She also does a lot of online coaching and destination fitness retreat experiences.