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Bringing Zumba to the People | Company of the Year

How three sisters designed, marketed, and expanded their own fitness business, Chicago Latin Fitness. And it all started with Zumba.

Zumba encourages people to express their individuality--and not just in how they dance and dress.

Instructors can design their businesses any way they want, from offering personalized instruction in homes to providing entertainment at corporate events to leasing their own studios.

Even within this motley Zumba economy, Chicago Latin Fitness is an unusual hybrid. The company, which has a 2013 revenue goal of $400,000, both attracts people to Zumba and delivers Zumba to the people. 

Martha Montes-Gaviria was the recreation and fitness director at Chicago's Northeastern University when she first encountered Zumba. Impressed by the program's popularity, she and one of her sisters approached a gym about teaching their own class--but they couldn't get a decent time slot.

"I said forget it. Let's just go rent our own space," says Montes-Gaviria. "We found a very small studio where a gentleman was giving music and acting lessons, and that's how we started."

The sisters rented the studio by the hour and launched a single class, on Friday evenings. Over the next three years the number of classes multiplied and student numbers swelled to as many as 50 or 60. They rented larger and larger spaces, including a high-school gym.

"People get hooked, and the classes just grow and grow," says Montest-Gaviria. Now the pair, who have been joined by a third sister, rent two different facilities for three days a week and are looking for their own retail space where they can teach at all hours, every day.

But traditional studio classes are just half the business. Chicago Latin Fitness also partners with community centers, senior centers, hospitals, and schools. Those venues enjoy the fitness and morale benefits that Zumba provides to employees and other constituencies. So they offer Montes-Gaviria and her sisters free or discounted space in return for reduced-price lessons. A Chicago Latin Fitness class at a studio might cost $12. A class led by the same instructor at a hospital might cost $5. Some of those hospital employees then seek out the business for classes outside of work.

"Customers usually trickle in one or two at a time," says Montes-Gaviria. "But when you go into a school or a hospital you can introduce yourself to a captive audience of 20 or 30 people."

The company also markets on Facebook and through big local events like the annual Cuban Festival, at which they put on a show and pass out cards.

"The festival gets free entertainment--and we get to show 5,000 people in a weekend what Zumba is about," says Montes-Gaviria.

The sisters think they can draw classes of 100 people or more, but Montes-Gaviria has reservations.

"For a good Zumba class you need that personal touch," she says. "You're not going to have long-lasting clientele if you can't look people in the eye and make sure they're having fun."

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Last updated: Dec 5, 2012

LEIGH BUCHANAN | Staff Writer | Editor-at-large, Inc. Magazine

Leigh Buchanan is an editor-at-large for Inc. magazine. A former editor at Harvard Business Review and founding editor of WebMaster magazine, she writes regular columns on leadership and workplace culture.




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