Group fitness has been all the rage for some time, but few have built empires as prolific as Pure Barre. With 467 locations across the country, they are literally shaping women's perspectives and backsides. In fact, I sat down with the CBO (Chief Barre Officer) and CEO to talk about their epic journey to fitness phenomenon while I was still feeling the burn from a class the day before.
LM: I'm obviously a huge fan and have been practicing Pure Barre for years, but I actually don't know the Pure Barre origin story. Why don't we start there?
CD: Perfect. The company was started in 2001, outside of metro-Detroit. I'm a Michigander, so we have Midwest roots. It was really before the hybrid fitness movement started. At the time fitness was only offered in big box gyms and people weren't really seeing results. So, I started a combination of dance and group fitness, which is my background. We started the first studio in about 2001, at that time it held about four or five people, it was tiny.
LM: Wow going from one location that could hold 4 or 5 people to where you are today is quite a leap. Talk to me a little about that journey.
CD: There was no intention of turning it into a franchise initially. I was focused on developing the technique and everything that went along with it. More and more people started approaching me asking how do I get this technique in Lexington, Kentucky, in Austin, Texas, how do I get it in, you know, in Birmingham, Alabama?" And my answer was "Well you don't, because we're here, in Michigan, and this is what we do here." Eventually, I kind of caved, because I came across someone would was a good fit to run another studio. That's when we started licensing. We did maybe ten to twelve licenses, before moving to the West Coast, before the franchise program. We started launching locations up the West Coast, based out of San Diego, into Orange County, and then on to L.A. I didn't have any capital, I didn't have any investors, and I had no cash, and so I would start one location, teach my heart out, build it up, and then sell it to a teacher, who clearly was passionate about the technique, and knew the business - and I'd move to another city until we decided to franchise. From that point, after conversion, we launched about 100 locations. It wasn't until 2012 when I did the first part of the equity transaction. We needed some major infrastructure, and that's kind of the story from where we are to where we are here, today at 467 studios.
LM: Because you'd grown this so organically what was the moment, or the experience like, deciding that you were going to go after private equity...or did they come to you?
CD: When we were closing in on a hundred locations; I realized that I wasn't doing much of what I love every day. Prior to opening my first studio, I actually practiced law for two years. I very much loved my law degree, but I didn't really like practicing law, and I would teach at 5 am, noon, and 6 pm and practice law in between those hours, and I realized that, I was living for those three hours of the day, instead of the majority of my hours I was spending at work. I felt like, at a hundred locations; I was almost back to how I felt being an attorney, where I was spending two percent of my day doing what I love, and the rest of it doing what it took to run a franchise system, and that's when I knew that we needed to bring in private equity, to really take over that whole infrastructure back-end of things.
LM: Talk to me a little bit about the technique and methodology, and how you have systemized that magic sauce.
CD: It's very interesting, you know, going from one studio, where you can essentially, make something from nothing versus closing in on five hundred locations; it clearly doesn't work that way. Very early on in the licensing program, I had to figure all that out. How does it still stay creative, when it needs to be replicated in ten places at once, twenty, thirty, forty, fifty? It's a very intricate system built around choreography and music and how we release it.
LM: Is the technique or the team what's really "put you on the map" as an innovative fitness concept?
CD: I think one of the things is that we did start in 2001. We were one of the first companies to bring barre to the market, in mainstream fitness. Barre, before that, in the 90's era, was really just for the rich and famous. It was certainly was not what you'd consider "mainstream." We were also innovative in that we started shooting DVDs in 2009. Now I'm just dating myself but at the time it was hugely innovative.
LM: Do you consider yourselves a fusion-fitness brand?
CD: Well I would say, not until recently. We just launched this class called Empower this past month, but before that, we've been pretty classic ballet barre work. We have something else in the works to launch early next year, and both of these classes are what I would call "barre fusion."
LM: Got it, and that's because people were asking for more cardio...? What was the impetus behind it?
CD: I think the consumer interest and consumer demand has really changed. Classical barre work has now been around for 15/20 years. It's had a great run, and it will continue to because it's safe, and effective, and really works. At the same time, consumers are looking for a hybrid, for a fusion, looking for something just a little bit different, that produces the sort of same effectiveness - you know, the same results.
LM: So obviously, a lot of our readers are women; we really are all about women empowerment, we work with a lot of female founders and business owners. Do you consider yourself to be an entrepreneur? Do you consider yourself to be a feminist? How does being a woman affect you, in how you built the company, and how you operate on a day-to-day basis?
CD: I consider myself an entrepreneur. I consider myself a feminist, in the terms of, believing that females should have equal rights, right? I think that the word feminist has a negative connotation, we don't need to be burning our bras to be feminists...I plan to raise my daughters and my son, to be feminists - so that's how I feel about that word. I was thinking about it this morning, because we are predominantly females at Pure Barre; there is an innate sense of being caretakers and givers. We like to do that, because we know that, as women; we are constantly taking care of other people, and we're giving, whether it's your significant other, or your kids, or your elderly parents. For us, that Pure Barre experience is - you get to come in, and be taken care of for the hour. Just take care of yourself, and we'll help take care of you. That's one of the things that I think is really special about Pure Barre.
DK: One of the things that struck me, coming to Pure Barre - I joined in January. I've been partnered with Carrie ever since. It's really incredible. We, as an organization, have four hundred and sixty-seven studios. Ninety percent of them are owned by women. We have some 4,000 teachers, the preponderance of them are women, as well. My favorite part of coming into work every day is hearing these owners' stories. Carrie's stories are amazing, about how she built this - a national brand, and leader in the barre space. We have four hundred stories that are similar to that, of you know, for people who - were great business leaders; we have plenty of lawyers, and other professionals, who had a passion for barre, who had a passion for fitness, or a healthy lifestyle - but also, get to every day, make an impact in their community. Those are the favorite stories that I love to hear every day about how people are making differences in their communities and in people's lives.
LM: That's amazing. Do you guys do your own philanthropic work? Can you speak to some of the organizations that you support?
CD: I think that we are going to be really evolving that...Early on, we started a movement called 2GIVE. 2GIVE used to be a 501-C3. We morphed it into a movement when running a 501-C3 and so much work...Pure Barre was growing fast at that time. I realized that I couldn't run an infant 501-C3 plusthe company.
DK: Today these four hundred and sixty-seven studios work within their own community. We support local events, we'll hold a free class, for its own philanthropic means, or people will donate in drives locally. In the future, we've been talking, more recently, about leveraging our scale, to do something more significant on a national basis - but today, it's more decentralized and up to the studio, within their community, to make a difference.
LM: Understood. You mentioned a couple of new classes and concepts - can you speak more to those and what we are looking for, or what's coming down the pipe from the company?
DK: Carrie mentioned DVDs before, and we really have just launched, probably five weeks ago - a program called Pure Barre On Demand - the ability to, on your phone or PC, or whatever device you like, experience Pure Barre when and where you want. The gold standard of Pure Barre, is having that experience, as Carrie described with the hands on correction, the fitness feel, the camaraderie, the community - that's absolutely the gold standard. We know that we have many markets around the country that have yet to open a Pure Barre studio. We also have got a number of our most loyal members who maybe go to Pure Barre several times a week and want to take us on vacation, or do Pure Barre after hours. We're pretty excited about that launch. It's only been up for weeks and it's got tens of thousands of subscribers already - so it's beginning to work.
We talked a little bit about it before, but we launched a new class a week ago we call it Pure Empower. It's the core of Pure Barre, is low impact and high intensity, and it brings much more multi-directional magnetic movement, with ankle weights, lift weights, a platform. We're excited about bringing that, and it's launched everywhere, and our base is extremely excited about it, social media is abuzz with it...and then Carrie's got a couple of things cooked up for the future.
LM: This is all really great. A lot of our readers are entrepreneurs, so they want to know what launched you into this space? Really...the question we get the most, is, what would you tell yourself when you began, now, knowing what you know in the business?
CD: I think that - One of the things looking back now, with the company the size it is, is making sure that there are tools in place to preserve your DNA, and your culture. One of the risks of growth is becoming average, and making sure that you don't lose your special sauce, and what makes you special. That's definitely something that I would think about, if I was going back in time. Also, and we touched on it already, the change in consumer demand - I think if you're looking to build an iconic brand, a sustainable brand and company, that you have to be ready and willing, and you might not know how when you start - but you have to be open minded to change and adaptation, because if you're going to be a company that's around for decades, presumably, the consumer behavior is going to change at some point, right? Like I said, we are seeing that now, with Pure Barre.
DK: I would add to that that really understanding your space: not even where it is, but where it's going. To Carrie's point, the good news about the barre category - it's growing at something like, greater than twelve percent growth a year...what we really focus on, particularly with Carrie's insight, bringing the best experience with what we offer: barre inspired fitness. That's super important. I've seen many entrepreneurs come into franchise-based systems to balance both their passion to be entrepreneurs and their passion for - whether it's food, or in our case, fitness - then making sure that they have got a balance of the business side. The plight of entrepreneurs is to absolutely understand the market and have a passion for what you do, because you're going to be doing it seven days a week. Also, make sure that you've either got a franchisor or advisor, that complements you in your life, when it comes to marketing, risk negotiation, hiring, and the like.
LM: My last question would be - what is your favorite word, or your favorite quote?
CD: Oooh....I love quotes, that's a hard one. My favorite word is resilience.
LM: Perfect. How about you, Dave?
DK: Connection. I think that's what I love to do every day, is make connections. We're connecting a brilliant idea she has on the technique, or how to make a difference in people's lives, and then connecting that with a business or a marketing strategy, so, that's it for me.
LM: And there you have it. An empowering growth story from an amazing company. Our bodies and our minds thank you. Want to take a seat at the barre? Find a local class near you and enjoy the truly uplifting experience for yourself.