Hybrid fitness has been all the rage for the last few years, but people don't seem to know that the originator is a local company called YAS, which stands for yoga and spinning, although with that combination it's easy to say YASSS!
Founder Kimberly Fowler started the company that started it all. I was able to sit down with Kimberly recently to thank her for my abs, get some insight into how she started the movement and what's next for the YAS brand.
LM: Tell me about how it started and what your inspiration was?
KF: It started as, basically, a personal pain point. There was no hybrid fitness so I had to create my own. I would basically spin at Gold's and then run across town to Yoga Works. I didn't understand why someone didn't put them together. At Gold's, the yoga was awful and I wanted to do yoga to stay flexible, and I would do spinning to help with my biking, cardio. And so I was actually in the shower really pissed off that I had to run across town to get them both in. And I just said, "why don't you just it yourself?" It was challenging because I was a lawyer for 18 years and I was the COO of a really large vitamin company, so to start a fitness studio in my forties and something that had never been done, and a whole new fitness category was terrifying.
LM: Speaking of category, you really did define this category. I know a lot of people think it started with Soulcycle and some of these other hybrid classes out there. But you were really the originator, right?
KF: Absolutely. There were no hybrid classes back in 2001 and I've been in business for 16 years.
LM: How many locations do you currently have and where are they so that people can find you?
KF: We are mostly in Southern California. I have the Venice Location, which is our flagship, that's on Main Street. I moved from Abbot Kinney to Main Street. I have Silver Lake and downtown Costa Mesa.
LM: As a marketer, branding is something I'm obviously obsessed with, and the branding behind YAS is so clean and simple. How did marketing and branding impact the growth of your business?
KF: It was hugely important. It was one of those things that got us press, which when you are first starting is everything. And when you first start a business, as an entrepreneur, most of the time you don't have a lot of money to buy advertising and I certainly didn't. The fact that the branding was different, it was edgy, organically got us a ton of press. I also got picked up by Nike as their yoga athlete, because I started yoga for athletes as my own style of yoga. That was something that was new and fresh.
LM: You're really a pioneer in this space. How do you feel now that all these other brands are kind of riding your coat tails and taking a lot of credit? I want to make sure credit is given where it's due.
KF: Well, thank you. I mean it is definitely something I think about. Maybe doing an infographic on the site that shows the history of how it all started so people can see how far ahead of the curve we were. I also want to give credit where it's due. Spinning has been around forever, over 25 years and people don't realize that. Johnny G started the movement. Often when I'm talking about spinning, people think that Soulcycle started spinning, but Soulcycle is owned by a billion dollar private equity company.
LM: All the moneymen, which is why they have a lot of money to put into advertising and marketing. So you still consider yourself the underdog?
KF: Yes, I always have. And yes, I still do.
LM: Why does hybrid fitness work so well?
KF: It just works. Somebody asked me this morning, "Wow what do you do to stay in shape because I'm almost 60 and I want to do what you do." And I said well,"This is what I do, I walk my talk- I spin and I do yoga for athletes and it works."
LM: Is it muscle confusion though? What's the theory behind it?
KF: Well, you need cardio, you need stretching and strength training which yoga does. It also gets into the mental state, the meditation state. You can fling around weights on a bike, but that doesn't really get you your flexibility or the long, lean muscle tone. Then there's the cross fit type brands and I look at them and I go "Wow when you get my age, you're going to feel that."
LM: So what's next for YAS? Are you planning on continuing expansion? Are you happy with where you're at? I know you have a line of clothes and videos, you have this whole product line. Tell us a little bit about that.
KF: I am in the process of going out for funding to continue growth and to compete. It's learning a whole new business.
LM: Well you were a lawyer, now you're a fitness expert. Now you can be a fundraising expert.
KF: You sort of have to become one, and so we are studying different options for growth.
LM: It must be gratifying to know that people are focusing more on fitness and all the merchandising behind it. Do you think that there's going to be an aggregation, that Nike might buy up all these little guys? What do you think the future of this market looks like?
KF: I don't see Nike going in and gobbling us up. I think they have a strong enough team, they'll just compete with us and do it better.
LM: So you went from being an attorney to running a fitness empire. There are a lot of people out there trying to make transitions in their lives, like I was an attorney and now I run Elevate My Brand. What tips do you have for someone trying to take a new turn in his or her life?
KF: Well I talk to a lot of women's organizations; I speak a lot to women entrepreneurs. And it is one of those leaps of faith you just , as you know, you just have to do it, you just have to jump. Because you know you'll find every reason in the world not to. Is there the right time? Never.
LM: What do you think the biggest influence has been on the evolution of your company? That could be a business influence, a brand influence, your own personal ethos?
KF: Well it's hard to pick lone thing. I love the fact that fitness is now the hottest sector and back in 2001, it really wasn't. Boutique fitness wasn't really a thing, so I think that's the most amazing thing to see how it's become the norm. That inspires me. I'm also inspired by my community. You know I do love fundraising. I've raised millions of dollars for different organizations through YAS-a-thons. I'm a cancer survivor so that's really close to my heart. And I really think that as a business owner you should give back, which is something I have been doing them since I started. So for entrepreneurs, I think it's important to give back in some way. There's always always a way.
LM: If you're interested in hosting your own YAS-a-Thon to inspire your community and raise money for your cause, please reach out to the YAS team. And if you want to be 60 going on 40 like Kimberly, hybrid fitness is clearly the way to go. I want to be just like her when I grow up.