How barre studios are turning more women into (fit) entrepreneurs

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Photo: Kate Warren, Go Kate Shoot

Businesswomen used to wear skirt suits. Now, they wear leggings.

As boutique fitness has turned into a booming industry over the past decade, mega brands like SoulCycle and Barry’s Bootcamp have expanded around the world with hundreds of company-owned locations.

But nearly every major barre studio brand has chosen to implement a franchising model, creating a growing class of female entrepreneurs who are taking ownership of their workouts in a new, literal way. And in addition to toned arms and core strength, many of them say they’re discovering fulfilling careers that allow them the opportunity to become business owners, and the flexibility they always longed for in terms of balancing work and home life.

Barre3, for instance, has 130 franchise owners to-date, all of them women. Pure Barre, meanwhile, has 398 open franchise locations (out of a total of 412 studios), with 95 percent owned by women. Bar Method just celebrated its 15th Anniversary, with 123 franchise owners, all women (a handful with male partners). And they’re just a few of the biggest brands, among many others.

The career path from barre student to barre studio owner is one that’s happening for women across the country in a huge way right now.

Alicia Sokol, who opened the 14th Street Barre3 studio in Washington, DC, just six months ago, started her career in investment banking and was working as the head of communications for a medical association while also working on a cooking blog when she fell in love with the classes at Barre3 Georgetown.

“I was sort of exploring what might be a better career for me that would allow me to be the mom I want to be, but I knew I was a career person, I knew I wasn’t going to stay home,” she says. “Next thing you know I was taking class three times a week and really started to see the benefits in both my body and mind.” The passion led her to became a Barre3 instructor, and then after realizing how much time and energy she was putting into her classes, she began considering opening her own studio.

“All of the skills I learned in my 14 years at Deloitte come to life every day but in a wildly different context. These are things I was doing in Manhattan in a suit, and I’m doing them now in New Jersey, one mile away from my children—in yoga pants.”

A similar passionate connection to the fitness method and career fulfillment is also what led Tiffany Curid to eventually open Pure Barre studios in the Cobble Hill and Park Slope neighborhoods of Brooklyn, NY, after leaving a career as a financial advisor in Florida. “Ultimately every moment that I wasn’t at that job I ended up going to the studio and either taking or teaching class or working the desk,” she says. Curid went to visit her brother in Brooklyn for Thanksgiving and assumed she’d be able to easily find a class. “At that point in my life, I couldn’t go a weekend without doing Pure Barre…but there wasn’t any studio in Brooklyn then. The light bulb went off.”

Bar Method
Striffler celebrating the opening of Bar Method Madison. (Photo: Bar Method)

Similarly Gina Striffler left a 14-year career at top consulting firm Deloitte and a budding photography business to open a Bar Method studio in Madison, NJ, after finding immediate inspiration in the classes. “Teaching the Bar Method has been the most important and best job I ever had. It taps a really passionate place within me,” she says.

Of course, all of these women mentioned multiple hurdles and daily challenges, not to mention the huge risk involved in owing a business. “Does anything ever really prepare you for being a business owner? Probably not,” Curid laughed, but having the corporate franchises behind them helped mitigate the daunting risk involved, via things like established brand equity and help negotiating leases. “We now call it the Pure Barre Support Center and that’s exactly what it is. You can even call the CEO personally if you want,” she says. “That in itself will put you at ease, knowing they’re there to help you.”

“Being a business owner is crazy hard work, but it’s such joyful work….people come [to barre classes] because they want to be here. It’s something they look forward to all day.”

And the biggest benefits that women who become barre owners mention over and over are things so many people are searching for in their careers and their lives: the fact that the work itself is rewarding and that they feel like their lives are more balanced in terms of home life—and in many cases motherhood.

Being a barre studio owner provides a seriously feel-good sense of purpose that fuels them. “Being a business owner is roll-up-your-sleeves crazy hard work, but the thing is it’s such joyful work,” Sokol explains. “People come here because they want to be here, in a lot of cases it’s something they look forward to all day.”

And in most cases, the barre entrepreneurs don’t feel like they truly “gave up” the careers they left behind. Instead, they’re using their old skills in new ways, as the (fit) women in charge.

“All of the skills I learned in my 14 years at Deloitte, they all come to life every day but in a wildly different context,” says Striffler. “These are things I was doing on the 50th floor in Manhattan in a suit, and I’m doing them now, in Madison, New Jersey, one mile away from my children—in yoga pants.”

Need to brush up on the barre studio world? Check out this guide to the biggest brands.

Temperatures may be dropping, but your workout routine is heating up! Check out our Fall Fitness Preview, your guide to having your healthiest fall yet. And make sure to mark your calendars: Well+Good’s annual Fitness Biathlon in NYC is back this October 22.

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