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Small-Business Success Story: Pure Barre Fitness Studios Franchise

How a part-time exercise instructor built a business of six Pure Barre studios.

Kiplinger's spoke with Sami D. Sweeney (pictured at left), 31, of Seattle, Washington, about what prompted her to open up six Pure Barre fitness franchises. Read on for an excerpt from our interview:

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What’s Pure Barre, and how did you discover it? It’s a low-impact exercise program that fuses elements of ballet conditioning, Pilates and yoga. After I graduated from the University of Idaho in 2007 with degrees in finance and economics, I moved to Nashville with my boyfriend, Brandon, now my husband. When he began law school, I looked for a job in finance, but then I trained for and took a job teaching part-time for Pure Barre. Soon after, I was promoted to master teacher-trainer for the southeastern U.S. Physical fitness comes naturally to me, and my timing was impeccable: I watched the studio go from unknown to booming.

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Why Seattle? I was raised in the Pacific Northwest, and we wanted to move back. Plus, people here are very fitness-conscious and outdoorsy. I thought Pure Barre would appeal to them as a great way to cross-train. In May 2010, just after our honeymoon, I moved to Seattle (my husband came a year later) and opened my first studio. Before moving, I laid the groundwork—finding the location, building out the space and marketing—so that I could hit the ground running when I arrived in Seattle. I opened a second studio later that year.

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Any hiccups? While I was opening the second studio, I had to relocate the first one. The neighbors were super upset that we made such a ruckus every day—with people coming and going, music playing and teachers using a microphone—and they pushed us out. I found a more suitable space, but the move was costly, and it took the wind out of our sails.

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How did you grow? In the beginning, I signed a territory agreement that gave me the exclusive right to operate in Seattle and Bellevue, and I agreed to open four studios. The franchise fee for each of the first two locations was $40,000, but I ultimately needed $200,000 to cover the cost of renting and outfitting space and moving unexpectedly. I brought in my dad as my partner, and he loaned me the money. I surprised him when I paid it off in two years. In 2012, we paid for a third studio from cash flow. In 2014, we opened three more locations in Seattle with internal funding and $300,000 that we borrowed from the bank.

How’s business? We teach 1,320 classes per month, with 10 to 25 people per class. They pay $15 to $18 per class or $23 to drop in. We pay Pure Barre a royalty equal to 8% of our monthly gross sales. Our biggest expense is payroll, with 50 teachers and 34 receptionists—all part-time—and two full-time managers.

Is your husband involved? Brandon handles all our legal needs, keeps the books and helps with the day-to-day management.

Are you making a living? Yes. We don’t pay ourselves salaries, but we take distributions at the end of every quarter. We’ll continue this way until our debts are fully repaid.

Do you still teach? Yes, I teach an average of 17 classes a week. It’s what I love to do and why I got into this business. I encourage my teachers to take my class, to ensure they’re upholding the brand and quality.

Would you recommend franchising to others? Being a Pure Barre owner is a great fit for me, but I would only recommend a venture like this if you’re up for the daily grind of a small business. It has taken time, energy and a grasp of business systems to succeed in my market.

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