We opened our first Bar Method studio on a sunny day in Mid-August 2001. Carl Diehl, my business partner, and I were still married to each other. We’d leased a 7,700 square foot two-story building that had once been a health club. Looking back it’s clear that we had no idea what we were doing. The structure was way under code and expensive to renovate. Carl and I used up our savings, borrowed more money, and did a lot of the work ourselves. We were full of optimism anyway. We fitted up the space with three exercise rooms, large locker rooms for men and women, childcare, massage and an office space for each of us. We were the two teachers. On that first day two students showed up.
Since you’re reading this blog, you probably know that the Bar Method has changed since then. During the past decade it’s grown to almost 50 studios and now serves an average around 2,500 students a day, more than 200 of them at our San Francisco Marina studio. This month in celebration of our tenth anniversary our studio manager Mike Najjar has planned some fantastic events including a class that will be streamed worldwide live over the internet taught by me. On a personal level this imminent “big birthday” has made me think back over the decade it took Carl and me to get to where we are. In this blog I’d like to share with you a few of the key moments that determined our path during these years.
How it started:
The story of the Bar Method begins years before our first studio opened, slightly over ten years to be exact, on Valentine’s Day of 1991. Carl and I had been married a few months, and he enjoyed surprising me with gifts. He knew I was addicted to the Lotte Berk Method, the exercise system on which the Bar Method is based, so that day he gave me a card containing a voucher for a free class. What was extraordinary about this gift was that it wasn’t actually for a Lotte Berk Method class. It was for a class with Lotte Berk herself, the originator of bar fitness, in her London studio.
We went to London, saw museums, went to shows, and I took the class. Concurrently during the previous few months, we’d been brainstorming about becoming entrepreneurs. When Carl picked me up from Lotte’s studio and paid her for my class in cash, she became hopelessly confused while trying to count out the proper change. Carl helped her, and as we walked away, he exclaimed, “If Lotte can’t add, the exercise business must be really simple. Let’s do it!” Back in the States we bought a license from the Lotte Berk Method, opened four successful studios in Connecticut, and sold them in 2001 to move to our dream city, San Francisco.
Our First Teachers:
For any studio owner, débuting new teachers is a high. Suddenly, we can take class; we’re not on the schedule 24/7, and when we walk by the studios, we hear the exercises being presented in brand new voices not our own. In late 2001 Carl and I were lucky to graduate an extraordinary and charismatic first group of teachers for our new studio. Amy Duffey is now the co-owner of the Manhattan studio and our sole East Coast teacher trainer. Jen Hertsenberg, a supermom of two beautiful and perfect young children, manages to do an amazing job at being a master teacher, a trainer, an evaluator, and our executive coordinator of training, evaluating and coaching. Emily Feinstein has grown a huge following among our student body with her innovative choreography, crystal-clear instructions and fun music. Each of these talented early teachers, Amy, Jen and Emily, has contributed greatly to the Bar Method’s evolution over the past ten years.
The birth of a Bar Method that can travel:
As the new owners of our San Francisco studio Carl and I did not originally think of franchising. What changed our course had nothing to do with entrepreneurial vision. It was people coming to us seeking their own Bar Method studios. At first I was skeptical about the idea. Could we maintain quality from afar? Carl on the other hand has always found it impossible to say no, especially to anyone proposing some kind of new exciting venture. We went ahead, and by 2009 my concerns about quality had been put to rest. Our out-of-town studio owners turned out to be quality fanatics. With their tireless attention to detail they started to outdo even the SF teachers and inspired me to develop more stringent quality controls for the entire Bar Method. Wow, I thought, we can do this. World, here we come!
Celebrating our birthday:
The next key moment in our history will happen this month on Friday, the 19th when our studio and the Bar Method turn ten. At 2:00 pm that day in addition to the internet class, (which will be available for viewing over the weekend as well), we are giving gifts and discounts to our students and will be donating $5000 to Global Fund for Women in appreciation of women everywhere.
Thank you, all Bar Method students, for your support in helping us grow!