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Making it in Hollywood
My sister Mimi and I learned all about the ups and down of opening a business in Southern California when we launched the first Bar Method studio there in 2003. Just one Bar Method existed then, in San Francisco. It was doing okay, and we thought a studio would be a big hit in a town where a significant portion of the demographic was in the running to become a known “hot body.” We thought the idea of an LA Bar Method was a no brainer.
Not so, it turned out. After two years of Mimi’s tireless marketing, we hadnt been able to convince many AngeleÃ±os that we weren’t just another wannabe among the gazillions they had seen come and go. In such a highly competitive environment, the happening exercise destinations had to have celebrity students or have been founded by gurus who would become celebrities themselves. Among the top names were Richard Simmons Slimmons studio, Billy Blank’s fitness center on Ventura Boulevard and Mari Winsors Pilates studio in Hollywood where you might run into stars like Madonna, Samuel L. Jackson, and Minnie Driver. Meanwhile in the race for the limelight along with us were a multitude of other new techniques like SuperSlow, Cardiobarre and Yoga Booty Ballet. Hey, I thought that all I needed to do was offer consistently great exercise classes in a beautiful setting. I hadnt signed up for this kind of horse race!
As long as we were in it, we resolved, we’d be in it to win it. I devised an ambitious and contrarian strategy. We wouldn’t align ourselves with the latest trends in exercise. Instead we would continue to march to the beat of our own drum and hope the world would change direction and follow us. Specifically, while other emerging bar fitness techniques were aerobicizing their classes, I stuck to making the Bar Method more and more structured and precise. I believed that cardio-style workouts, though they did burn calories, made students excessively hungry and did not build muscle that contributed to weight control over the long term. Hyped up bar workouts also really were not able to address students’ posture and alignment, which I felt were huge body-changing elements. I wanted to give students more than long lean dancer’s muscles. I wanted to give them the posture and grace of dancers as well. This idea was going to be really hard to sell in an already saturated market infatuated with cardio.
In 2005 Mimi opened a second studio in West Hollywood that attracted a handful of cute movie stars such as Zoey Deschanel, Ginnifer Goodwin and Drew Barrymore who earned us the respect of the press. Still, Southern Californians themselves were not ready to commit to us. For the next three years, numerous Bar Method studios opened in other parts of the country but none in Southern California.
Suddenly in 2008, we reached some sort of tipping point, and the Bar Method took off. Thirteen new studios opened from San Diego to Santa Barbara, more per square mile than any other part of the country, and six more are currently on the way. We had arrived!
The two newest members of this group “ two sets of partners who opened studios this spring in Solana Beach and Encino “ are typical of the super-talented new franchisees we’re acquiring in this wave. Jessica Bowman, now 32, secretly dreamed of becoming a Bar Method studio owner from the day she took her first class in the early 2000s. She became a Bar Method teacher in San Diego in 2009 and leveled with her studio owner Allison McCurdy about her dream. She and Allison, an outgoing, former marketing manager, paired up and this March made Jessicas dream come true by opening a studio in the beautiful coastal town of Solana Beach just north of San Diego.
The new Encino studio is 12.5 miles west of the Hollywood Sign, a fitting location for a Bar Method co-owned by a card-carrying member of the Hollywood community. Katelin Chesna came to LA from Chicago to study acting and worked as an actress, acting teacher and comedian. In 2004 she answered a newspaper ad for Bar Method instructors and quickly became a popular teacher. Around that same time her future partner Emily Beason had gotten addicted to The Bar Method while building her successful career in pharmaceutical sales. Katelin and Emily hooked up to grab Encino before someone else did. Their studio is an amazing find. It sits in the heart of the bustling Valley off Ventura Boulevard but is nestled in a cluster of courtyards that give it the feel of a European village (with lots of parking!).
Finally making it in LA, at least to our satisfaction, is gratifying. The Bar Method itself deserves some of the credit for our success. In the past few years the Bar Method become a known name in its own right. The gift the Bar Method got in return for its role in this success is Southern California’s witty, fun-loving spirit forever intermingled with with our DNA. Nice to have you aboard, Southern California franchisees!