Interview with Karen Mumme, Pure Barre Studio Owner
Karen Mumme doing the chair pose at the barre
Pure Barre is the largest, most established barre franchise in the U.S., with nearly 300 studios across the country.
It’s also one of my favorite companies to spend money with. I’ve been attending Pure Barre classes on and off for almost 1.5 years here in Colorado, and find it to be the most unique and challenging workout I’ve ever done. (That includes MMA, weightlifting, crossfit, HIIT, jogging, and everything in between).
As a business owner myself, I love and appreciate the intelligent systems Pure Barre has in place to serve its clients. From the easy online scheduling software it uses (MindBodyOnline), to the flexible payment options it offers, to the intensity of the workout, Pure Barre to me is the epitome of a great business model.
I reached out to Karen Mumme, who is the co-owner of two Pure Barre studios in Kentucky, to get her insights on why the Pure Barre business model works so well.
Karen tried her first Pure Barre class in 2010 and was instantly hooked. She was so impressed by what she saw and experienced, she eventually decided to open her own studios as a franchisee. In between being a single mother and practicing law, Karen enjoys managing her Pure Barre studios.
The following interview discusses why Karen opened her own Pure Barre studios, where inspiration comes from, the 80/20 principle, marketing, systems, the power of focusing on ONE thing (and doing it well)…and more. Enjoy!
ML #1: What was your first experience of Pure Barre like?
Karen: The first time I took a Pure Barre class, two intriguing elements caught my attention: the music and the teacher.
Lucy Gentry (who is now my business partner) and I took our first class in July of 2010. At the time, I was in my early 30s, had just had my second child, recently became a single parent, was running a busy law practice, and was an active board member of a non-profit organization in our state’s capital.
The teacher’s name was Amanda Young. At the time, she was in her early 20s, teaching at Pure Barre Lexington while attending the University of Kentucky.
Our first class was on a Saturday morning, and it was packed full of women ranging from ages 20s to 60s, the majority being above age 30. Without any trepidation, Amanda led the class with poise, control, calmness, and confidence. She was able to not only lead us in the choreography, but also push us into movements that were beyond our current belief of what was possible.
It was difficult and overwhelming, but by the end of the class, I was floored and completely in awe of Amanda. “Push-over” is not a word anyone has ever used to describe me. If I don’t want to do something, I don’t do it. It’s that simple. And yet this young girl had just bombarded me with a barrage of things I did NOT want to do, but I did them all. Wow.
Through this first barre class, Amanda had introduced my business partner and I to the concept of choreographing a class (as opposed to traditional reps as typically seen in the fitness realm). In order to choreograph a class, the focus has to be on the music. I am very driven by music, so this — along with Amanda’s ability to lead the class — was one of the key reasons why I was so drawn to Pure Barre.
ML #2: Why did you decide to open your own Pure Barre studio?
Karen: Once I was initially intrigued, I became even more curious. I started to try on the clothes Pure Barre was selling. “Would I buy this?” I asked myself. “Would I be a repeat buyer of this?”
Then I signed up for the monthly unlimited package of classes.
Meanwhile, I continued asking myself several questions as the weeks went by:
- Do I see changes to my body from this technique?
- Am I seeing changes in 10 classes?
- How do I feel at the 1-month mark, the 3-month mark?
- How many other women believe in this and are seeing results?
- How many women do I see in class?
- How many are repeat faces that I see constantly?
After answering these questions to myself for a month, I spoke to Lucy about my conclusions and listened to her thoughts.
By the end of the month, we applied for a franchise. We flew to Denver in August. (That’s where Pure Barre headquarters was at the time.)
ML #3: It could be said that Pure Barre is in the business of inspiring women to change their minds, their bodies, and their lives. You’ve mentioned that “evolving inspiration” is a key ingredient to Pure Barre’s success. First the corporate team inspires the studio owners; the owners inspire the instructors; and the instructors inspire the students…and a positive ripple effect is created. Where do you think this inspiration ultimately comes from? How does one person successfully inspire someone else?
Karen: That’s a good question. It’s not necessarily a top-down effect.
To understand the inspiration aspect of Pure Barre, it’s important to understand that this is not just a workout or group class. It’s a community.
We opened Pure Barre Louisville in December 2010. From the first class I took in July 2010 through November 2010, I spent many hours at Pure Barre Lexington (just 60 miles from Louisville). I quickly observed several of the teachers hanging out there even when they were not on their shift. An owner was often there with them and typically a few clients, most coming and going from class.
Most of the time, the clients would hang out for 5-15 minutes before or after the classes. With 5-8 classes a day, that makes for different clients and team members hanging out in the areas almost around the clock. There was a couch sitting area in lobby retail area where they would sit and have a water, talk about the class and about their day. It didn’t matter if you came into the studio in the morning or in the evening — there would always be women and team members around to say “hi, how are you”, “how is your day,” “what did you think of class”, etc.
Think about this for a second from a business perspective…you mean to tell me, we have teachers and consultants who love our business so much, they hang out there without being paid? And they’ll form relationships with our clients just from sharing those quick moments and conversations together? Women whom they would have never otherwise met.
ML #4: So a large part of the inspiration comes from the community aspect of Pure Barre and the relationships that are formed?
Karen: Yes. Pure Barre is a place where a 20-year-old college student can get insight from the 40-year-old successful lawyer with two kids. A 30-year-old new mom-to-be can meet a school teacher with over 30 years of experience and gain insight into education. A timid, shy client can talk to a veteran client and come out of her shell. A woman looking to implement a healthier lifestyle can get tips and encouragement daily from other strong women who’ve been there. A recent graduate can meet smart women in our community to get tips on entering the workforce…and so on.
The relationships that form in that lobby area have amazed me from my early days in studying this business. They’re invaluable. That’s often the place where inspiration starts on a local level. Inspiration grows tenfold when someone cares.
On a corporate level, the inspiration has become stronger and more successful over the years. This is due, in part, to the number of franchises opening (now close to 300 in the U.S.). More and more women are getting inspired by this lifestyle and are opening studios in their own communities.
This, in turn, generates larger numbers of women attending the owner’s conference annually. A larger group of women business owners means a larger pool of intelligent brains to contribute their ideas to corporate throughout the year. This flow of ideas trickles through an extremely accomplished and competent board of directors, executives and staff members at our headquarters. They decipher what works, what doesn’t work, and formulate a business plan to put the ideas back into the marketplace at the local level.
ML #5: It’s common for women to try their first Pure Barre class and instantly fall in love with the workout and the feel of the place, as you did. What kinds of things does Pure Barre intentionally do to facilitate this “falling in love” experience?
Karen: The biggest hurdle to wanting someone to fall in love with something or someone is that you cannot force it.
People are not going to fake falling in love. We can’t set up a “falling in love” experience. All we can do it put in place certain elements and hope that’s the reaction people have — or at least hope they appreciate and see the value of the experience.
The elements are simple and positive, but require conscious care from our barre consultants and teachers. Without getting too far into the specific details (most of this information is confidential), I will say this is something we thoroughly train our barre consultants on.
This is a service business, where our barre consultants act as the ‘concierge’ to our clients. They’re in charge of the clients’ experience at the barre. Over the years, we’ve learned to expand and detail our policies and procedures in this area, because it’s so important. Pure Barre Corporate has also implemented training materials that we utilize to help deliver a great experience to the clients.
ML #6: One distinguishing characteristic about Pure Barre is that it uses a “pay-per-class” or “pay per month” model, as opposed to the “no-cancel” binding contract model used by most big gym franchises. Pure Barre students love this flexibility and are able to get great value from it. Why do think more gyms don’t adopt a similar model?
Karen: The big box gyms are simply there to provide equipment and a facility. In return, they require a certain time commitment. They assume you’re already familiar with a treadmill and that you appreciate the value of it.
Pure Barre’s model is more like a personal trainer. We provide a teacher who is equipped with specialized knowledge to teach skill and form. It’s important to us that the clients have a relationship, on some level, with our teachers. It’s also important for the client to appreciate the training skills of the teacher. We want students to like our teachers and appreciate their ability to teach skill and form throughout the student’s entire time with us — whether that’s 55 minutes, 2 weeks, a month, a year, or beyond.
That’s why we offer flexibility in the level of commitment. Both business models make sense; they’re just different. We are very proud of the fact that our business model requires a higher standard of excellence from us. The burden is on us, every month, to make sure your experience is a good one. Otherwise, we would not receive your repeat business.
ML #7: How does Pure Barre use the 80/20 principle? For example, in the event that a student tries Pure Barre for the first time and don’t love it, how much effort do you expend trying to change their mind?
Karen: The best way I can think to answer the question of ‘How do we use the 80/20 principle’ is that we don’t use it or think about it much.
Every client, every comment, every feedback, every dollar spent in our studios is important. All of it is vital. This is a community of women who discuss their experiences with each other. One may be a veteran client who spends hours a week at our studio talking to a newer client who still doesn’t have job- or home-flexibility to attend a class more than twice a week. The experiences of both women will likely be shared within the community. From our perspective, both carry weight and are important to us. I suppose we spend 100% of our time on 100% of our clients.
For the second question, we understand barre workouts are not for everyone. There’s always going to be a percentage of clients who try our class, and barre is just not for them.
The adage in our business is that if you can hold onto a barre, then you can do Pure Barre, which is fantastic and true. But we realize there are going to be some people who don’t enjoy holding onto a barre (facetiously speaking). That’s OK. If the team is properly utilizing the elements for the Pure Barre experience, and the client has had ample time to realize the community of women who make up the studio, we can only hope that one day that client will change their mind and come back.
Some people have concerns about the class being overwhelming or too difficult. We try to get this feedback right away to address those concerns and encourage their return.
ML #8: What does Pure Barre do to reach more potential clients? (e.g., marketing campaigns, word-of-mouth marketing, advertising, etc.)
Karen: We don’t advertise much; it’s pretty rare.
The bonus to having a community of women is that it literally becomes one of your major marketing initiatives. Our community is comprised of women who have changed their bodies because of Pure Barre (it only takes 10 classes to start working). They’re like walking/talking advertising for us.
Other initiatives we use are:
- corporate-sponsored campaigns (they often bring in a partner such as SELF Magazine or another national brand)
- grass roots marketing that includes attending events and marketing drops
- co-partnering or sponsoring initiatives that involve an event with other local businesses.
ML #9: Does Pure Barre focus more on reaching new clients, or reactivating past clients? (or some combination thereof)?
Karen: We have some mechanisms in place to try to recapture past clients, including reaching out to check on them, but we try not to bombard clients who are no longer attending.
There’s inevitably a percentage of any fitness business that is going to be a constant turnover. I would estimate ours being about 30%. Life happens, people have babies, get busy, go through difficult times, etc. For the 30% who don’t attend for a period of time, there’s normally another 30% coming into the studio who are new to the studio. Throughout that cycle — and so long as the client took over 10 classes with us — we will typically end up seeing that past client again.
ML #10: I believe the lessons behind Pure Barre’s success are applicable to other industries — namely, it shows how important it is to create a seamless SYSTEM that consistently delivers great value to the end user. Can you share your thoughts on the system that makes Pure Barre so successful?
Karen: I often joke that franchise businesses are like Business 101 for beginners.
Franchise manuals often read: “Step 1: Hang your sign, Step 2: Open your doors, Step 3: Turn on your lights…” I am joking, of course, but there is a beauty to this joke.
These manuals do contain simple steps that have been proven and often mastered. They work; therefore, they’re memorialized into a manual to help franchise owners learn what has proven to be successful. Even the simplest, most menial tasks are covered in the manual.
Learning a good method well and consistently applying it are keys to success in any realm, even those beyond business. To become a good golfer, first you learn the form of a swing, master it, then do it over and over again. To become a great quarterback, first you learn the form, then get as many reps as possible.
It’s the same thing with business — learn the model, then do the same thing over and over again. If it’s a good model/method, if you learned it well, and if you apply it consistently, then you’ll increase your probability of success (and therefore, negate some of the risk). The Pure Barre model is the same, in this respect, as any other successful franchise model.
Beyond the franchise aspect, the business model of Pure Barre can definitely be applied to other industries, especially ones that are service-orientated. In my prior interview with our corporate office, I mentioned the dual source of income under one small roof (we sell workout apparel retail, as well as offer Pure Barre classes). That concept would be attractive for many other businesses, because it helps minimize the risk in your risk-reward analysis and also increases your chance of profitability.
The dual sources of income should not, however, be confused with a “jack of all trades” approach. I learned at an early age from my father: do one thing and do it well. He meant it more in the literal sense, but upon moving from a law practice to a fitness franchise, I decided my one constant would be to deliver proven consistency to the consumer.
The one thing we do at Pure Barre is Pure Barre. We don’t do yoga, we don’t do impact classes, we don’t do boot camp…we only do Pure Barre. The reason? — because we do one thing, and we do it WELL! The technique works. It changes bodies in ten classes or less. There are no gimmicks, there’s no pitch, we don’t have to sell it, it just works. We deliver a proven technique to the end user and we deliver it with consistency — 80 times (classes) a week in Louisville, to be exact.