Think Big, Act Local
With Alex Hooper, Chelsea Freeman, and Dominek Tubbs
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Franchisee owners and decision makers discuss how they’ve remained authentic to their local communities while balancing the demands of a national brand. In this recorded session from Yelp’s Black in Business Summit (August 25, 2021), business owners are joined by a Yelp Elite on what she looks for when searching for a local business.
In this webinar, you will learn:
- How to speak to your community with your brand
- How to balance local level promotion with large brand recognition
- What draws potential customers to your business
- How to create authentic business partnerships that speak to your target audience
Alex is the founder, owner, and head coach of F45 in Oakland, California. She has developed the gym from the ground up, opening with over 150 members despite COVID-19. F45 is recognized as the world’s #1 fastest growing gym franchise and ranked in the top 40 fastest growing franchises in the world by Entrepreneur magazine.
Chelsea holds a master’s degree in marketing and currently serves as the marketing manager at DivaDance and as a franchise success coach for all of their East Coast locations. In her free time, Chelsea also explores her passions as a professional dancer, singer, and model.
Dominek has been a Yelp Elite for seven years, leaving thoughtful, consistent, and authentic reviews for businesses on Yelp. She lives in New York City and shares her experiences with her community on Instagram as @Domnthecity.
Helina: What an honor to be talking to all of you today. My name is Helina Medhin. I’ve been with Yelp almost nine years now, which is kind of insane. I feel like I really grew up with this company and I have grown so much to love it and really, truly understand the magnitude of how we help local businesses. Just a brief background about myself. I was the community manager in Dallas, Texas for the last seven years, and then made the transition to the Los Angeles market about a year and a half ago. I’ve seen and worked with every type of business imaginable in different markets as well through COVID previous, before COVID. And I truly love this aspect of my job.
Helina: Also, I was a Yelp Elite as well before working for Yelp. And I do have a law background formerly working as an attorney. I’ve seen it all. I’ve talked to so many different people, and I’m really, really excited about this panel today. I think there are so many different perspectives to learn from, and without further ado, let me introduce them. If everyone could just kick us off by introducing themselves and sharing a little bit about your background and the perspective that you’re bringing to today’s conversation. I’ll start with Dominek.
Dominek: Hi everyone. My name is Dominek. I am the creator of Dom N’ the City, which is a food and lifestyle blog, but more importantly, I am a Yelp leader. I’ve been Yelp Elite for about seven years. The perspective that I get to bring to this conversation today is how I utilize Yelp to not only tell other people about my experiences as a patron, but also support businesses that I love. And just a little bit more about Yelp Elite, I know some of you guys might not be familiar with that term and what it is, but Yelp Elite is pretty much a community within this wonderful platform of individuals who leave consistent, thoughtful, and authentic reviews.
Helina: Thank you, Dominek. We’re so excited to have you today and hear what have to say about this unique group. I’ll it over to Chelsea?
Chelsea: Hello everyone. My name is Chelsea Freeman. I am the marketing director for DivaDance. I was originally hired as the general manager for the New York market, and I recently made the switch over to corporate side. Not only am I the marketing manager for all of our markets, which there’s over 20 of us now, which really, really great to see us growing so nicely, but I’m also the franchise success coach for the East Coast markets. It’s got my hands full. I wear a lot of different hats, so I’m really excited to share my knowledge with you guys today.
Helina: Great. And then I’ll pass it over to Alex.
Alex: Hi guys. I’m Alex. I’m the owner of F45 Oakland Uptown. F45 is like a fitness boutique studio and there’s franchises all over. It’s actually based in Australia and it’s been here for about seven years. We’re the only one in the East Bay. I think we might be the only black owned. I know we are in California. We’ve been open technically since April indoors. We tried 2020 to get it started. It’s been a long road. I’m the owner as well as the head coach, marketing sales. We do it all.
Helina: Yeah. This is a very busy group of women. I’d love to learn more. Alex, well, since we’ve got you here already, let’s kick it off to you. Could you tell us a little bit more about working with such a large brand. F45 is all over the place in California? We’d love to learn about that, but also how do you create a local feel of what your community needs impacted by your own individual business voice and vision?
Alex: Yeah. It’s interesting because I’ve always worked for larger brands. Five years ago I was in DC. I moved there for grad school. I did sports management at Georgetown and I’ve always worked in fitness. I’ve worked for the Orangetheories, the crunches, all these large brands. And so working with a company like that, there’s things that we have to do specifically. There’s on brand messaging that we do, there’s challenges that as a company we all do. But I like to say that Oakland, we hit a little different because we like to target. Oakland it’s a city, it’s not a small suburb. When we do our marketing, it’s very authentic to where we are. I’m born and raised in Oakland as well. I pull a lot from the community.
Alex: My family is from here. All my friends are here. A lot of the marketing that we do is really tailored to our demographic. Our actual studio is based in Uptown Oakland, which is the arts district of Oakland. So we pull a lot from that. We have a really good community there that we use and work with. I think our specific studio, we’ve had a lot of fun really making it authentic to Oakland and the Oakland culture and our love for the Bay Area in general. I think if you know anybody from the Bay Area, that’s the first thing that they say.
Alex: That’s really helped us build the community that we have. And a lot of the marketing and the events that we’ve done, because it is such a large company, it’s hard to get a lot of assistance. A lot of it has been us on our own just kind of finding our way as we go. And I think with COVID, everybody has had to do that. We’ve done the best that we can so far and it’s been great. It’s been a good learning experience, really pulling from the Oakland and the Bay Area, roots here.
Helina: Yeah. That’s great to hear. And we’ve heard that you really started from the ground up during a really challenging time with very limited marketing, almost over 150 members already.
Alex: Yeah, our goal was to open with 100 and I wanted to do that without marketing. I said, I’m going to do it. I don’t know how we’re going to do it, but we’re going to do it. And we did. Like I said, my family’s rooted here. All my friends helped me open the studio. We moved the equipment ourselves. My best friend from kindergarten, he’s an architect so he did all the drawings for me. We were really able to use that and kind of push us and get us going, get our foot in the door.
Alex: One of my best friends is a DJ. And so during COVID we were in lockdown obviously. We did bootcamp outside. We did it at a school. We did it at a parking lot. We’ve done it. It was a cash and carry parking lot. We’ve done it everywhere. But every week my friend would come and DJ and people would always tell me this is an escape from where I am right now, just coming here even if we’re outside. Sometimes we were in the rain. But just having that was really, really awesome. And I think that’s how we’ve been able to build the members that we have thus far. We just started marketing last month.
Helina: That’s great to see. Pulling and being scrappy in the beginning always builds character and helps you keep going. That’s a great story. I would love to pass it over to Chelsea. Chelsea, I’d love to learn a little bit more about DivaDance and share when it comes to that balance of a large national brand with the core message of empowerment, moving your body, feeling good, as well as the local feel of different squads in different cities, if you could tell us a little bit more about how you balance all of that.
Chelsea: Yeah. It’s a excellent question. DivaDance is a dance experience for adults only, so sorry if you’re under 18. This is an adult only dance experience. It is open for all levels of dancers, whether you’ve had no dance experience or a ton, anywhere in between we’re open to all. And I think that’s really what draws our clients, how our membership base, our clients. It’s something that you can step into at any point, you don’t have to have years of dance training. That being said, it’s something that appeals everywhere. We have markets in New York. We have markets all over Texas. We have markets in Florida. We have markets in DC. It’s something that we’re able to pull the everywhere because who doesn’t love Beyonce, who doesn’t love Rihanna, who doesn’t love Katie Perry and Britney Spears and all those things.
Chelsea: And those are our core people that we pull from. We only dance to top forties hits. That’s the top music that’s out that everybody wants to move to. And just like Alex was mentioning during the pandemic, everybody needed a bit of an escape. This was something that everyone was able to still tune into and just decompress, meet new people, build confidence and have their lives change. Really we’ve had so many clients that have just such life changing experience through DivaDance. Like I said, we are in 20 different markets. I’ve heard stories from everyone. People met their best friends with us. They’ve gone on vacation together. They’re planning happy hours together. It’s really nice to see that such a large corporate energy can pull such small, local cool connections together.
Chelsea: And that’s something that I work hard to make sure that is happening on the marketing end with social media and everything like that. We are helping our markets on a local level by posting for them on their social media accounts a few times a week, but what really makes their account local and branded for them is what they’re posting themselves. DivaDance, our business model is not a brick and mortar. We’re popping into studios. We’re popping into gyms. Alex, we were also outside in quite a few markets for a while, which you got to make it work, but our owners are posting what they’re doing as well in their own markets and that’s living and breathing and creating that energy wherever they are, whether it’s in Dallas, whether it’s in Chicago, it has its own mark, which is really, really great.
Helina: Yeah. That’s amazing. Individualized, personalized experiences really creates community. And it sounds like that’s why you’ve been able to expand so much. Let’s pass it over to our Yelp Elite. Hi, Dom. Really important question that I’m sure business owners are dying to know what draws you to a local business and what sets it apart or what draws you to a business in general and what sets apart a chain that is clear locally owned. How does community and connection play into your experience with businesses?
Dominek: Yeah. I’ll go ahead and tackle first what draws me to a business. I’m looking for obviously outside of great customer service some type of unique or fun offering. I’m looking for a business that I would feel is inclusive, safe, and has a welcoming environment for everyone. Also, something in today’s age, it’s really hard to have a product or a service and your core base not be connected to the creator of it. Hearing that story of the why behind what you started. I love how Alex explained how it was so important for her to open up her boutique fitness gym in a town that she grew up in knowing that people needed that. That connection, right there is something that I’m looking for. And then in terms of when it comes to a chain or a franchise, when it being locally owned, I want to see more of the influence of the local community.
Dominek: I think Chelsea did a great job of talking about that. Like when they do events in Houston, they’re doing cowboy boots and things like that. I think that’s really important. I definitely understand having to have certain assets posted on your social media that are required by the company, but showing the fun side or the side of the business through stories and what your customers are doing, how they’re interacting with your brand or your product, I think is a great way as well.
Helina: Great answer. That makes total sense. I know you have said a lot of answers that business owners are looking to hear and really getting that valuable of feedback from elites that support local businesses is really important. Let’s pass it back over to Alex. Alex, how do you cultivate a social personality while still maintaining the overall F45 brand image? And how do you think about engaging or how do you think about engaging with your audience online?
Alex: I think for us specifically, it’s a small studio. We have four coaches in total and they’re a big part of the gym. There’s no front desk, there aren’t salespeople. We do everything in house. Anything that’s post posted is one of myself or one of the other coaches and we all know our members. Any member that comes in the room, I know their name. I probably know their family member. I have one, I call her auntie Stephanie, we are not related, but that’s how it is. And so we carry that online as well. Whether we’re doing a tip Tuesday for a move that maybe we notice a lot of our clients are having trouble with, and then we’ll have one of our coaches go online and explain the move. A lot of times we ask our members what they want to see. Is there food you want to see, different type of meal plans you’d like or again, moves that you’re having trouble with.
Alex: My rule of thumb is I don’t post things just to post them. If I don’t have anything to post, we’re just not posting that day. I like to make it make sense that’s what my coach always said to me. I played basketball and that was always her thing. That goes down to the Instagram. If I have a large class and it was a great class and everybody was working really hard, get together, act like you love each other, we’re taking a group photo. And because I run it the way that I want it to be ran, a lot of the members, I think the voice of F45 Oakland Uptown is very me. And they know that it’s me, based on the way that I post.
Alex: And then again, obviously there are generic F45, like if we’re doing a challenge or if we’re doing, we have, it’s called heroes Hollywood. It’s about two to three months, every studio can pick a difference charity that you donate to and then all the proceeds from that class will go to that charity. For things like that when we post, we reach out to our clients first, what charity do you guys think would be great? Most recently we did the Oakland Public Schools Fund. Obviously we’re going back to school, I went to Oakland Public Schools so that meant a lot to me. We did one for the AAPI community a few months ago. Anything that we post, I want it to mean something or again, I don’t think it’s relevant, it doesn’t need to be posted. I think that kind of separates us from some of the other studios sometimes.
Helina: Thank you so much, Alex. It sounds like there’s a reoccurrence theme of really personalizing the experience even though they’re a larger brand, really making sure that community members or your customers feel included, and it’s a personalized experience. Thank you for that. Let’s pass it back over to Chelsea. Chelsea, more and more businesses have gone online this year as we know, and you’ve done that quite successfully. Can you tell us how you guide your owners to be successful online?
Chelsea: That’s a great question. Yes. We pivoted very quickly and shout out to the senior team that did that. Because it was just crazy, because I mean, during the pandemic how do you have in person dance classes? And that is our business model. We were able to pivot into online classes, live stream classes, shot from our headquarters, which are in Austin, Texas. And what was great about that was we were able to record the classes and now we can offer them as online class options throughout the week. For example, for some of our newer markets, they’re not having classes every day. On the days they’re not having classes, they might pop in an online class offering instead to fill out that class schedule. But aside from that, online, even also in terms of social media things too, I mean, like I said, we are on the corporate side posting on their behalf, but we also do a handoff meeting after the new owners kind of getting into the swing of things for the first few months we are posting their content for them.
Chelsea: They are seeing what goes up. They’re seeing the captions, they’re seeing our hashtags that we use, the language learning that the DivaDance branded verbiage that we use and we’ll do a handoff meeting and we’ll say, okay, this is what we post. Here’s our accounts. Here’s how you find things. These are some best practices that you can use just so that we are empowering them to be able to post confidently and post with purpose. Just like Alex said, if they don’t make sense, it don’t make sense. Don’t put it up. We want quality, quality things. And that being said too, we’re a dance company, posting still pictures of someone in class is not going to be it. We want to see video, we want to see what the product is. Even if you’re a restaurant or any apparel company, I want to see the product, what is the product?
Chelsea: And I want to see it in its fullest form. And if it’s not high quality pictures, don’t put it up. Don’t feel like, oh I didn’t post in a week. I should just put this picture up. But it’s dimly lit and it’s bad quality. Don’t even don’t even do it. It’s not worth it. Those are some of the things that we do make sure that we coach them on as well as our party business. We do have parties that they do that all of our markets do, whether it’s bachelorette parties or birthday already special events, those are specialized things that are happening within the market that aren’t happening every day but they’re one off things, post that. Make sure that your online community is seeing that. And the last thing that we do empower them to do too, is one of our core values are building community, inspiring confidence and changing lives.
Chelsea: We have our online community, a private Facebook group for just our clients. And that’s like I said, when everyone’s planning events and stuff, that’s where it is popping in the Facebook groups. Everybody’s chatting all the time. They’re posting their own videos, their own pictures, that kind of thing. We take videos at the end of our classes and we post them up there and everybody’s there to cheer each other on to encourage each other like, oh, Sally, you looked great that day. And thanks, Jenny. It’s such a great way to continue that presence and to have that cultivated just your own little community there to, like I said, support each other and to be there for one another too.
Helina: That’s a great insight. Thank you for sharing. Community is so important and I feel like that’s a reoccurring theme that we keep seeing throughout successful local businesses. Totally agree. I think Dom would agree too, she’s been Yelp Elite for so long. Let’s change gears a little slightly and talk about partnership and collaboration. Alex, you talked about the importance of your local community. Is there anything you’d like to share as it relates to local collaboration and partnerships to help your business grow?
Alex: Yeah. When I moved away, like I said, I moved for grad school and I’ve always played sports, but I wasn’t in fitness. When I first came home, it was really trying to get my name out there and going different studios and coaching. I was stepping everywhere, just so people knew me in fitness. And then when I decided to open the studio and we started working towards that and was like, okay, what brands can I reach out to? What can we do? Athleto was a really big one here that really helped us. We did like a grand opening party, even though we didn’t get to open because of COVID, but they helped us. We did giveaways with them. A lot of local brands, we worked with the community that we’re in again, it’s called KONO.
Alex: It’s like the uptown neighborhood of Oakland and they have a whole community board. When we had to run our boot camps, the Korean barbecue next door let us use their entire back parking lot. We’ve connected with them. There’s an event called first Friday. It’s the first Friday of every month, the block that we’re on and it’s 10 blocks and they open it up and there’s shops and there’s food and there’s drinks and the bars are out. That’s another way for us to kind of get everyone in the community together and local brands and kind of work with them. That’s been super helpful. And again, it’s a lot of people that I’ve grown up with have a few friends that have different brands that they’ve created clothing brands. And my friend has a cocktail brand that she does.
Alex: We’ve collaborated with people like that as well. And I think the more that we do that, the more that our members feel like they’re part of it and they want to be involved. Like, “Oh my God, this is Alex’s friend from 100 years ago.” It’s been really great. A lot of people have reached out to me too. It hasn’t had to be me the entire time reaching out to people. We’ve gotten a lot of support even to the point where we needed facilities some of the brands helped reach out on our behalf to find facilities to be bootcamp and things like that. It’s been very helpful. We’ve done a lot of different challenges, a lot of different things that we’ve used different partners for. It’s been great.
Helina: Awesome. Events is key.
Helina: Chelsea, I know that DivaDance is the way to be very collaborative locally, but could you share more of the advice that you would give new owners and best practices to find these local partners?
Chelsea: Yeah. Actually one of our assignments for new owners before they launch is to find local partners. What local businesses are in your area that would be great to partner with. What businesses will find our Molly, which is our client prototype. Where are the Mollies? Where can we find them? Is it like a beauty salon? Is it a lash salon? Who else is in your area that will help you out? And actually, one thing that I found when I was the general manager for the New York market is that’s when Luminary just opened as well. And I was able to reach out to Luminary and say, “Hey, we’d love to partner with you guys.” And actually Kate, as a side note, Kate, the owner of Luminary is a University of Maryland alumni, as well as am I.
Chelsea: And we kind of connected on that too. And we were able to offer classes to her members for free, and some of our members were to come in as well too in their wellness wing at Luminary. There’s constant businesses that are coming in. You just kind of have to keep your ears out to see who’s coming in, what’s happening, where can we work together and collaborate and make that happen. But on another note too, within our owners, again, bring back that community. We inspire community within our owners as well. We have Slack account, we’re all in there. And our owners are also chatting too like, “Hey, I worked with this partner, they’re really great and I think that they’re actually out in Chicago. You should work with them too and I can give you the contact.”
Chelsea: That’s really a great way to network within your own network and keep those partnerships alive there, but they also chat about ideas at work, things that didn’t work, promos that are going great. And so that everybody can kind of get a piece of that pie there, but they’re really keeping an eye out on where, where is your client that is not in a competitive business that you’re already in. Because obviously we’re not going to go to look to partner with Broadway Dance Center. We’re going to, like I said, go to a nail salon. Our clients are probably there or a really hot brunch spot. Go take DivaDance class and then go to this brunch place and you can partner there. There’s just kind of have to think outside the box a little bit and see who’s local and who’s new.
Helina: That’s a great strategy and something that you mentioned that you start early on, even before they’re really operating. Great idea to collaborate and to support other businesses along the way, too. It’s a win-win situation. Let’s get to a final talking point before we open it up for Q&A, which I failed to mention, if anybody is watching today and has a question for any of our panelists, please drop it in our chat and we will see if we can get those answered as well. But before we do that, I wanted to discuss some of the challenges to being black in business. Dominique, when we prep for this panel, you had some really great insights that you wanted to share. I’ll let you kick this part off.
Dominek: Yeah. You guys were just talking about some type of disadvantage or challenges that we face as being black business owners. And I remember that the department of small business services for New York City recently published something and they were talking about how black entrepreneurs on average their startup capitals $25,000 compared to a white entrepreneur, which is a $100,000. We’re already at a disadvantage there with things that we can afford and expenses and services. Sometimes we find a way to try to do it all on our own from social media to the books, to hiring, to cleaning. We’re doing it all. I always tell people, reach out to your local services that you might have through the state or to the city that you live in. Here in New York, which is small business services they have a lot of different opportunities that are available from mentoring to connecting with the legal professionals for free.
Dominek: I always tell people, make sure that you’re utilizing those free services. And also sometimes because we’re trying to do everything, we’re not masters of everything. Social media is sometimes that area that we can struggle in. I always remind people that social media is a free platform so why not maximize the use of it? Making sure that you’re engaging with your followers or your customers, making sure that you’re responding to them, uploading quality content. And it kind of goes back to what Alex was saying earlier, be intentional about what you post. Make sure it’s authentic and organic to you. And those are just a couple of pointers as a good start.
Helina: Yeah. That’s really, really helpful. Does anybody else on the panel, Alex or Chelsea have any input to that question as well?
Alex: I think for me in fitness in general, it’s like the underrepresenation. When I brought F45 to Oakland, I told you guys earlier, we don’t have boutique fitness in Oakland. There’s adjacent cities that we have it in, but not specifically in Oakland. And I remember saying when we thought about it, I’m like, I don’t know if this community will accept it because it’s not something that they’re used to seeing. You don’t see a lot of people that look like me at an F45 or in the marketing for F45, I will say until this actually past year, they did start to add people of color to the marketing and the branding, which is awesome. But prior to that, it’s hard because not only do I have to make you understand what this is, why it’s important, why you would enjoy it, but I have to make you feel comfortable.
Alex: Like you see somebody that looks like you, that’s doing it, that’s providing it so that you feel comfortable. I think for me, that kind of the biggest hurdle and now just with the coaching staff alone, it’s very diverse. Well, right now we have all women, but that’s not on purpose it just happened that way. But we have every race, we have people who identify differently as well within our coaching staff. My friend that DJs. It’s very inclusive, which I love and I know being from the Bay Area we love in general, but I think that was one of my biggest hurdles is how do I make people feel comfortable with something that they’re not used to seeing somebody that looks like them. And so it’s gotten better as a whole F45 has gotten better, but that was probably the biggest struggle at the beginning.
Helina: Yeah. Thank you for sharing that too. I feel like sometimes we think that we’re the other, but a lot of times we realize that that’s actually really needed. Maybe somebody wants to go to a gym where they feel like, I work out too. I want to go to a gym where people maybe look like me or reflect my interests and tastes or music selections and interest as well. And so realizing that your customer base might be more wider and not as narrow as maybe we thought previously. Do you have anything to share Chelsea on this question?
Chelsea: Yeah. I mean, for us, we really live, breathe and speak being all inclusive. All of our clientele, just like Alex just said, you’re mentioning come from all walks of life and all nationalities up to our instructors identify very differently from each other all over the country. And even our owners. I mean, all of our owners are women, but all of our owners, 30% of them are women of color, which is really great. And the numbers growing as well. And the great thing about DivaDance too is that we do recognize that black owners are in a disadvantaged position historically, and we do offer different financing options specifically for black owners to encourage more black ownership. And that’s something that, like I said, we don’t just speak that we are inclusive and that’s what we do, but we really are about it.
Chelsea: And even in a marketing perspective, when I’m looking to shoot content and I need clients to be in it, I don’t have to cherry pick people necessarily. I can just kind of throw it out there. And I will have people from all different walks of life. I will have a handful of men even that are coming to be in the content shoots too. And also even down to our merchandise, our apparel. We will only have apparel that will go up to a certain size.
Chelsea: We have extra small up to 3X. If it’s not going up to 3X, we’re not going to do it because we want all of our clients to be able to participate and actively engage with the brand. I think it’s so important when people of color are looking for businesses to invest in or to own a part of a franchise. You do need to look at what’s happening on the corporate level and are they walking the walk and talking the talk as well? Just so that we can make sure that our dollars are being invested well and that we are feeling comfortable and we can grow with the company as well.
Helina: Yeah. That inclusivity is so important. And it’s really interesting that you mentioned even right down to your apparel, things that you may not even think about, but we should be thinking about on every level, inclusivity really, really is important to track local customers and loyal customers. Let’s keep it with you, Chelsea, do you have anything that you’d like to share as it relates to DivaDance and representation with your franchises? Anything else?
Chelsea: I mean, our franchisors they are, like I said, they’re women of all different ages, all different walks of life. They’re moms, they are army vets, they are teachers. They’re really coming from a different background. And what I love about them is that, like I said, they are very collaborative. They are talking to each other, they are helping each other out. And sometimes they’re commiserating with each other like, “Oh man, I did this thing and it didn’t work out well. And it blew up in my face.” And a lot of times it’s celebrating each other. Like I said, we do work with Slack and it’s constantly like, oh my God, this person just did this and we’re cheering them on. And we do have recruitment retreats.
Chelsea: And we do have owner retreats too, where we are all coming together and meeting and making sure that we’re all hanging out. Yes, having fun and getting the community aspect of it, but also making sure that we’re holding each other accountable. We’re each other’s accountability buddies and knowing each other’s goals and making sure that we’re meeting them too. The owners are just wonderful, wonderful woman that are really boss babes as we call them.
Helina: Yes. Well, thank you. Brittany wants to know, we’re opening it up to Q&A so if you guys have any questions, continue in the chat. How did you guys really know when it was time to start a business? What was the aha moment and that had you open a franchise?
Alex: I can go because I was laughing. Because mine it was very aha moment. My dad called me out of the blue. I was in DC and I was in a weird place. And that was the place I’d been living for two years. I was moving out. I’ve always worked full time in marketing. And then I did part-time fitness, but I always coached 15, 20 classes a week. And my dad called me one day and he’s like, “You seem like you’re really into fitness and you really like it.” I’m like, “Yeah. I sure do.” He’s like, “What do you think about getting a gym?” And I didn’t really understand, I didn’t know what he meant. My dad is not in fitness. He works out a lot. He’s an athlete.
Alex: And he asked me and we went, because the time I worked at Orangetheory, so we talked around doing an Orangetheory or doing my own thing just like shopping around. I had recently just started F45 and I really loved the programming. It was new. And I knew it was something that if we started early enough, it’d be a really good time before it really took off. We went and we took a few classes together. We went to different states to try to figure out where we wanted to do it. And then I remember one day I just looked at him I was like, “We have to do it in Oakland.” That’s literally how it happened. I always said I wanted to own a gym. When I was in college, I did say that, but I never thought I actually would. When people ask me now, did you ever think you’d be doing this, absolutely not. Absolutely not. We’re here.
Helina: Yeah. And it’s takes a lot of time. It takes a lot of passion when you commit, you’ve got to totally wholly commit. I’m going to pass it over to Dom again. Dom, what about a business’s characteristics make you really want to spread the word about them. What type of things stand out to you about a remarkable business that makes you want to return?
Dominek: I love when a staff can remember. Let’s just take something very simple, for example. There’s a coffee shop that is here in Harlem called neighborhood relay and I love that when I’m standing there and the world’s going crazy and I can’t remember my coffee order, they just remember. Little things like that or offering something that’s like a weekly special. Another thing I love is when I’m seeing business owners support other business owners. And this is something that Alex was talking about earlier.
Dominek: For example, there is a cycling studio near my house and it’s black own it’s called Harlem cycle, but she supports Harlem Pilates, which is also black owned by a woman. And she also supports this place called Harlem [inaudible 00:35:31] which they also make water and they deliver water to her cycling studio. I love when I see businesses supporting one another. It’s more like collaboration than competition. And I think that’s something also Chelsea was talking about. Those are just like a couple of things that I’m looking at when I’m going to a business outside of obviously really good customer service, consistency when it comes to the product or service.
Helina: Yeah. You hit the deal right on the head like a true Yelp Elite. You know a good business when you see it. And collaboration is so key. Those sound like three awesome businesses I want to check out as well. Let’s see if we’ve got any other questions in the chat. All right. I’m going to open it up for all of you. As business owners, how do you set goals that are ambitious, but also attainable?
Chelsea: One thing that I will say when I was the general manager for the New York market is I would speak with the HQ senior team. And we would just look at what was happening, maybe a couple months prior, and then what’s happening in the next quarter, whether it’s holidays or for example, good example. Over the summertime it seems like a great time because oh my gosh, everyone’s going to want to be outside. Everyone’s going to be out the house, blah, blah, blah. But everyone’s going to want to be outside at brunch or at a park or something like that. They might not want to be in class or they might be on vacation. Your numbers might be a little bit lower than usual. Let’s plan some events that will boost those numbers or let’s put a lot of Beyonce on the schedule because she always brings people out or you kind of have to project things there and then you make your goals from there.
Chelsea: But what would help me is that I would communicate to my team what the goals are. Here’s where we’re at. Here are our membership goals. Here are our sales goals and I would literally sit them down and I would show them our KPIs. Here’s what we did last month. Here’s where I would like to be. Here’s what our close ratio is, here’s how many new enrollments we had. So that they have more buy-in as well. They know what their assignment is and they can move confidently knowing that their efforts don’t go out in vain. They have an assignment, they know what to do, and everybody’s working together for that. And it’s so exciting to see those goals come to because you literally see them light up like, “Oh my gosh, we did it, we made it.” It’s a great community booster too, for the team.
Helina: Great answer. Really just setting those goals and making sure that they’re attainable because it helps actually lay the foundation for the next set of goals for the next season. Let’s talk about tactics that you’re doing to get new customers, obviously with that you were trying to grow and expand each year, each season. Are there any other tactics Alex, that you want to share with us? I know that you’re relatively new, but anything that you have in mind or that you’ve tried or want to try to get new customers into your doors?
Alex: Yeah. I think before with COVID, again, a lot of the things that I wanted to do I couldn’t do because you couldn’t have large group gatherings and you couldn’t. A lot of the things that I have planned, I was like, okay, well, we’ll wait till it’s safe. So now I feel like it’s safer. A lot of those events, like I said, those first Friday events, we are going to table them. Any type of larger farmer’s market or anything like that, it’s just going to be me and my manager or another coach just explaining what F45 is. Because really what is it’s that their motto is team training, life changing. It’s all about working out with other people. There’s 20 or 30 people in the class with you, and then you have two coaches, every class. Really motivating you, helping you, pushing you to your goals.
Alex: And so being able to be out in the community at different events and explaining that and showing that, it’s going to be life changing for me, at least I’d have to hustle as hard. We also finally started marketing so that is helpful. That should help me a little bit as well. And then honestly, all my coaches are my friends. Every time I’ve ever worked anywhere, I’ve been able to hire my own team. And so I’ve hired all my friends and so they want me to win so they’re always out at events. They’re also personal trainers and they work at other studios as well. And they’re always bringing me new clients and new members. I kind of rely on them a lot heavily as well to kind of help me with the marketing, but there’s just so many shops and businesses around us that have reopened too that we plan to kind of reach out to.
Alex: We are at the bottom of a retail, a new apartment complex. We’ve done deals with them and then there’s a fire department and like Kaiser. So we do special for essential workers. Little things like that, that will bring people in, but also does, again, it really is about the community. I know I keep saying that I don’t mean to sound corny, but it really is because it’s small business. We are a franchise, but we’re a small business. It’s me and my dad. The more that I get them involved and can be out and I’m a face for that, I think that does the marketing for me.
Helina: Yeah. Great answer. I mean everyone has a choice on where they want to spend their money and feeling like they belong to a community is so important because that builds loyalty. Totally understandable, we at Yelp believe in community as well. And so we understand the value of that and we see that all the time with our most successful business owners that we work with. Chelsea, did you have something to share?
Chelsea: Yeah, I was going to say too, what we find works the most with getting clients is member referrals. The members that are there, they love you. They love coming. If they’re going to tell their friends, oh my gosh, Jenny, I had this thing that I’m going to every Monday and Thursday. It’s great. You should come with me. They’re not going to tell their friend that might not like it. They’re going to tell their friend that’s going to enjoy it with them because they don’t want to bring a friend that’s going to be like, “Oh, that was wack.” They want to have a good time with a friend. The member of referrals are the best thing that you can do. I would also say just like with Dominek was saying with the, was it Harlem cycle doing partnership events. Again, where’s your client?
Chelsea: Those are places that your client hype might also be. Yes, have the events and have the partnership events, but are you getting those clients information? We’re actually about to do an event in New York with 34th Street Partnership. And the one thing that I told the general manager there now I said to her is, “Okay, we’re going to do this, but do you need to ask them if there is a listing of all those people that are coming to this free event outside in Herald Square. So there’s going to be a lot of people there. Can we get their name, email and phone number.”
Chelsea: Because yes, it’s great to have the clients there but in my opinion, it’s really more about how are you bringing them back? How are you getting them back in the door and how are they continuing to come? And if you don’t have their contact information, it’s almost as if they never came sometimes because yes, you got a name, but what after that. Definitely finding out where your client is and how do you get them to return is super, super important.
Helina: And making that connection. Alex, you also mentioned the importance of hiring people that you mentioned hiring your friends, but really I think that goes back to hiring people or keeping people around you that really are authentic and love your business and that are ambassadors for your business. Hiring people that are enthusiastic is so an important too, I imagine, as a new business owner, because that does marketing in and of itself. Let’s pass it over to Dom. Dom, I want to know from a customer’s perspective or Yelp Elites perspective, how do you identify an authentic business?
Dominek: I start with reviews. I’m going on Yelp, I’m checking their social pages. I’m actually in the comments, I’m looking to see what other people are saying. I’m looking at their stories. I’m checking with my friends to see if they’ve been there before. Just how like Chelsea mentioned word of mouth. I’m really into social media. I’ll check engagement just to make sure you’re not buying fake followers. Don’t do that if you guys are out there thinking about it, do not do it. Slow and grow. But those are just a couple ways that I’ll determine how authentic a business is. And also I’d like to know like, like I told you before, if it’s a franchise I want to know about more about the operator. Is there something on their Instagram page that’s telling me their story or is there something on their website that’s telling me their story. Because normally owners want you to know who they are so that way you can still connect it. Those are just a couple of ways that I determine how authentic a business is outside of obviously going and supporting.
Helina: Yeah. That’s a great answer. Just doing your research and remembering that the customer does have choices. There’s plenty of different ways to get fit. There’s different ways to work out and dance, plenty of places to eat, but doing your research as a Yelp Elite, you have choices and seeing those businesses, usually they’re the smaller guys that stand out and really make that connection. Let’s see if we’ve got more interesting questions. Actually, I’m going to open it back up to you guys. How the business owners, we talked about authenticity. How do you show that you’re an authentic business with a large brand. I’ve heard of F45 before being out here in LA and I did not even realize it was a franchise. How do you guys really show that you’re authentic? I know you touched on that a bit when you talked about community, but is there anything else you wanted to share on that in that regard after Dominek’s comments?
Alex: It’s a feeling. That’s what I always say when even I coach, it’s a feeling, it’s the people in the room. It’s your coaches. It’s the way you feel when you leave and when you come in and I think Oakland in general, I don’t know. It just makes me laugh because I’ve gone to so many studios and every time people come to mind, they’re like, man, this was amazing. It’s just different than the ones that I’ve been to. And I don’t know if it’s because, just like the passion that we have to be in there because we’re really excited to be there. I don’t know what it is though. And I think on social, we’re very active on social. Every class, somebody is taking videos of the class, somebody’s taking pictures of my friend DJing and I’m dancing and fixing form.
Alex: You know what I mean, and a lot of our members get very involved online and like Chelsea said, it is pretty much all of our memberships and stuff have been word of mouth. It’s like, “Oh, I go here on Saturdays. They have this amazing DJ. Alex is great.” And then they bring people. They’re always asking to take pictures after there’s like the big, if you’ve been there, the big F45 sign, everybody goes at the end, take a picture there. It’s an experience. I think fitness in general is an experience no matter where you go. But I think the way that we do ours is just a little bit different in that the passion that goes along with it. And I think even online, you can see it. Just follow us online. You’ll see it.
Helina: I plan on doing so. I’m a big F45 fan. I’m sure even more so when I get to your location.
Alex: There you go.
Helina: We’ve got time for one more question and some closing thoughts, but I wanted to talk about business plans. You’re part of a larger brand, but did you guys have a business plan prior to starting off your company, your business?
Chelsea: Well, for us, with DivaDance, once the owner purchases the franchise, they have lots of touch points to the senior team. There’s not as many of us as probably everyone think there are, but like I said, we all wear a lot of different hats and we have meetings with them weekly. Kind of the business plan is built in and we work together to build it together step by step process. We’re about to launch another market tomorrow, but we just launched Jacksonville and we’re launching uptown dance tomorrow. And that process started in April May-ish and it was just step by step.
Chelsea: What’s your competitive analysis? Next step, studio research. Next step, what’s your price point for your membership offerings and things like that. But because we are a franchise, a lot of things are copy, cut and past, but the passion, the excitement, the energy, that’s what makes it authentic. And that’s what really gets the business plan itself moving and grooving. And it sets it apart from other, not just other dance studios, but other diva dance studios too around the country. But for us, the business plan has really worked into the launch plan pretty much.
Helina: That makes total sense. You’ve got this clear set of plan, but add a sprinkling personality strategy and considering-
Chelsea: We work together as partners, really, to make sure that the owners dreams and goals are able to happen, but we give them advice and it’s push and pull but it’s great.
Helina: Well, it’s been an honor to have you guys share your thoughts with us and share it with these amazing local business owners who that are tuning in today.