Why Calgary-based Barre Belle took the leap
Growing up, Barre Belle co-founders Kristi Stuart and Jill Belland were avid dancers. And while dancers typically retire from the sport around the age of 18, they both really missed pursuing this passion. Into adulthood, they continued to fuel their love of fitness and that’s when they discovered barre classes. They loved the return to dance principles but still craved a workout where they could break a sweat. That’s where the idea for Barre Belle was born. Starting in 2016, they opened a studio in Calgary and in just over three years they had nine studios across Canada. Due to COVID, their business saw the need for a lot of evolution but continues to provide a unique fitness experience across Canada and beyond. Today, they have two in-person studios (one in Calgary, one in Toronto) and a growing Video On Demand community. We connected with co-founder Kristi to hear about their journey and what’s next for Barre Belle.
Rogers Business: Tell us a little bit about Barre Belle and what makes it unique.
Kristi: We started in 2016 and grew pretty quickly. It didn’t take long before we had 140 contractors/employees across the country, and most of them were female. But what makes Barre Belle so special are the people who frequent it – both our customers and our staff. The sense of community is just phenomenal and that’s hard to find. It’s not a manufactured feeling. It’s a cool space where we welcome everyone because it truly is a labour of love.
Rogers Business: Is there someone or something that inspired you to start this business?
Kristi: The catalyst that made me go forth and do it was a little girl named Diamond Marshall. She had cancer and was nine years old when she passed away. At her funeral, her dad gave the eulogy and said ‘You live once. Diamond, she did everything without fear.’ And that stuck with me. I was scared to do this because I was worried I would fail. But I realized that if I failed, then I’d still be able to say I did it. I just thought ‘If a nine year old can fight cancer so fearlessly, I can do this.’
Rogers Business: What has been the biggest lesson you’ve learned as a small business owner?
Kristi: I’ve learned that you try to plan the best you can and then a curveball gets thrown at you. You always have to make the best decision with the information that you have at the time. You think you can plan but you totally cannot. The only thing you can control is how you react to a situation.
Throughout COVID, we were trying to deal with so many stakeholders: clients, staff, landlords, banks, investors. You’ll keep getting knocked down but you just have to keep getting back up. One good lesson COVID taught me was that the bad times pass, but the good times pass too, so really enjoy them when they’re there. Take time to enjoy what you’ve accomplished.
Rogers Business: How do you get word out about your business?
Kristi: We didn’t do any paid marketing until we moved online in early 2020. Initially, we grew a lot thanks to word of mouth from our community. We also make sure to pick locations that are vibrant, young areas that are part of a city’s community fabric. This helps people find us and we get lots of foot traffic. Since we’ve started offering Video On Demand content, we do online advertising to expand our reach. Our online community also plays a huge role in spreading the word and bringing new people in.
Rogers Business: What is your vision for the future of your business?
Kristi: COVID totally changed group fitness forever. Our original plan was to have studios in every city. Today, our goal is to create an online community across Canada so that a person in Toronto can be doing the same class as a friend in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan or Fort St-John, BC. We want to keep sharing our love of fitness and grow our community online. So far, we have clients in over 15 countries around the world, but Canada is our home and that’s where we want to focus the growth of our business. We want to have a few key in-person studios and then just keep growing online.
Rogers Business: What advice would you give to someone else looking to get started?
Kristi: Do your research. Learn the market and see if there’s a need for your product. Once you’ve done that and know there is a need, go for it. It’s the scariest thing you’ll ever do in your entire life. And also the greatest thing you’ll ever do. You’ll never learn as much as you do when you start and run your own business. It’s the greatest education you’ll ever have. The worst thing that can happen is the business fails. We went through the worst that could happen because of COVID, and we’re still here. I’m so glad we did it.
Rogers Business: What is the greatest reward you’ve gotten as a small business owner?
Kristi: The greatest reward has been feedback from our clients on how their lives have changed because of Barre Belle. They’ve made life-changing decisions because of the confidence they gained from coming to Barre Belle. And that has just been the most magical thing that kept me going through all the hard times.
Rogers Business: Where can people find your business online?
Video On Demand: BarreBelleOnline.com – Get one month free when you use the code ROGERS at checkout
Website: BarreBelle.ca – Your first in studio class is free