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5 YEARS IN—How One Studio Owner Continues to Embrace Change

Whether you oversee a Group Fitness Department at a full-service gym or you own your own boutique fitness studio, keeping your offerings and environment fresh and exciting is crucial to your long-term success. “We are constantly asking people to change their bodies and their mindsets, but if we don’t change—the class formats, the environment, the way we cue—our members will get bored,” says Marydawn Taggart, owner of Maddog 5/1 Fitness Studio in St. Joseph, Michigan.

Now in their 6th year of business, we interviewed Marydawn to learn how she keeps members coming back and her biggest lessons learned in the past five years as a boutique studio owner.

RR: When did you open your doors?

MT: We opened in January 2011 and our goal was to create an innovative and motivating boutique fitness studio environment. We opened in a 2,500 square foot space and offered RealRyder Cycling and TRX classes, which included my own design of a boot camp that includes RealRyder Bikes. Every class we offered integrated the RealRyder Bikes.

RR: When did you implement your first major business change?

MT: After 2 years, we expanded into a space next door, which gave us another 2,500 square feet of space. We went even deeper into our core offerings and took advantage of the opportunity to cross-sell. We could get yoga people into the fitness classes, and the fitness people into the yoga classes. At least in this market, you’re either a yogi or a fitness person. But, a well-rounded fitness regimen requires both. So, we tried to marry the two businesses.

RR: When was your next major change?

MT: A year later, we relocated the business to expand further. I purchased a building and we started offering Barre classes. I got certified to teach Barre and then I evolved it to fit our brand. We were killing it! Classes were packed and I had standing room only. Then I developed a Ballerina Boot Camp, combining classic ballet with classic boot camp (weight training, HIIT intervals, etc.) training.

RR: Did you ever feel it was time to change up your indoor cycling program?

MT: Yes, I noticed people always looking in the mirror during our cycling classes. I wanted to address this because I felt it was important for people to get out of their heads. We removed the mirrors and created a stage where the instructors can fully embody their leadership position and added new lighting that enhanced the mood of the space. We’ve created a really great space for people to get into their own rides and to become more intrinsic with the real stuff of every day life, and be free of mirrors that can breed self-criticism and comparison. The stage also forces my instructors to step up and own their role, and not hide behind props. I replaced all my RealRyder bikes with new ones and re-tooled our interior design. We are constantly asking people to change their bodies and their mindsets, but if we don’t change—the class formats, the environment, the way we cue—our members will get bored.

RR: Can you share the biggest lessons that you’ve learned along your journey as a boutique fitness owner?

MT: For starters, don’t try to please everyone. Know thyself, know thy business. Know who you are and don’t waiver. Don’t do anything until you’re really sure, and you have laser sharp focus.

When it comes to competition, I’ve just tried to be the best at what we’re doing, and not chase the latest fad, but yet, still stay innovative. I stay looking ahead, clear about what I’m doing and repeat it over and over again. This is a marathon, not a sprint.

This whole business experience is like any relationship. I’ve been married for 32 years and it hasn’t always been a clear, sunny day. There have been big waves, but we’ve stayed the course, stayed patient, and stayed looking ahead. Your team has to feel like you’ve got this, even if you don’t always feel like you do.

Energy comes from passion. I don’t feel like I’m too tired to lead the next class or hit the ground running the next day. I’m so passionate about helping people get fit. I don’t think I could do what I do without the passion.

RR: Where have you grown the most, and what’s next?

MT: I now have the confidence to make the hard decisions. You can’t be indecisive or else you’ll get killed!

I’m currently working on the next phase. I was recently nominated by our local Chamber of Commerce to participate in a program called “10,000 Small Businesses” sponsored by Goldman Sachs and in partnership with Babson College. We are being inspired to come up with a growth plan that's 3-5 years down the road. We have advisors and peer groups, hours of weekly assignments and a few in-person meetings in Boston. At the end of the program, we get to pitch a board of investors. I’m exhilarated to have everything laid out in front of me. Now, I have to make it happen!

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