How One Woman Turned an Idea into a Successful Business
August 11, 2014 | Business and Careers
“We are the opposite of an overnight success,” says Clare Schexnyder, the founder and co-owner of Oh Baby! Fitness, a business she launched with the help of friends around her dinner table nine years ago. "It's been a lot of planning and diligence, but all the hard work and long hours have been worth it."
In 2004 Schexnyder was working as a producer for CNN’s medical unit when she learned she was pregnant with her first child. Before her maternity leave she worked on a series of stories about pregnancy and exercise. What she discovered was that while there were some well-done fitness programs across the country designed specifically for pregnant and post-natal women, they were few and far between, and none were in her hometown of Atlanta.
What Schexnyder saw was a large market that wasn’t being served as well as it could be. Women concerned about maintaining their fitness or losing weight after giving birth had limited choices. “A fitness center might offer one yoga class for pregnant women, or maybe you could find a post-birth stroller workout class,” remembers Schexnyder. “But almost no one was offering different kinds of classes using the latest knowledge about pre- and post-birth exercise combined with a supportive community for women dealing with pregnancy and a new baby.”
Schexnyder is like many new entrepreneurs who see an opportunity and make the leap to capitalize on their idea. It’s not an easy decision. According to the Small Business Administration, only one-third of new businesses stay open for more than 10 years. Experts like the SBA say key factors that can lead to success are careful planning, market research, finding mentors and creating a strong business plan. The SBA suggests hopeful entrepreneurs should ask themselves a lot of questions before launching a new business:
- Why am I starting a business?
- What kind of business do I want?
- Who is my ideal customer?
- How is my product different?
- Where will my business be located?
- How many employees will I need?
- How will I fund the business?
- How long before I turn a profit?
- How will my business be managed?
Planning for Success
Six months after giving birth Schexnyder quit her job in journalism and began the process for building Oh Baby! Fitness into a nationwide business. “It was an ambitious idea, and I knew I needed help. So I invited some of my friends and some of the smartest people I knew on the topic to join me at my house one night, and we hashed out the premise of the business that evening,” remembers Schexnyder. “We talked about what kinds of classes and training could be offered, and I began to think about how the business could be structured.”
Within a few years thousands of women have taken Oh Baby! Fitness classes in and around Atlanta and in more than a dozen states across the United States. Schexnyder says her initial investment was a mere $7,500 and lots of un-reimbursed hours, but she says they’ve turned the corner and have made a 20 percent profit each year. “By the end of the year we hope to be in every state and possibly overseas.”
“One piece of advice I would give to anyone starting a business is to reach out and ask a lot of questions. Ask, and ask some more,” she advises. “And then the key is to take action. Assess where you are, and then ask more questions. It’s an ongoing process to grow.”
Forging partnerships and alliances is something experts say is vital for first-time business owners, and Schexnyder says it was an important factor in her own. “My first thought was that we should partner with hospitals. And that was a crucial decision,” she says. “We wanted to reach women before and after pregnancy, and hospitals were a good way to do that. They were also able to offer other supportive services women might need, and in some cases they also were able to offer spaces where we could hold classes.”
While Schexnyder had become certified in pre- and post-natal fitness in preparation for launching Oh Baby! Fitness, she says she also knew she needed a team to help her make it a success. She found a ready partner in fitness instructor Kathleen Donahoe. Donahoe loved the cutting-edge fitness they could bring to pregnant women and new moms, and she wanted to get more deeply involved; so she went back to school to get her MBA and became a full partner. “Our mission is to provide this training to as many people as we can and to make classes accessible to as many women as we can,” says Donahoe, who has trained thousands of women in their techniques since Oh Baby! launched.
“It took a while for us to find the team to help us create the business we wanted to run,” says Donahoe. They sought out legal and financial advisors who could help them devise a business structure to meet their goals. “We looked really hard to find a lawyer and financial advisors who understood what we were trying to do and who could guide us. We really needed people who could think outside the box.”
Breaking the Mold to Make Your Own Model
While working with their advisors, they came up with a training, licensing and Internet support model for the business rather than a brick-and-mortar structure. “One of the things we worked out early on was how expensive it is to open just one gym. It would have been too big a buy-in, and it wouldn’t allow us to reach as many people,” remembers Schexnyder. “I knew that if we wanted to make these classes accessible to more women, we had to make the business model different than anything out there.”
So instead of building a gym, she chose to develop an exercise and certification program where fitness instructors could learn how to conduct specially designed fitness classes via the Oh Baby! website and then teach the classes in their own communities. Schexnyder says most people who take the classes are fitness experts who want to learn their pre- and post-natal exercises. She says health care workers sometimes also take the classes, as do expectant mothers. If instructors want to hold Oh Baby! certified classes, they need to sign up to become licensees and meet a high level of training requirements. What they get in exchange is their own page on the Oh Baby! website where they can book their classes and accept payments and do some of the back-end business management. The cost is a monthly licensing fee.
“It’s really a whole new way of doing business,” says Schexnyder. “Lots of people suggested we do a franchise model, but that would have made it too expensive for people to buy into. It took us a long time to work out the nuts and bolts with our advisors, but we wanted it structured so it wasn’t financially burdensome for someone who wanted to start teaching and to run his or her own Oh Baby! certified business, and we wanted to keep the costs low for the women taking the classes.”
“I really think the keys to our success were first breaking the molds with no brick and mortar, then partnering with hospitals, our technology and financial models, and finally our team,” she says.
Schexnyder and her partner, Kathleen Donahoe, are set to expand to the next phase of their business this summer, launching a new, more robust website to support licensees; and they expect to have Oh Baby! Fitness pre- and post-natal fitness classes available to women in all 50 states by year’s end. “The truth is it wouldn’t have worked if we weren’t willing to step out of the box (lots of people can’t do that), and if we weren’t willing to reach out and find the best people and ask them questions. You ask, you do, and then come back and do it all again until you get what you need to make it work.”