Would you ever consider franchising? If so, what would that look like, considering how important the Capitol Hill community is to your business?
Fouts: Not franchising, but expanding. We’ve looked at franchising; it might be an option down the line, [but] Jane and I are both big on quality control. You hear that more from us when we talk about our instructors and how proud we are of our training programs. I think we would want to continue to own. Certainly there are ways to have franchises where you own the training and you own the instructor development at a higher level, but to the extent where we could own Biker Barres — I think expanding is a possibility we’re excited about. There is a lot of room in D.C. for more boutique fitness.
You both had notable business and political careers before starting up Biker Barre. How has that influenced the way you run the studio?
Fouts: I learned a lot through my previous career in marketing — not just regarding marketing, but also understanding how people work as employees and clients. It helps us predict problems, be supportive and create the community that is Biker Barre.
Brodsky: I joke that I never use my law degree from Georgetown, but that's definitely not true, because a lot of what we do requires critical thinking and problem solving. For example, we recently needed to have some work done on the building. When deciding whether or not to do all of the work at once, I wanted to know how many classes we would need to cancel, how much it would cost and what we should do now and what we should leave until another time.
You were able to reduce opening costs at Biker Barre by putting off some desired elements at the studio, too. What did you put off purchasing, and can you tell us more about how you made the decision?
Fouts: We keep talking about making an investment in a nicer locker system. Lockers with electronic locks are $10,000 to $12,000. It’s a pretty big thing; they have to be custom-made. But that’s something that, once we have some money in the bank, we would like to consider. We ended up going with custom-built cubbies [instead]. In the end, the experience our clients have is still top-notch, but we were able to reduce our startup costs enough to get the doors open.
Brodsky: A better example is the retail wall we put up [of Lululemon items]. It was so mind-boggling expensive to do that; I was shocked. We didn’t have that at first — we just had a rack with some T-shirts on it. I am really happy that we didn’t put that up in the first month and that we were able to grow.
Fouts: Yes, starting inexpensively and growing into it means a couple of things: Number one, we’re growing into it when we can afford to grow into it. Two, we’re doing things we know our clients want and need. We’re not throwing spaghetti at the wall to see if it sticks. We know our clients like Lululemon; we’re the only studio in D.C. that has been asked to sell it. Are we going to? Heck yeah. We wouldn’t have had the money to do it upfront, but now further down the line, it’s a decision that makes sense.
What have you learned about opening a small business, and what advice would you give to others?
Fouts: One thing I learned was that you should negotiate. If you are going to start a business — and it’s going to work — you need to be able to push back on almost everything. Second, become a mini-expert on things you would have never previously been comfortable being an expert on: like for me, socket wrenches. For small fixes on the bike, we are able to do those in-house, as opposed to farming it out. It saves us a lot of money.
Stacey Goers (@staceygoers) lives on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, where she works at CQ Roll Call Group and is immersed in all things Congress. As a break from the political heat, she writes for the beer-drinking website PorchDrinking.com and is trying to become an expert on Virginia wine country.