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How a Fitness Entrepreneur Creates Community in the ClassPass Era

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Welcome to A Year in the Life, a series where Racked follows Bay Area entrepreneurs through the highs and lows of business in San Francisco.

Lucy Activewear
Lucy Activewear

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When Avant-Barre opened in SoMa last summer, owner Nini Gueco was offering approximately 20 classes a week for her clients. But shortly after her barre biz made its debut in the startup-centered neighborhood, ClassPass made its move on San Francisco. Nini signed her studio up. Suddenly, Avant-Barre's classes were selling out, and she had to increase offerings to meet the demand.

"I feel like I have a very unique relationship with ClassPass," Nini explains when discussing the discount fitness startup. "As opposed to established studios that had to swallow their pride and accept that ClassPass was a real thing, I found it to be a blessing. We were a brand new studio; our goal was just to be exposed to the fitness community in general. We have lots of regular ClassPass folks that come to our studio, and we also have a lot of people who converted from ClassPass— who never would have discovered us had it not been for that."

The drawback to ClassPass —particularly for a young studio— is the ever-changing client roster. Any fitness entrepreneur will tell you that the key to growing a boutique business is creating community; facilitating relationships between both clients and teachers. (That's why your SoulCycle and Barry's instructors know your name and follow you on Facebook.) So how does an owner foster that sense of community when a substantial percentage of her clients only visit three times in a month?

"I don't think there's a magic formula for it. You're either welcoming and create a community by being inclusive, or you don't," she reasons. "It starts when you walk through the front door, how you're greeted by the front desk staff."

We're trying to be the space that you come to when you need a break from life. —Nini Gueco

Nini emphasizes with her instructors that ultimately, clients show up to have fun. ("If you're not having fun, you're probably not going to come back.") Beyond that, she notes that Avant-Barre's instructors and frequent clients aren't just posing for photos on social media before going their separate ways. "We actually genuinely like each other; we hang out with clients after class, outside of the studio. We're trying to be the space that you come to when you need a break from life." (That break from life, in turn, is documented on Instagram with hashtags like #aboutthatAVANTBARRElife and #badassballerinas.)

To keep converting clients from occasional drop-ins to weekly regulars, Avant-Barre is launching a master class series on Fridays, starting March 20th. Mostly comprised of members and staff, the classes will include new playlists, new moves, and possibly a new format. "Afterwards, we'll have a little reception in the lobby so we get to hang out with our favorite clients and the staff. The idea is to get our staff and our VIP members together to work out," Nini tells Racked.

Meanwhile, Nini is expanding her staff to ten instructors by the end of March, and adding community classes to the schedule while new instructors are training. In six months, Nini says Avant-Barre could have as many as 15 instructors and a total of 60 classes per week. By that time, she hopes to be either signing the lease on a second location, or building out an additional studio. You might even see more Avant-Barre merchandise soon. "We did the tank top, which was the first thing we created for the studio. They sold out. Retail is definitely something we'll be working on more in the future."

San Francisco may be filled with branded tees, but that logo shwag is another tool for fostering community; giving clients a way to spot one another on the street —even if they've never seen one another in class— and share a moment as badass ballerinas.

Avant Barre

, San Francisco, CA