If you haven’t heard of Pure Barre, you likely soon will, because there’s a good chance your wife, mother, daughter, coworker or neighbor will become a loyal follower.
The Pure Barre technique is a fitness craze that uses a ballet barre to perform small isometric movements set to high-energy music during a 55-minute class. While men are encouraged to attend class, the exercises mainly target the areas where women struggle the most: abs, hips, thighs, back of the arm and seat.
The franchise is sweeping the nation with more than 70 locations in 20 states, several of which are owned and operated by Kentucky women.
“We are a women-centered business – run by women, for women. We have a woman CEO, women franchise owners, women clients. It’s completely women-based,” said Edie Green, 43, who owns the Lexington Pure Barre location with business partner Amanda Arnold, 40.
Pure Barre exercises, which fuse elements of Pilates, yoga, dance and weight training, are designed to strengthen and tone a woman’s body to look like a dancer’s: long, lean, strong and toned. Offering low-impact exercises that are easy on the joints, the company has attracted clients of all shapes, sizes and ages too – from young teens to women in their 70s.
Its mission statement is simple, yet poignant: “To provide a workout that can change every woman’s body in the world while at the same time empowering her, connecting her with a community of like-minded women and encouraging her to have fun along the way.”
Started in 2001 by dancer, choreographer and fitness guru Carrie Rezabek Dorr, Pure Barre’s first classes were held in the basement of an office in Birmingham, Mich. After building a solid client base and moving to a new location, Pure Barre began expanding in 2006, with Dorr’s brother Tom Rezabek opening Pure Barre’s first standalone location in Lexington, Ky.
After a little more than a year in business, Rezabek decided it was time to sell the Lexington location to another investor. Clients Green and Arnold quickly jumped on the opportunity.
“Tom sent out an email and said (the Lexington location) was closing in two weeks. He wanted to move to California to work with Carrie and had it sold, but the investors backed out at the last minute. So it was a rush,” Green said. “Nobody wanted to see it leave. Amanda and I talked about our interest in it, and it all just came together. It was scary and exciting. Our spouses, attorney and accountant were skeptical, but it was a good time for both of us in our lives and we had the passion to go through with it.”
More than nine studios in five states Their business has thrived, and after more than four years of ownership, Arnold and Green have inspired other young Kentucky women to pursue their own goals. In July 2009, Pure Barre became a nationwide franchise, and a number of former Lexington clients have opened franchises across the country, including Louisville, St. Matthews and Crescent Springs, Ky.; Cincinnati; Las Vegas; Birmingham and Mobile, Ala.; and Santa Rosa Beach, Fla.
“My mom was one of the original clients in the Lexington studio five years ago, and we’ve all been going ever since,” said Danielle McDonald Davis, 26, who now owns four locations with partners in Mobile, Birmingham and Cincinnati.
“Lexington is where we all first took a class. They provided such a fierce workout, but with such a different twist than my regular exercise routines. I was running, spinning, doing every form of exercise and teaching yoga, but nothing captivated me like the Pure Barre technique.”
The company states that it chooses franchisees and employs teachers who are athletes, leaders and have the ability to motivate and inspire others.
“I loved the culture that Pure Barre created and how it brought women together in such a unique way,” Davis said. “Needless to say, my first Pure Barre experience left a lasting imprint.”
The experience also made an impression on Davis’ mother, Lea Ranier Warner, 44, and sister, Chelsea McDonald Schomp, 25, who partnered to open a Cincinnati location this past September.
“Pure Barre changes the lives of women every day,” Warner said. “Some women walk into the studio with low self-esteem, embarrassed about not working out in years. But one month later they are strutting through the studio holding their heads high because the technique has given them something new to look forward to. It’s truly a culture and a lifestyle,” Davis said.
That strong culture and a passion for the technique has moved these women, some of whom were already established and successful in other occupations.
For example, Warner worked as a Realtor and co-owned a real estate company with her husband. Karen Mumme Handel, 34, still works as an attorney in Lexington in addition to her responsibilities at her Louisville and St. Matthews Pure Barre locations with partner Lucy Gentry, 39. Green was most recently a trust officer at Fifth Third Bank, and Arnold worked as a Realtor and teacher.
“Lucy and I both previously owned our own (law) practices, so we both had experience as small business owners. However, owning a franchise is different,” Handel said. “It requires a lot of time, attention and love.
“I include ‘love’ here because we believe you have to be passionate about what services and products you are providing to the community. If you do not believe in them, the public will not either,” she said. “Regardless of how much money you think you can make, or the perks you receive from a business, you have to love it because you are going to have to work it.”
That love, passion, commitment and hard work has bonded these women of all ages into what they refer to as their “Pure Barre family.”
“The company has created an atmosphere where the franchisees not only come together to do a workout they love but to inspire other women as well,” said franchisee Lauren O’Nan, 25, who co-owns the Las Vegas location with fellow Lexington native Emily Worsham Johnson, 25. “We all bounce ideas off each other, and I feel like we work as a tight-knit group even though we are spread all over the country.”
Physical as well as financial commitment
To apply for a franchise, Pure Barre requires that potential owners meet several criteria.
They must have access to $100,000 without relying on a loan from a financial institution, although loans from private sources are allowed.
They must have professional or collegiate level athletic experience such as dancing, cheerleading or other sports, or a recommendation from a current franchisee.
They must live in – or be moving back to – the area in which the franchise will be operated.
Potential franchisees must have taken at least 50 Pure Barre classes and have an understanding of the technique, the business and the culture – and be passionate about all three.
And, no, being a woman is not a requirement. Most of the studios across the country are run by women, but some owners have male business partners, including Rezabek Dorr, whose husband serves as the chief financial officer of Pure Barre Corporate.
If it seems like all these women are drinking the proverbial Kool-Aid … well, it’s because they are.
“It’s just as fulfilling mentally as it is physically,” Arnold said.
“Pure Barre is universal in its reach to women, young and old; there’s always room to grow and my biggest prayer every day is that women leave my studio feeling refreshed and stronger so they can face all they have going on in their lives,” Davis said.
“Even husbands see the results and the happiness in their wives. There’s something mysteriously intriguing that women get so addicted to this – in a good way. It’s the most rewarding job I’ve ever had,” Green said.