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076: How I Opened a Pure Barre Studio at 21 Years Old – Jenna Irvin

Jenna Irvin is a young entrepreneur who dreams as naturally as she breathes. She opened her first business at the age of 21, in a town she had only been to once, and doubled her investment in just ten months funding the purchase of her current business in Hilton Head Island. As both a Pure Barre owner and coach, Jenna leads with intuition, uses fear as fuel to grow, and believes that failure is our greatest teacher. She feels the most alive and connected to her why when she is holding space for others to step into all that they are.

In This Episode, You Will Learn:

  • What initially attracted Jenna to the Pure Barre technique.
  • Why she chose to open a location in Maryland right out of college.
  • Two key ways her parents set her up to win as an entrepreneur.
  • How she attracts most of her clients at Pure Barre Hilton Head Island.
  • How she holds space for women to step into all they are.

Connect with Jenna:

Launch Your Life – online course and coaching experience

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Interview Transcript

Jenna, thanks so much for taking some time to hang with us today. I appreciate it.

Yeah, thank you so much. I’m so happy to be here.

Yeah. So how did you become interested in Pure Barre to begin with?

I found the technique when I was in college. I had always been a basketball player growing up, and I’m 6’1″, and so graceful was not a term that I would use to describe myself by any means. But I didn’t play basketball in college, so I was kind of looking for something different and something that was going to keep me active, because that’s a really big part of my life. And I found the technique and I was terrible at it. My first class was a very interesting experience, but I was determined to figure it out and it was the first workout where I didn’t feel like I was in competition with anybody else.

I wasn’t focused on my body or hyper focused on anything except for the technique and connecting my mind to my muscles, and that was a new experience for me. Because as a tall woman, insecurity was a really big thing for me. And so finding a place where that was absent, honestly it felt magically. And so I kind of dove into it in college, fell in love with it. I became good friends with the owner and started to talk about the business side of things, and I decided to apply to be a franchisee during my senior year of college. So I’m only twenty-three now, but I was twenty when I became an owner. And I did that real estate that process while I was finishing school. I was just sure that it was something that I wanted to share and it just felt very right for me, for that to be my first step into the professional world.

Okay, I want to back up for just a minute.

Yeah.

Because you keep using this word “technique”. I’ve never been to a Pure Barre class. I have friends that go. I’m 6’5″ and I know it’s mainly…

Love it.

Kind of a woman thing. I know guys do it, but it’s mainly a female thing.

Yeah.

Sell me on it. Why should I take a class? What is it all about?

So I actually think it’s really great for men. I wish we had more male clients, because it works muscles that we don’t know we have until we do this workout. But it’s very small and isometric, so it’s low impact and it’s one of the very few workouts on the market where you’re really focused on each muscle group. And you’re going to see results, but without that high impact that you get when you lift weights and do all of that. It kind of removes that impact from the work. And you do everything to music, so whether you’ve taken one class or a thousand classes, you’re able to be in the same room together. Which is a really cool thing, because how deep you work in the position determines how challenging the class is for you.

So I like that there isn’t levels, you don’t feel like you’re a beginner. You just kind of all fit into one. But I think the best part about it is the fact that you are able to see such big results from such small ranges of motion, and that is really great. I mean, I have clients that are eighteen years old, and clients that are eighty-five years old. So it’s just kind of a beautiful thing to see it span across so many levels, because that’s really hard for a fitness technique to do.

And get detailed with it though. There’s an actual bar on the wall?

Yes, there is. Yes.

I’m just envisioning myself trying to put my foot up on that thing and just falling over.

Yeah, and everybody kind of thinks that. I feel like it kind of gets the ballet vibe. And I’m not a dancer. I’ve never been a dancer and I would not relate it to dance in any way. I think that the flexibility and the gracefulness comes a little bit, which I think is a huge part of dancing. But as far as it’s not a choreographed dance, it’s more strength and movement. The best way I can describe it is, you’re focusing on the contractions. So if you’re curling your bicep, you’re focusing on squeezing your bicep, and whatever movement happens from that squeeze, is the reaction to the contraction.

So unlike a lot of other workouts where you’re focused on the big range, it’s more, “How tight can I squeeze this muscle?” And then the movement just kind of happens naturally, and that isn’t your focus. So it’s kind of backwards thinking. It takes five to seven classes for you to be like, “Oh, this is where I’m supposed to be feeling it, and how I’m supposed to be doing it.” We just kind of call that the “magic point”, because once you find that, everything else kind of flows.

Very fun.

Yeah.

Well, obviously there’s a difference between going to classes in college, and actually opening a franchise location. What was it about this? You said a few minutes ago, “This felt like the first step that I wanted to take into the working world.” What was it about opening a franchise that really attracted you?

You know, my parents are business owners. They don’t own a franchise. It’s a family owned company, but I grew up with that mindset, so I think the being a business owner thing didn’t scare me. But on the other hand, I never really saw myself owning a franchise. What I liked about Pure Barre is we also double as a high-end retail boutique, so it’s two incomes underneath one roof, which is huge. And so that to me was kind of the biggest plus, I think. Is that I was able to kind of do both sides, and I was also connected enough to know the numbers and know what the studio was able to produce and the revenue. I had a good guesstimate, so it felt like a safe financial choice at the time too.

Yeah, so you say, “safe financial choice”, but I’m envisioning you’re a college senior. And you don’t have to get into the details if you don’t want to, but people like details. How did you pull this off financially? Did you have income saved? How does that work?

Yeah, I’m a pretty open person. I believe in order to connect, we have to be vulnerable. So I was grateful in the respect that I had investment money. So I had money that was invested in stocks that had been in stocks since I was a little girl. It was money that I couldn’t touch until I graduated college, so that was what funded to initial investment. There was about enough in that to open a location.

It was still a very scary choice, because when you’re that age and there’s that amount of money, I could have used it for a lot of things. So making the decision to invest it in myself was scary, but I also felt as though it was the right time to make that decision, because I didn’t have anyone depending on me except for me. So I felt as though if I failed, I was only failing myself. So I think that helped my mindset a little bit in taking the leap both financially and otherwise.

What’s interesting that you’ve said is two big things that set you up to win I’m looking at. Is one, your parents were already business owners. What kind of business do they own, if you don’t mind?

No, not at all. They own a cabinet mill working company in Pennsylvania called Fine Line Cabinets.

Okay, so you already had that background of this entrepreneurial, “I can own a business,” kind of thing. Which a lot of people don’t have. I didn’t grow up with that. My parents were steady, eight to five. My dad worked for the government for his whole life. My mom was an administrative assistant, or worked in banking and loans. I mean, that’s a huge gift to have that. And then the second thing is that your parents or family had set you up to win with some investments early on. So I mean, you had two things going for you that were really powerful.

Definitely.

Yeah, that’s awesome. A lot of our listeners are probably old enough to be your mom or dad, and so that’s something for them to think about, and for us to think about.

Yeah.

Is like, “How do we set our kids up to win, so that they have these opportunities that they may or may not take advantage of?”

Yeah, definitely.

Man, that is so powerful. Now what did your parents – their input as you were going into that process? Were they cheering you on? Were they nervous? Were they coaching you? Did you even invite them into the conversation?

Oh, yeah. Anyone who knows my dad, knows there no conversation that he isn’t invited into. But I think that they were vital and they still are. I think that having a strong support system, whether it’s your family or your friends or a mentor, is extremely important whether you open a business at twenty-three or at forty-three. But they were a huge support. My parents have somehow mastered, and I hope someday for my children that I can do the same, the ability to be a safe space to fall. But also, they have always given us the courage to soar into the things that our heart wants. And never made anything feel out of reach.

They’ll have very realistic conversations, but how they worded things was so important. Because it was never, “You can’t do this.” It was, “Well, let’s talk about it from this perspective or think about it from this way.” It was like they kind of got us to think through the process on our own with guided help. Instead of, “There’s no way you’re going to do that.” And I think that those words and the way that they went about it were really powerful.

I think that my dad had a lot of fear. I know my mom did. I would believe that my dad did too, because I think the investment money was not from parents. And so I think that they were hesitant to let me kind of jump right into this venture. My dad felt that I could do anything. He’s like, “You can get a job. You can apply to any company you want to apply to.” So I think he definitely came at from a realistic perspective, and he was a huge help in building out my studio. So he made a time investment as well as a financial one in helping me get to where my studio was open. But I think once I made the decision to go all in, they decided to make the decision to support me. And I’m so, so grateful for that.

That’s awesome.

Yeah.

As you think back to that first year – and this studio was in Pennsylvania, is that correct?

Yeah.

Okay.

Well, no. No, sorry. I’m from Pennsylvania, my first studio was in Maryland.

It was in Maryland, okay.

Yes.

And so that studio, the first year, the biggest challenges that you faced. Walk me through them. Because this isn’t just, “Hey, you’re showing up to teach classes.” You’ve got to be thinking about like you said, retail space, real estate, building it out, the numbers, the marketing. I mean, my goodness, there’s so many facets. What were some of the biggest challenges for you?

Yeah, and I will say I think financially, I was so blessed in a sense that I had that initial investment. However, because I didn’t go the route of taking a loan from a bank, I didn’t have any working capital. So I opened my doors with literally four hundred dollars in my bank account. So because I didn’t go the loan route, I didn’t get to say, “Oh, I think I need thirty thousand of working capital.”

Extra padding, yeah.

Yeah, so I had the comfort in the sense of, “Okay, I don’t have a loan payment.” But I also didn’t have this nest egg of, “Okay, well if I make no money this first month, I’ll be okay.” And so I think financially that was a huge challenge for me. And I have parents that always catch me when I fall, however I think anybody who has parents like that, it almost makes you never want to have to ask for it. Because you’re so grateful that they’re that level of support, that you don’t ever want to have to lean on them because they’ve already given me so much. And so I knew in the back of mind, “Yes, they’ll be there,” but that was not something I wanted to rest into, because I wanted this to be successful.

So navigating that money mindset in the beginning was huge, and it still is. I think money’s something that we work through and it ebbs and flows as we evolve, but that was definitely a huge challenge for me. And also just being in a town that I had really only been to a few times, I didn’t know anyone. And so making those connections with local business and finding the right people and marketing from a place that was telling my story so that people would connect to me and connect to my “why” behind what I was doing. Doing that in a town you’ve never really been to is a challenge for sure.

And why did you choose that location? Obviously that was a place that was available in terms of the franchise, but why Maryland?

Yes. My original decision when I first applied to be an owner was for State College, Pennsylvania, which is close to my home town. State College has very little real estate available. At least it did at the time that I was searching. And so it was looking like it was going to be a one to two year wait if I decided to go that route, and construction in and of itself takes a few months. And I just made the decision to transfer markets.

My parents lived in Frederick for the first two years of their marriage, and it was on list and I’m like, “Oh, well, they lived there, so I can too.” It was probably the most random decision I’ve ever made, because I’m a very calculated human being. And it was a great professional decision, but it definitely brought about challenges. Not having that community that I would have had in Pennsylvania where I kind of knew people and could build off of that.

Right. Okay, so one of the biggest challenges was you just didn’t know anybody, but you were telling your story. The story of, that obviously you were looking for something fitness-wise in college, and that this was a good fit. Especially where you felt like you weren’t competing against anyone.

Yeah.

That’s a powerful part of your story. So that location did well for you. Tell me about your desire to make a transition though, because pretty soon you sold that franchise. Did you not?

Yes, I did. I own a location in Hilton Head Island now. Maryland was an incredible professional decision for me, but not a good personal one. I really struggled to find a home there. From the very, very beginning, it just wasn’t a place that felt comfortable or felt right on a personal level.

Why is that? What was it about it that it just didn’t connect?

I grew up in a really small town. I went to college in a really small town. And then I was running a business in between two major cities, I was in the middle of D.C. and Baltimore. So it was just so different from anything I had ever known. And I think I was navigating so much of things that I have never known, and so to do that both professional and personally at the same time was a lot. And I had lived in Hilton Head Island for about six months while my Maryland studio was under construction. We’ve always vacationed here. It’s kind of like my second home, and I wanted to keep teaching while I was waiting for real estate and construction, all of that to fall together. And I fell in love with this studio and this area while I was here.

So when I left to move to Maryland, I was dealing with that personal sadness of leaving behind people and a place that I really cared about. And I didn’t think that the Hilton Head Island location was ever going to be for sale, so it didn’t feel like a realistic possibility for me to ever live here and do what I do right now. The old owner had some life changes and decided to sell it. I found out in July.

So my studio opened in March of 2018, I found out July of 2018 that she was going to sell, and it was just a full body “Yes”. I didn’t know if I was going to be able to sell my studio, if I was going to be able to make it happen. And I know that as far as brick and mortar businesses, I’m a one business girl. I give it my entire heart and it’s important to me that my clients see my face on a daily basis, so having two locations was not something I was interested in. Nor something that I could have financially done.

And my business was demanding so much of me in Maryland, that I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to sell it. I have a bookkeeper who is a life saver, and she was kind of handling that part so that I could be present in my business. And I really didn’t know what I was making. I was paying the bills and I knew that. I didn’t really know. I knew classes were full, but I’ve never been a super financially focused person in general, so I just wasn’t too worried about if I was rolling in it or not. And so I had a conversation with her and she’s like, “Jenna, you can sell your business. And probably for double what you’ve put in.”

Wow.

That was news to me without a doubt. And also just reassurance that this might have just been a chapter, when in reality when I went into Maryland, I was looking at it like it was a forever. Because when you open a brick and mortar business, you feel like you’re signing your life away.

Sure, sure.

So it was kind of a personal and professional – I felt like they were playing tug of war with each other. And so the decision was a tough one, but the ability to double my investment and fund the purchase of Hilton Head is kind of what made the decision for me.

I’ve got to imagine, it’s got to have felt kind of lonely. You know what I mean? Starting that without having connections, and then yeah, you are connecting with people on a daily basis through the classes.

Yeah, it was the loneliest year of my life on a personal level. I mean, professionally I had amazing clients. But those connections, they only go as deep – you’re spending an hour a day with them in the context of holding space for them to get stronger and to feel better about themselves. And that’s such a beautiful thing, but as far as the connection on a personal level, that just didn’t come for me in any realm.

I was just out of college, so I was navigating adult friendships in general. I mean, friendships shift when you’re out of college, because you’re not longer like, “Oh, I see you in communications class, so we’re going to be friends.” You have to be intentional about keeping up with those. And so being in a town where I was far away from that. And honestly, I was two hours from my family, but I could have been thirty-five hours from them because I had no time to go home and be present. So I think that lonely is a great word to describe personally what that year was like.

Yeah. Yeah, that’s so hard.

Yeah.

So how has the experience at Hilton Head been different than it was in Maryland? You know what I mean? How many months have you been there?

I took over January 3rd, so not quite a year.

Of 2019? Yeah.

Yes.

Okay, so my goodness, you went through the whole sales process. At twenty-two, twenty-three years old, you’re selling a business. That’s so powerful.

Thank you.

But you’ve got the support of your family, which is great. How is this new location different? How do you feel different? How have you approached it differently? Tell me about that.

My mindset’s different. I think that when we’re living a life that’s in alignment to us, we show up in all aspects of our life, as a better human being. So I feel more centered here and it’s always been that way. And I’m very sensitive to energy, to places, I’ve been that way my whole life. I’m just a sensitive person, and so I think being somewhere where I feel safe and comfortable, it’s just something that’s very important to me. I have friends that can be anywhere and just be totally good and cool. I’ve never really had that skill. So I think this place in general, brings out a really good side of me.

But as far as owning a business, I thought it was going to be easier to take over an existing business than it was to open one from the ground up. And the best way I can explain it is, when you open a business, it’s your book. You’re opening up a blank page. You’re illustrating it however you want to, as beautifully as you want to. And you get to tell it from the very first page. So any mistakes, all of them are yours, and so you know them very detailed.

And so taking over a business that’s existed, the business was four when I took over, it’s like I’m re-writing. So I’m going back to that rough draft and I’m figuring out how to re-write sentences in a better way. I think anybody who’s a writer or does anything, when you go back and try to re-do something, it’s harder than just doing it the first time and making those mistakes. So it was more challenging for me as far as how I do my daily job, taking over an existing business, than it was opening one from the ground up. And that was something that surprised me.

Yeah.

I didn’t think it was going to be that way.

And that surprises me, because I would assume that franchises are run pretty similarly. But you’re saying there just are different elements, whether it’s marketing or customer service.

Oh, yeah. And I mean, our franchise in particular, just because we’re a fitness studio. I went from owning a studio that was in the middle of two really big cities, where memberships that were monthly were consistent. To a studio that is on fire from Memorial Day to Labor Day, and then we’re just totally chilled out for the rest of the year and our monthly memberships are a quarter of what they were in Maryland. So it’s also dependant on the market too, it’s not even so much the ownership, as it is just the switch in location. And also, clients knowing things being done one way since it’s existed. To, “Well, I’m going to do it differently because I’m a different person.”

Sure.

Yeah.

What percentage of your individuals that are your clients, are monthly, like you said? Versus tourists that are coming in for a short period of time?

It kind of alternates, because we have a lot of people that will come for multiple months. So that’s a little different than our weekly visitors. We’re about ready to get into that season now, where we have people that will come from October to February or whatever that looks like. But I would say on an average basis, we’re almost always more tourists and more speciality visits, than we are local clientele. And monthly memberships are really hard to build here because even if people have homes, a lot of them don’t live here fulltime. So actually getting people to commit to a twelve-month membership is so much more challenging than it was. I mean, Maryland, almost everybody lives there fulltime. So it’s a totally different ballgame.

Yeah, and the people that are the tourists, they find you just through going through the Pure Barre website? Or do you also market in places where tourists would find out about you?

Yeah, Instagram, that’s our bread and butter.

Really?

I would say that’s where at least half, if not more of our tourists hear about us.

And how do they come across your Instagram account? You’re commenting on other people’s accounts? Or when they come?

Yeah, we’re pretty good at playing the game of the Instagram algorithm, which tends to shift and change with the times. But also a lot of clients take Pure Barre at their studios in their home towns, so when they’re on vacation they’re already looking to continue that regimen. And so Instagram tends to be the place that they go right now, just because that’s what’s popular. I would say our website gets a decent amount of traffic, because that’s where they go from our Instagram. But it’s linked in there.

They also like to follow us because we sell retail. I have a business through Instagram almost. So people that don’t live here that want to buy our clothes that see it on Instagram – because every studio carries separate ones. So they follow us for different reasons, and when they’re in town it’s really easy for them to just message and say, “Hey, I’m in town for the week. What packages do you have?” And it’s more of a comfort conversation. Because as you know, our times are changing, so the calling and emailing and that kind of thing, they’d rather just click a button and have it done.

Yeah, yeah. Now all of this, I think about you as a risk taker. I just go, “Oh, my gosh. Jenna is a huge risk taker. This is amazing.”

Thank you.

But would you describe yourself as a risk taker? Is that something that has been part of your life over the course of your life? Or is it something you’ve more cultivated?

I don’t know if I would describe myself as a risk taker. It’s funny, it almost feels natural to me. There’s a lot of people that will draw attention to my age, or at least that did. Especially when I was going through the process of it all. It’s not something I really see. When I decide I want something, there’s very little that gets in my way of making that happen. And I think that that’s a good and a bad thing, because when our strengths are turned up too loud, they’re weaknesses. And so I have to remind myself every now and then. I think the biggest challenge for me is to live in the season that I’m in. Because I’m almost always thinking about what’s next, and it’s hard to turn that down.

And so that’s been something in this season that I’m focusing on, living right now and it’s okay to think about what’s next, but not letting that always be the loudest player in the game. But as far as the going for it mentality, I think I’ve always had that. And I think I get that from my dad. Nothing scares him at all and he kind of led us that way. Making sure that we’re making educated decisions and that we’re grounded in that, but also never letting fear be the thing that holds us back. And never looking back and saying we wish we would have. We were raised to believe that we could, and so I think that that mentality is just engrained in me. But I’ve definitely been working on turning down the, “What’s coming next? And where should I be?” And just kind of celebrating where I am.

Living in the moment. Yeah.

Yeah.

So on challenging days, which I know you must have.

Yeah.

I don’t even know what’s challenging, but you’re looking at the numbers or classes or people don’t show up. Whatever it is, what keeps you going? How do you deal with those challenging days? How do you cope with those?

My clients. Yeah. They’re the “why” behind what I do. And I think that for me, I believe that my purpose in this world is to hold space for people to step into all that they are. I’m just a natural. I’ll have people stop me in the grocery store and be like, “I don’t know why I’m telling you this, because I don’t know you.” That’s just normal. People open their hearts naturally, and so I feel like that’s my mission and that’s why I do what I do.

And so it goes so much deeper for me than just owning a fitness studio. To me it’s an opportunity to be a safe space for women to feel like they can get stronger and believe in themselves. And so that’s what keeps me going. Because there are absolutely tough days, and when you own a franchise, we’re currently going through a change of ownership on the corporate level. And so there are shifts and changes and things that I don’t expect all of the time. And so that consistency, the one thing I can always depend on is the reason why I do what I do. I try to center myself on that on the tough days.

Now you mentioned that you feel like you’re called to hold space for women to step into all that who they are. Is that something that you’re doing? Are you helping women as well, beyond the Pure Barre location? Are you doing some coaching?

Yes, I do coach. It feels like a natural extension of what I do at Pure Barre. I teach to my studio as well, and so my clients will often say I’m their teacher and their therapist. Because that’s just kind of what that space, I feel like, opens to. But coaching has been great. It’s been a way to step into that realm a little bit deeper. So I really, really enjoy that.

And so if people would be interested, do you do that via Zoom as well? Or just on a local level?

Yes. Yes, via Zoom. Most of my clients are not local.

Okay, and so if somebody was interested in getting in touch with you to learn more about that, what would be the best website or connection point for you?

Yeah, absolutely. I’m the most active on my Instagram, so it’s just @JennaIrvin, and my website is linked through there as well. So there’s a little form on there and you can fill that out for a consultation.

Awesome. All right, so we will put all of that in the show notes. Even if you’re listening now, you can just swipe up on your phone and that’ll be right in the show notes; @JennaIrvin, as well as her website. And you can go and learn more about how you can get connected to her and receive all this awesomeness that you’re putting out into the world. I love it. I love your energy.

Thank you.

One last question. If someone is struggling today and feeling like they’re scared to take that next step, or maybe they’re feeling like they don’t have what it takes to take that next step, what would you say to them?

I’m a strong believer in that we all have insecurities and fear all of the time. It’s something that is present for every single one of us, but I also think that when that’s limiting us from living in a way that we need to, or a way that we feel will be in alignment or that will fulfill us in a deeper level in career sense, I think it’s when we get out of tune with our intuition. Intuitively we all know what we need, we all know what we’re capable of, but the insecurities is when we allow the world to speak louder than that.

So an exercise that I do with myself when that fear speaks loud or the insecurities are warring over what I know my abilities are, I try to come to silence. So whether that’s a minute in a room with the door closed, or I like to get a hot shower. And I’ll just close my eyes and I’ll ask myself the question of whatever I’m struggling with. “Is this relationship serving me?” “Is this business decision a good one?” And I just kind of sit with whatever answer shows up first.

Because I’m a strong believer in that first answer almost always being the right answer. And just letting that fully process through. Because the world is loud and fast, and so giving yourself time to sit in stillness and move slow, a lot of times will bring you clarity on the things that you’re struggling with. So just know that you’re worthy of that space, and know that your fear and insecurities only have power if you give it to them.

Awesome. Awesome. Thank you so much, Jenna. It’s great to be with you today.

Thank you so much. Yes, great to be here.


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