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When you’re operating a business, almost nothing puts you in a better position than filling a void in your community. At least that has been the case for Barbelle Real Fitness For Women, a small gym in Swansea, Massachusetts.
A few years ago, Kerry McElroy, the owner of Barbelle, was working as a high school teacher. However, she’d cultivated an interest in running her own business, and had a passion for fitness. “I had always coached at the high school level and as a side career I had been an instructor and personal trainer at two local area clubs,” said McElroy. “When my mom took ill and passed away in 2004 from ovarian cancer, I decided that it was time [to follow my dream], as you never know what life brings.”
At the time, the women’s 30-minute fitness model was starting to wane. McElroy saw the opportunity to offer a full-service club with classes and personal training catering specifically to women. “I knew there was a need in the market for something of that structure and business model,” she said.
So, McElroy took the leap and opened up Barbelle Real Fitness for Women, a gym she hoped would be just what women in the area needed.
In addition to filling a void in the market, McElroy explained the keys to the gym’s success also include providing a great product, paired with great customer service. The club is small enough to know each member personally, which allows it to better hold members accountable to their goals.
This quality also allows Barbelle to keep a pulse on the community, which like many communities, includes multiple women facing a battle with cancer. To show their support, the gym partnered with the Gloria Gemma Breast Cancer Resource Foundation of Rhode Island, which provides education, access to wellness resources and support programs to women and men before, during and after a breast cancer diagnosis. Through a number of fundraising initiatives, Barbelle has raised $21,000 for the foundation.
“This is an incredible feat for such a small club like us, with 375 members,” said McElroy.
At the end of the day, Barbelle’s success is derived from the fact that McElroy filled a void. That’s advice she wishes to share with other operators. “I think that to be successful you really have to first define who you need or want to serve, and then serve them well, in every capacity,” she said. “Learn what they like. Learn what they read, where they hang out, what means the most to them. Most importantly, a successful business seeks to solve a problem for their demographic. For us at Barbelle it was, and still is, helping women believe in themselves and, more importantly, believe that they can be fit here and in their daily lives.”
According to McElroy, one of the things Barbelle’s members love the most is that the gym is made for them — meaning, its programs and offerings are hand-picked with them in mind.
“For us as an industry it’s not about defining what fitness should look like for the world,” said McElroy. “It’s just the opposite. As an industry it should be about listening to our communities and then creating programs that engage prospects and our members, and in ways that they will continue at.”
Currently, Barbelle has had great success engaging members through Group X. “Although we have a mix of programming, what has always helped us stand out is Les Mills programming — BODYPUMP, BODYFLOW and BODYVIVE — as well as indoor cycling,” said McElroy. “Our indoor cycling program has always been heart-rate driven, with all participants using Polar monitors, and now that ‘wearables’ have become so popular, our indoor cycling program is thriving even more.”
In addition, its members love the fact that Barbelle is led and run by women who look just like them. “It’s also been our success that our staff are also at various points in their individual journeys to better overall fitness,” said McElroy. “Our members love that we are all ‘real’ women with ‘real’ issues — issues like their own. We represent them.”