Hello! We’re Ally & Amanda— your go-to blogging duo for all things Knoxville business. Every month, we brunch with a local boss who’s killin’ it in our community. They share their unique insight with us, and we share it with whoever wants to know! Whether you’re looking for some mid-week motivation or just a quick, insightful read, we’ve got the tales of trials and triumphs you’re looking for.
As the warmer weather finally approaches, we’ve got the question, “are we summer body ready?” on our minds. And thank goodness we do, because that question led us to Katy Richardson, founder and owner of Neighborhood Barre, a brand that’s all about fitness, friendships, and (of course) fun! The dance-based barre workout is disrupting the fitness industry by quickly becoming one of the most sought-out exercise techniques across Knoxville and beyond. Local entrepreneur, Katy, sat down with us to chat about her journey into barre and what it’s like going from a small town studio owner to a regional franchise owner and powerhouse businesswoman.
Tell us a little bit about the barre concept.
“Yeah, so traditional barre studios are based off of the Lotte Berk technique, which was a technique that was brought to the U.S. by a Russian ballerina. She was injured in a car accident and couldn’t do some of the traditional ballet workouts, so she fused physical therapy, pilates, and dance conditioning into this one concept and then brought it to the U.S.
Our technique at Neighborhood Barre is based off the Lotte Berk technique, which not every studio does. A lot of studios have a ballet bar and use the term ‘barre’, but it’s not actually based on the classic form. Ours is, but we’ve also strategically placed full-range exercises that build a lot of heat and then use isometrics. We intermix a lot of full-range moves into a longer glute section, so we get a bigger calorie burn and more booty gains than other studios. We want it to be a full-body workout, but low-impact so that people with injuries, people of varying age ranges, mothers and daughters… all different types of people can do it.”
Where does your love of dance/fitness come from?
“It’s funny… my mom started me in dance when I was like four, but I quit because I didn’t like the recital outfits,” she laughs. “I still did some mini dance classes and cheered all the way through college, though. So, while I don’t have formal ballet training, I’m a certified yoga instructor with cheer-based training, so I had all the knowledge necessary to run my own classes and open my own studio.”
And did you always want to open your own studio?
“Well, yes, but no. I did interview with a franchise before I decided to create my own brand. Part of the decision to start my own brand was that I felt like barre wasn’t mainstream enough for me to over invest in a franchise versus something where I felt like I could be more myself. I’m not really a conformist, so I don’t know if it would’ve worked out for me. I like to have more control over my business, and I graduated in finance and accounting, so I also felt like I had the tools needed to run a business.”
If we’re correct, you currently have 14 locations in 4 states. What’s one thing you attribute to Neighborhood Barre’s growth over the years?
“Over time, I noticed that boutique studios can be really intimidating for people if they’re not used to working out in that kind of environment. So, one thing we did was train our staff and tailor our branding to be all about inclusivity. We don’t care what you wear, we don’t care where you come from… we just want you to feel comfortable. We have a whole spiel for first-timers, especially if we can tell they’re nervous, that just completely puts them at ease by taking away all expectations. I think that’s really helped with growing our brand awareness. It gets people to go back to their friends and family and spread word-of-mouth about who we are and what our classes are like.”
When you look back on the growth, is there anything that you’d do differently if you could?
“Oh, let me count the ways…” she jokes. “I mean, it’s hard for me to say this, but I would’ve been a little more selective when choosing who was opening the studios. In the past year, I’ve flipped two studios to new owners, which feels like a miracle. Both studios are thriving now, but it was very stressful. And it’s because when people start coming at you wanting to buy franchises, it’s hard to say ‘no’ when you’re hungry to grow. Some people appeared more qualified than they were, and I quickly realized that I could give people the tools they needed, but I couldn’t make them work. So, that’s kind of where we saw some failure that, luckily, resulted in getting people that weren’t passionate about it out and bringing people in who are.”
What advice would you give someone who’s new to barre?
“To give it time. It’s just like any fitness program, you’re not going to see results immediately, but you will feel and look better if you do it consistently. Don’t rush your results. You also have to know that the barre results are what you want. We sometimes get people in and we’re not what they’re looking for, which is why we ask everyone about their goals first. They have to realize that the purpose of barre is to change the shape of your muscles and that you can’t do a workout and then go get an order of cheese dip and expect the results to stick. We aren’t a super strict exercise program and aren’t going to suggest any fad diets, but we do encourage people to talk to us about their goals and listen to our recommendations.”
What’s your favorite thing to do (besides barre) in Knoxville?
“To be honest, I’m really impressed with the food scene in Knoxville. In our down time, my husband, Brett, and I like to go out and explore the restaurant scene. We like places like Kaizen, J.C. Holdway, and RT Lodge. We also go to some local sporting events, because he was born and raised here, but I don’t really like sports. I like to tailgate,” she laughs.