Continuing to showcase some of the excellent work small and medium businesses around the UK are doing, we uncovered another innovative company for April’s version of ‘SME of the Month.’ A company that brings workouts to the workplace, we spoke to the founder of Exercise in the City about setting up the business, challenges faced and successes achieved.
We spoke to the company’s sole founder Julia Scodie who also acts as the lead Pilates Instructor from her home and business base in London.
About Exercise in the City
Exercise in the City was set up in order to bring Pilates, circuits, yoga and many more fitness classes into workplaces. Using meeting rooms or free workspace, workouts are led by one of the qualified instructors before, after work or during lunch hours as a way for employees to exercise easily within their working day. As a low-cost alternative to the gym and beneficial to employers by increasing staff wellbeing, it has proved a success in London. Here’s what Julia had to say about her business:
TNT: When and how did you come up with the idea for Exercise in the City?
Julia Scodie: Like many busy commuting office workers, I found it hard to find the time and often motivation to fit exercise into my working day. I wanted to make it easy for people by bringing Pilates and fitness classes directly to workplaces. I first started practising Pilates through weekly classes in my office during a lunch break, in a meeting room with desks and chairs pushed to the side. The opportunity to get away from my desk for an hour, network with colleagues, and generally re-energise and stretch always made me more productive and focused for the afternoon. After four years of weekly Pilates classes I decided to retrain to become an instructor and in 2011 took the plunge and left my project manager job to set up Exercise in the City.
TNT: How long did you spend on research and development of your products?
J: Initially it was just me teaching in offices. After a couple of years, I was teaching at full capacity and started to get more enquiries through the website and word of mouth. Feedback from my existing clients showed there was indeed a demand and that both staff and the business were benefitting from workplace classes. For staff it’s a convenient, low-cost and effective way to fit exercise into the working day and for businesses it’s great for team building and internal networking. After realising the demand and benefits for businesses, I started to grow the business last year and have built a team of other great instructors who share my vision and passion to help get businesses active! We now teach in workplaces across London.
TNT: How did you go about funding your business?
J: It was self-funded initially. Then profits from the first couple of years of trading when it was just myself teaching were put into the PR and marketing as I grew the business.
TNT: How do you promote your products to your customers?
J: By directly contacting businesses and through word of mouth. We had some PR successes (being included in Health and Fitness magazine and the Daily Mail). We recently won Jacqueline Gold’s Women in Business Award for 2015 too.
TNT: Who are your customers?
J: A mix of organisations across sectors. From corporate finance companies to charities and hospital staff (NHS). Classes are either organised by HR/Management or by the staff themselves.
TNT: What have been the biggest business challenges?
J: The steep learning curve has been challenging but also enjoyable! A lot of my business comes through the website. I started with a very basic blog and have since taught myself how to build a better site, manage it and am currently trying to get to grips with SEO – which is a minefield!
TNT: How do you cope with servicing so many different industries?
J: We teach in a range of workplaces across industries and so when recruiting new instructors I look for those who are of course fully qualified, experienced and great teachers. But also of importance is communication skills and a professionalism to be able to teach in workplaces and adapt to the environment and class. Classes take place in meeting rooms, basements, reception areas and participants could be anyone from the interns to department heads and top management.
TNT: In your opinion what are the biggest challenges facing SMEs today?
Keeping on top of and judging how much time to efficiently spend on social media.
I manage all of Exercise in the City’s social media presence and have got a lot of our PR and new business through it. But at the same time it’s extremely time consuming and I find that I sometimes spend hours at a time on it and evenings/weekends. It would be fantastic to have someone dedicated to doing it! Larger organisations will of course often have one or two, or even a whole team managing social media. Managing cash flow and keeping up with tax and other business regulations are challenging too.
TNT: What advice would you give to others who are looking to start up their own business?
J: Everyone you meet can potentially help you in some way (contacts, expertise, advice). So network, network, network!
TNT: Finally, in your opinion what are the most important elements to consider when it comes to building your own business?
You’ve got to be passionate about what you’re doing and your business. Running your own business takes up a lot of your time (including evenings /weekends) and it may take a while to start actually making any money, so you’ve got to love what you’re doing. Don’t give up and learn from your mistakes…I’ve made a few!
For the next SME of the Month, check back with TNT in May to see which UK business we feature.