sHeroes: How Sarah Luna of Pure Barre is changing the fitness industry with her “Breaking down the Barre” approach
As a part of my series about strong female leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Sarah Luna who is a California native. She completed her bachelor’s degree in Performance Dance and Biological Sciences at the University of California, Irvine. Shortly after graduating, she moved to Chicago, IL to pursue a career in dance with the Giordano Jazz Dance Company. During this time, she was certified as a comprehensive instructor in the Pilates Method and has taught ever since. Sarah completed her MBA at Chapman University in 2014 where she studied Entrepreneurship and was a recipient of a NSHMBA scholarship. Over the past 4 years, Sarah worked at Equinox, owned, operated, and sold a fitness franchise, coached many start-up businesses, and worked tirelessly to grow the Club Pilates franchise brand from 28 open studios to over 400 as the National Sales Director and SVP of Operations.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
When I was a young girl, I thought that I would be a doctor. So while I was studying dance, I was also figuring out which career path I wanted to take within the medical field. To help me better understand the body and movement, I decided to get a Pilates certification. It was during that time that I realized how much I loved the proactiveness of fitness. I realized I’d be able to treat people preventatively rather than reactively. After that, I totally switched my focus away from medicine to fitness.
I actually met Anthony Geisler, the CEO of Xponential Fitness, four years ago because I was his first pilates instructor. We hit it off immediately. He’s an entrepreneur and I had just graduated from an MBA program in entrepreneurship and knew that I wanted to pursue a career in fitness. My dad owns a small business, my mom is a franchisee, so there was an immediate connection in terms of getting to know Anthony and understanding that his vision was something that I could definitely get behind and get excited about.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
Before I was fully transitioned from my role with Club Pilates as Senior Vice President to President of Pure Barre, Anthony had me start to work as an undercover boss in a neighboring Pure Barre studio. For 45 days, I would show up and work the front desk and really manage the studio in order to understand the full inner workings of the location and the brand. I had several staff members come up to me and ask if I was the new general manager. I had members coming up and complain about the leaky toilet — you name it. I had to handle all of the above. It was a smart decision to have me step in quietly prior to transitioning into a leadership role with the brand. The experience itself was eye opening because now when I have conversations with franchise partners or their staff, I understand their concerns and challenges even more. I am not in the dark on these issues — I have lived through it for myself. I can speak from my own experience and hopefully give really sound advice and feedback.
Additionally, since my leadership role began, something that continues to touch me is the reaction of the franchise partners to one of the initiatives I launched for the brand. We launched a three-day franchise training, which occurs every single month, for both new franchise partners who are coming into the system for the first time, as well as existing franchise partners who’ve operated for several years. Within the first couple of months of offering the training, several existing franchise partners had fervently thanked me and expressed how beneficial and helpful this training really is and how they wished they had this level of training when they had first opened their studio doors. It is this reaction that keeps me going everyday, knowing that we are truly changing not only our members’ lives but our franchise partners’ lives by helping them grow their skills as business leaders. Seeing how grateful they are for the work we’ve done in such a short period of time is incredibly humbling.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I will start by saying that every company and brand has very specific nomenclature and ways that they refer to different processes or methods or classes. That can definitely be a learning curve when you’re new.
Every week I hold a President’s Call, or state of the union, where franchise partners can log in to hear what my team has accomplished in the past week. One particular week I was presenting from a deck that our Vice President of Training & Technique had put together. She had listed out an acronym for a workshop that Pure Barre offers called Breaking Down The Barre as BDTB. As I was presenting, I thought that was a way people internally referenced it, so I continued to repeat “BDTB” over and over. It was brought to my attention after the call that I was the first person to reference Breaking Down The Barre that way and have since gotten a good laugh out of that.
Through that, I learned to question even the simplest things. Rather than coming in and reinventing the wheel, learn the culture and the common speak of the franchisees and employees. Earn their respect, lead with them and show that you are dedicated to understanding their process.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
The people at Pure Barre make the company stand out. Both our corporate team and our franchise partners are seasoned, young and vibrant individuals, full of energy and excitement. The office environment is truly electrifying and everyone has bought into the idea that this is a renaissance phase for Pure Barre. We are rediscovering what this household name has to offer and what it means to be a Pure Barre franchise partner. There is this amazing energy that will serve us very well into the future.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
There are a handful of projects being done at the Xponential level that will positively affect the member experience within each of its brands. We can’t go into a lot of detail about what is coming out, but it is going to disrupt the boutique fitness industry in a great way for the consumer.
That said, we are currently working on refreshing the 500+ Pure Barre studios across our network. Each studio will have a new look and feel so that we have a very unified and cohesive style. Additionally, we are streamlining and simplifying our software, website and app. Some of those development items will start to reveal themselves in May. Since Xponential Fitness purchased Pure Barre back in the fall of 2018, we have invested significant corporate funds to bring a consistent face lift to the studios in support of our franchise partners and we are so excited to finally share all of our hard work with our members.
What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team to thrive?
Have an open door policy. I invite the team to come in and discuss everything from smaller problems to bigger issues at a high level. I think it is important to create a relationship with your employees in order for them to feel comfortable enough to bring any size problem to you and have a conversation about it, whether at the corporate or studio level.
Being open allows your team to lean on you as needed. You can trust that they’ll come to you when they need to, as long as you’ve made it possible to do so.
What advice would you give to other female leaders about the best way to manage a large team?
Be direct and open with employees — no matter the size. Specific to a larger team, try to be as transparent as possible, so that no one feels undervalued or out of the loop.
At Pure Barre, we actually host an “all hands on deck” meeting once a week to make sure everyone is fully informed and that everyone from the graphic designer to the Chief Branding Officer is receiving the same information directly from me. It helps to diminish “lost in translation” culture.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
There are a lot of people I am grateful for, including my family. In particular, I am especially grateful for my mom. At a young age in elementary school, I received the lowest score in my class on the end of the year standardized exam. After that, my mom dedicated all of her spare time to work with me on a daily basis, through high school. We spent a lot of late nights rewriting essays and working on science projects. There were times that it was not easy. I can imagine at times throughout the years, she would get just as frustrated as I would. However, she remained patient and dedicated to helping me learn and become a better communicator. It was her diligence that has made me that much more of an articulate communicator and thorough operations manager — which is particularly important with the work that we are doing at Pure Barre. When my team wants to roll out new initiatives or have communication they want to distribute to the hundreds of franchise partners, I am able to confidently determine the best way to execute. As a leader, it is crucial to articulate and communicate your vision and strategy in order to have buy-in from the collective group.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
For me, it is always about finding those “glass-half-full” moments. I try to do this daily, sometimes even hourly, to really acknowledge what and who I am grateful for at any given moment. It is in those moments that I will send a note to a franchise partner or employee to share how they’ve positively impacted a project to make them aware of their contribution. I think it’s important for everyone to feel appreciated for the work that they do.
What are your “5 Leadership Lessons I Learned From My Experience” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)
Always have a mentor — Currently my mentor is Anthony Geisler which I am very grateful for. Each month we’ll meet and talk about not only career advancement but family and life at home. I believe it is important to have someone in your life to learn from and look up to for guidance.
Always have a mentee — This goes with the idea that if you’re receiving help from someone, you should pass that along to others as well. Whether it be an official or unofficial mentee, it is important to constantly provide assistance or help mold someone else and share your experiences — including successes and challenges. I also always ask my mentors if I can help them in any way, in exchange for their valuable time.
Find opportunity in unpredictable places — I think it is important to see through the mesh and find the holes, in order to uncover the hidden areas of a project. This allows you to discover new pathways and new options you might not have considered before. Specifically, I am experiencing this with the studio refresh for 500+ studios across 48 states. The traditional program that I thought we were going to follow has been a bit more challenging than I anticipated. I have had to explore new methods and uncover areas that were otherwise hidden.
Spend time with employees within your building —Make it a point to build relationships with everyone in your building, whether that be a close teammate, someone in another department, the cleaning crew or the gardeners. It is important to have those conversations and acknowledge those people you work side-by-side with everyday.
Hold yourself accountable to the standard that is expected of others — I have high expectations. I may ask a lot of them, but I also hold myself to that exact same standard. I will work long hours and put in the extra energy to show that I have the same expectations for myself as I do my team. In order for us to be successful, it has to start with the leaders and it is a group effort.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
Personally, while it isn’t anything new, I’d like to continue bringing movement and fitness to corporate America. I feel my best when I move physically and see my best work and best attitude that way. I’d like to share that with as many people as possible in order to bring them happiness and success.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Rome wasn’t built in a day.”
I remind myself of this daily to take a step back and look at the trail that has been paved to this moment already. Often, I find myself wanting things to be done yesterday, which can be a source of frustration.
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them :-)
I admire Bruno Mars as an artist. He is authentic and talented and I believe he can be defined as a true professional.
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