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Protecting Your Fitness Studio’s Culture in the Midst of Scale

Growing your fitness business is painful, but it can also provide a time to step back and look anew at where you have come from and whether you are still holding true to your culture.

Some researchers claim that the body and mind block out the pain of childbirth to ensure the survival of the species. If the agony of childbirth was easily recalled by the mother, birthrates would plummet, and we would all be only children. This phenomenon is called the halo effect. In the business world, the halo effect also is necessary for scaling a small business.

Each stage of expansion that involves creating something out of nothing is accompanied by its own kind of labor pains. Once a business owner achieves their next milestone, they should block out the fear and difficulties encountered on the previous leg of the journey. Good memories must prevail.

This is why we are writing to you from the eye of the storm to convey the obstacles we are facing and the real-time lessons we are learning during the construction of our second studio—over budget and behind schedule.

During the last decade, we have scaled our business four times. We have upgraded to larger studios, built a national teacher-training program and created an online platform. Now, we are building our second brick-and-mortar location, which is double the square footage of our original studio. With each leap, the stakes get higher. With each expansion, the dilution of our brand, our mission and our “why” becomes a greater risk. As we face the difficulties that come with scaling, we are learning that the way to protect our culture is to live the work, maintain diligence in the practices that sustain us, and truly know the women we serve and support.

Live the Work

Eleven years ago when we began our business, there was only two of us. The two of us were deep in the trenches, day in, day out. Defined primarily by our roles as technicians, we taught all the classes, created the programming and built the RedBird method. We put our bodies and health on the line to grow a brand, a movement and a methodology.

Eventually, we knew that RedBird’s growth would plateau if we couldn’t find a way to replicate our day-to-day roles. We developed our teacher training program from which emerged an incredible team of practitioners. After physical, mental and spiritual burnout, we exited the trenches, handed the classroom over to new teachers and closed the door to our office. It was time to work on, not in, the business.

This current expansion has seen timelines stretch well beyond expectations and costs skyrocket faster than our growth can match. We have been forced to step back onto the mat and return to teaching in order to reduce labor costs. This experience allowed us to arrive at a powerful realization: as the founders of RedBird, we are the brand, and in order to lead our team of teachers, we must remain true to our practitioner roots. Re-entering the classroom has restored the magic of our early growth, provided a strong foundation for our culture and connected us to why we created our organization in the first place. But most of all, we have inspired our team to be a part of that culture as they witness us doing what we do best – movement education. We constantly tell our team to “live the work,” meaning make time for your own practice. For us, “live the work” now means teaching and connecting to our community. Living the work enables us to be an example for our team, a constant reminder of the joy it brings and the discipline it takes to lead classes and show up for clients.

The need to cut costs has been a blessing in disguise. It has shown us that our pendulum swing was too wide. We can’t go back to the unmanageable workload of our early days because it would lead to burnout and divert us from our passion. However, we are now also learning we must be present as teachers and athletes in the heart of our community. There is a balance between keeping one foot in the trenches and one in the clouds, being a part of the day-to-day and viewing the organization with altitude. Finding that balance is challenging, but a happy medium is essential to protecting our culture as we grow.

Daily Practices

Here’s a cold hard fact: scaling is terrifying and difficult, especially if you are a true bootstrap, boutique studio. It requires taking the leap toward growth before you feel entirely ready. A business owner must trust that the skills to land will be developed in free fall. The good days feel like you’re soaring and the bad ones feel more like a plummet.

Yet nothing is more dangerous and destructive to the culture of an organization than a fear-driven leader at the helm. Fear leads to poor choices that focus on short-term solutions rather than long-term vision. As we have come up against the financial hardships and building delays during the largest leap for our organization, we have stayed rooted in the practices that allow us to lead from a place of vision and trust. We don’t always do it perfectly, but we have committed to each other to develop and sustain a self-care practice that keeps us grounded and able to make clear, rational decisions. These decisions serve the higher purpose of our organization and are fueled by good nutrition, meditation, movement, sleep, seeking inspiration, and getting space and time away from the day-to-day operations.

Know Who You Serve

At RedBird, we know our client well. We call her the “RedBird Woman.” This woman is an expert in her field, and she is looking for expertise to match her own. She has limited time and is easily frustrated with mediocrity. She is an inspiration to her family and her friends, and she is constantly in search of inspiration from those around her. She is community driven, with a growth mindset. Our mission is to serve this woman. Every program we implement is designed with her goals in mind. Our teachers are also RedBird Women, and they are taught to recognize the RedBird Woman in their classes. Serving her defines our method and when we stay connected to her – our culture stays intact, no matter how large the organization becomes.

Stay Anchored in the Why

Creating something from nothing never gets easier – the bigger the organization, the greater the risks and obstacles. To forge ahead, we must reconnect daily to our why. At RedBird, our mission is to create sustained leadership and resilience in the women we serve through the synergy of precise movement and thought. The biggest reason we risked scaling is to help more women, in larger communities, realize leadership and purpose through movement. Healthy and resilient women change the lives of others for the better, and by extension, the world. When we make this mission our chief priority, we can be those healthy and resilient women. From that place, and only that place, we can grow a unified, univocal culture powerful enough to make the impact we envision.


Elisabeth Kristof and Lee Vallely are co-owners of RedBird Fitness LLC and AFS Educators. RedBird is a movement education method based on 35 years of experience in the industry and includes a premier fitness studio in downtown Austin, Texas, a national Pilates teacher-training program and an online platform RedBird’s distinct, science-based methodology emphasizes precision movement, proper alignment and a deep mind-body connection. Women and men who immerse themselves in the RedBird method grow progressively leaner, stronger, more agile – and even more courageous – as their commitment deepens. To learn more about their programs, visit

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