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Zumba Fitness cofounder Beto Perez leads the Sentao Zumbathon at the International Health Racquet and Sportsclub Association show in March at the Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas The event raised 200000 to benefit Augie39s Quest Photo courtesy of IHRSA
<p> Zumba Fitness co-founder Beto Perez leads the Sentao Zumbathon at the International Health Racquet and Sportsclub Association show in March at the Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas. The event raised $200,000 to benefit Augie&#39;s Quest. <em>Photo courtesy of IHRSA.</em></p>

Zumba Fitness Founders Still Thinking Big Picture

Club Industry talks to the creator and CEO of Zumba Fitness about their company and vision for the future.

Would you like to see Zumba: The Movie? How about Zumba: The Broadway Musical?

Those big dreams could become a reality sooner than you think. Zumba Fitness co-founder Alberto "Beto" Perez said as much in an interview last month at the International Health, Racquet and Sportsclub Association (IHRSA) show in Las Vegas.

The story of Beto Perez is one worthy of the big screen. From sleeping a couple of nights in a Miami park not long after he arrived from his native Colombia to helping run a multi-million dollar international business with 14 million participants in more than 185 countries, Perez admits that his life has been the American dream.

"When I was 16 years old, 17 years old, I discovered this class by accident," Perez said, referring to the time as a dance instructor in Colombia when he forgot his aerobics music and instead played his salsa and merengue tapes. "When I taught this class for the first time, after the class, I thought, 'I want to do this for the rest of my life.'"

It is hard to keep up with the always-moving Perez, and it has been hard to keep up with the honors and recognition Zumba Fitness has received in recent months. Last year, Inc. magazine named Zumba Fitness its Company of the Year, and Perez landed on the magazine's cover. The magnitude of the honor did not sink in with Perez at first.

"I was so busy at that time," Perez says. "Somebody came up to me and said, 'Beto, you're going to be on the cover of a magazine, Inc.' I didn't have an idea of how big Inc. magazine was. I know Men's Health, all these kinds of magazines. I didn't know we were the company of the year. At that moment, I couldn't believe it."

Zumba Fitness co-founder and CEO Alberto Perlman, left, receives the John McCarthy Industry Visionary Award from Bill McBride, chairman of the International Health, Racquet and Sportsclub Association (IHRSA) board of directors, this past March at the IHRSA show in Las Vegas. (Photo courtesy of IHRSA.)

At the IHRSA show, Zumba Fitness received the John McCarthy Industry Visionary Award, presented to an individual or a company who has made a major contribution to the advancement of the club industry. The honor was especially sweet for co-founder and CEO Alberto Perlman, who remembers a time more than 10 years ago when the club industry rejected Zumba.

"At the beginning, the fitness industry was tough on us because the fitness industry has seen many things come and go," Perlman said at the IHRSA show. "So when we started calling gyms trying to get our instructors' jobs, at the beginning they would say, 'No.' We called up all the big chains, and they would say, 'No.' And to be here at IHRSA winning this award and to have every single big chain in the world now employing Zumba instructors and all these independent gyms now employing Zumba instructors, it's a huge thing for us. It's a dream come true."

Founded in 2001, Zumba Fitness, according to Inc., has a reported valuation of more than $500 million, although the Hallandale, FL-based company does not release revenue figures. Last year, Zumba Fitness received an undisclosed amount of financing from The Raine Group and Insight Venture Partners. Zumba Fitness has sold more than 12 million at-home fitness DVDs, and last year, the company sold four million pieces of apparel and accessories.

Room to Grow

Zumba has become an identity all its own, something more than a brand name, such as Kleenex for facial tissues and Band-Aids for bandages. It is used in casual conversations as a noun, a verb and an adjective.

"That's bad," says Perlman, one of three Zumba co-founders who is named Alberto (the other being president and COO Alberto Aghion). "That's bad because our trademark is being used as an adjective. That's why you put the 'Fitness' after 'Zumba.' That's trademark law."

With its growth, and the company's goal to reach 100 million participants, might there one day be a Zumba Fitness Club? Perlman says no.

"We've been approached before, but right now, we don't want to compete with the clubs," he says. "We want the clubs to be happy with their Zumba program. We don't want to open up a club. Our ecosystem is built on clubs and instructors.

"The only thing we care about is that our instructors are successful in what they're doing. Our big goal is for them to be changing lives to grow our 14 million consumers. When these potential partners call us, we're always asking them, 'So what are you going to do for our instructors? How are you going to promote Zumba? How are you going to bring more students to classes?' It's been amazing. The response has been great."

Zumba Fitness received yet another honor at the IHRSA show, the Augie's Quest Leadership Award, for raising nearly $1 million through its Zumbathon events to find a cure for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), or Lou Gehrig's disease. The Zumbathon at the IHRSA show, which raised $200,000, featured the recently launched Zumba Sentao, which incorporates the use of a chair. Augie Nieto, the driving force behind Augie's Quest, participated in the event. The next night, after the Bash for Augie's Quest raised $1.6 million, Perez led an impromptu Zumba class for attendees.

Zumba Fitness has raised $3.5 million through its charitable initiatives. In addition to the Muscular Dystrophy Association, the company's other charity partners include Susan G. Komen for the Cure and the American Heart Association.

The company's latest campaign is The Great Calorie Drive. Through June 30, Zumba Fitness is making a donation for every 750 calories burned in a Zumba class (for up to three classes) to the United Nations World Food Programme and Feeding America when participants check in through the new Zumba Fitness mobile app. Zumba Fitness estimates that 2.6 billion calories will equate to roughly 3.5 million meals toward hunger-relief efforts. Also, Zumba Fitness will donate 30 percent of the sale of limited-edition Zumba apparel and accessories created for the initiative.

"We just wanted to give back, but at the same time bring new students, bring new members into the clubs," Perlman says. "So this campaign does both. Doing good is good business. If you're not helping people, what's the point?"

The movie about Zumbaand the company for that mattermight have been called something else. It could have been Tinga. Or Tonga. Or Conga, Mango, Bunga, Tanga or Sumba. Those were the names discussed as the founders sat down one day in a Starbucks to brainstorm.

Perez, who called his class Rumba in Colombia, really liked the sound of "Sumba" but he wanted to attach the letter 'Z' at the front "because I loved Zorro as a kid," he says. And just like Zorro, Zumba may be heading to the big screen.

The question is: Who will play Perez?

"It's a good question. I don't know. Wow." he says. "He needs to be a good dancer. Make me look like him. Make him have an accent."

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