WJ Partner is on the move with Pure Barre
So are you considered a Southern girl?
We moved straight from New York City/Boston to Spartanburg, and I commuted to New York for work. People would ask my husband, “Is your wife originally from New York City?” Apparently, I had an accent from living up North for several years. I grew up in Savannah, went to Davidson College and worked in Charlotte after college for a couple of years. I spent the first 20-plus years of my life in the South, but I don’t think people consider me very Southern.
Now you have an MBA from Harvard and undergraduate degree from Davidson. In both of those institutions, obviously academia is exceptionally stringent. Was there an experience in either of those institutions that helped form who and what you are and what was it?
At Harvard Business School, I was humbled by the number of smart, accomplished people in my class, all of whom were smarter than I am. It really helps you grow personally and academically when you’ve got all that talent in one place at one time. At Davidson, it was the same situation. It was such a rigorous academic program. It taught me dedication and hard work.
Pure Barre… It is a revolutionary concept, and I’m curious about how WJ Partners became engaged in even looking at that as one of their portfolio add-ons and then how that came about?
We got introduced via a mutual colleague to Carrie Dorr, who founded Pure Barre.
And what’s she like?
She’s one of the most creative people I have ever met. She created the Pure Barre technique from scratch out of her basement in Michigan. She’s in touch with the fitness world and what women and other active people need as an effective workout.
And she contacted you-all?
We had a mutual colleague introduce us. Honestly, I didn’t know anything about barre or Pure Barre at the time. I drove to Charlotte to take a class because there’s a studio located there. After your first class, you feel pretty baffled about the workout, but Benjamin (my husband), and I went to meet Carrie and her husband and learned more about the business.
They are a husband and wife team also?
Yes. Benjamin and I had a real connection with Carrie and her husband. In fact, we have looked at several businesses where the owners are a husband/wife team. On the way to Denver, we were thinking to ourselves, “What is this barre thing?” but we, along with our partner George Johnson, quickly realized that Pure Barre is an amazing business. The power of the brand and the passion that clients have for Pure Barre is powerful. We started talking to Pure Barre when there were about 70 locations. When we bought the company in October of 2012, there were 98 locations, and today Pure Barre has close to 350 locations in just over three years. The growth has been explosive. The business was headquartered in Denver with a handful of people running the business. Carrie wanted to step into a creative role and focus on public relations and that gave WJ Partners the opportunity to build out a team here in Spartanburg. Sloan (Evans), Pure Barre’s CEO, has done an incredible job.
So how many folks come to your training center per year?
It’s probably approximately 30 people per weekend who come to train at the corporate training center located downtown.
And they all stay here locally?
They’ll come in on Thursday or Friday and stay until Sunday. So it’s really a great boom for the downtown. They stay at the Marriott or the local hotels, and they’re eating, enjoying the evenings, and then training during the day. Also, Pure Barre has approximately 35 people working at the corporate headquarters in downtown Spartanburg.
Your CEO is a man, Sloan Evans?
Is he a finance guy? Is he a marketing guy? Or is he an ops guy?
Sloan has great emotional intelligence. He understands people, situations, and when you’re dealing with highly motivated, driven franchisees, all of whom are women, emotional intelligence is one of the most important parts of his job.
So of all of the things that you’ve seen and done, what is your biggest accomplishment?
Pure Barre. It has been such a special investment, and I’m so proud of all that’s been accomplished and the impact on people’s lives nationwide and people here in the community. I never dreamed that when we met Pure Barre for the first time in May of 2012 that it would end up what it is today. We thought that if we could open 30 to 40 locations a year that we would be successful.
And you’ve accomplished that already.
Last year, Pure Barre opened 100 locations; however, it is more than just opening the locations. It’s really the organization that’s been built and the people that I’ve met. All the talented women who work with the Pure Barre corporate team and own studios. It’s fun to hear their stories and watch them develop professionally. A lot of the corporate team did not have a background in franchising or fitness, and they are helping Pure Barre grow into an exceptional company. It is even better that this opportunity is here in Spartanburg.
Is there a lesson that you’ve learned, either hard or vicariously I guess is the right word, that you would want to impart to others without them having to go through it and what would that lesson be?
Don’t underestimate people. You should understand that everybody brings something to the table and to treat everybody with respect. Everybody’s accomplished something great in their lives. I feel that way every time we meet with an entrepreneur or a new company. I love to hear people’s stories – that is the best part of my business… People want to be listened to. You can only do that by having an open mind and heart about things.
What do you want to be remembered for?
First and foremost, having nice kids! Then hopefully having an impact on the community here and being a good friend and a good person.
And your children, what would you want them to know that they don’t currently know?
People are surprised that I’m one of five children and the fourth in the lineup. My mom took care of us full-time, and I am very grateful. However, I want my kids to know that you can have it all if you choose that path. There’s been so much controversy with various books discussing the sacrifices you have to make. There are certain choices I had to make, but you can be a working mom, have a family and still have personal life. I think that is a reality. Benjamin always says how proud he is of me because I am a role model for our kids. Whether that’s true or not, I don’t know, but it is good for them to see that is a possibility.
Do you think it’s more of a possibility because where we live is not an urban setting with —
Absolutely. This is an easy life here. It’s five minutes to the office. It’s five minutes home, and the other really big key for me is we run our own business, and that has been important in allowing me to spend the time I want to with the kids while still doing WJ Partners. Also, it’s living in Spartanburg. We have great friends, and if you need anything, there are people willing to help. So I think all those things together have enabled me to have a good balance of work, family and social.
The second half of your life, let’s take children aside, what is it that you want to accomplish?
After having Pure Barre as an investment and understanding the power of understanding a brand, I’d like to, from a professional standpoint, continue to find those types of businesses, things that resonate with me. Whether it’s something in fitness, health and wellness or fashion. I don’t know what it will be, but hopefully I’ll know it when I see it. We would also like to find businesses that we can headquarter in Spartanburg and build a team and infrastructure here. Personally, I’d like to start to travel again. We’ve been on a hiatus with three kids and work.
What inspires you?
I am inspired by my colleagues, and the entrepreneurs that we meet. I’m impressed by an individual who can build a business, and it’s inspiring to hear about their stories and what motivated them. And a lot of times they’re picking WJ Partners as a partner because they trust us to protect the brand, the culture and the company. People think that private equity is about laying off people or cost savings, and that’s not at all what we do. We come in and try to grow the business. All three of the businesses we’ve bought at WJ Partners have been from the founder/owner. So they wanted a partner, and they picked us because they felt like we would do the right thing for their company. We just got an email from the previous owner of one of our portfolio companies, Mobile Communications of America. She told Mark Blackman, the CEO of Mobile Communications, that she picked WJ Partners because she thought that we would do the right thing for her business that had been in her family for 25 years… and she said we did. When you get emails like that, that’s why you do it.