Barre3 cofounder and CEO Sadie Lincoln has a simple piece of advice for entrepreneurs looking to emulate her fitness empire or someone just looking to adopt a healthier lifestyle: You do you.
Lincoln, who runs 130 franchises nationwide, expanded on that philosophy in a talk Tuesday in her West Village studio as part of the Fast Company Innovation Festival in New York.
After 10 years in various communications and strategy roles at gym giant 24 Hour Fitness, Lincoln decided to create her own company, one that she says takes a more holistic approach to health and wellness, with a dash of spiritual motivation.
The Portland, Ore. native imagined a fitness regimen that didn’t promise consumers the perfect arms or glutes, but rather, encouraged people to do whatever it is they need during group exercise classes (with certain parameters).
In her boutique classes—a fast-paced mixture of cardio, yoga, and pilates—attendees are constantly told to modify movements and, more or less, express their individuality.
“Everything we do in class is a mirror of how we want to live life,” she explains to attendees. “We’ve been told this big fat lie in the fitness industry [of] ‘do this and you can be like this’… What happens in the 60 minutes [of class] isn’t what shapes you or changes you–it’s what you learn and how you to apply that to the rest of your day”
It’s why, during any one class, you’ll see someone stretching their legs by the barre, while the remaining attendees are positioned in a downward dog. When the instructor commands a 30-second plank, more than a handful have no qualms giving it less than half that time–or sometimes more.
“We’re here to empower people to make it your own,” says Lincoln, further advising, “I am your guide, but you are your own best teacher. I’m here to give your guardrails… but you’re here to own it. Each of us has our unique genius.”
Actress Parker Posey, who was in Tuesday’s session, says she appreciates the brand’s “Pacific Northwest vibe,” explaining it’s “not too intense … they encourage you to do your own thing. It doesn’t feel competitive.”
Lincoln’s philosophy also holds for her instructors who tell their own life story during company retreats, making for stronger teams. And that, in turn, connects employees to the brand, making them feel that they matter and propelling them to further commit to the clients.
Franchises are also encouraged to give their own studios a unique spin, including decor, playlists, amenities, and more. That means the West Village studio’s bathroom is decorated with Bob Dylan lyrics. “You won’t see that in our Arkansas location,” she quips.
Lincoln also believes that embodying her own individuality and harnessing her intuition is what led to her nine-year-old company’s success. It’s not just a feeling, she explains, it’s a skill that can be honed and perfected by eliminating distractions (like one’s iPhone, which are banned at company get-togethers).
“I practiced honoring myself,” she explains. “I knew I had a voice and I was supported through that.”
As such, she continuously tries to “be herself,” quirks and all, and set herself up as a motivator, but not necessarily a leader. She bemoans that the fitness industry, by and large, is attached to body ideals and workout formulas: “What I saw in fitness was a fitness guru that I was expected to follow. That was the message I heard over and over again.”
At one point, Lincoln jokingly pointed to how certain group exercise classes display an army of identical women clad in uniform athleisurewear, repeating their master’s exact moves. Barre3, she says, doesn’t want any part of that.
“We’re fighting sameness–sameness is boring, sameness goes nowhere,” she says. “Diversity is rich, diversity is where we go … and, well, it’s so much more fun.”