Cathy Kerns always enjoyed fitness, but was tired of having to drive so far for classes. She saw a real need in the West Seattle area for a fitness studio and started thinking about being the one to make it happen. “I knew I wanted to have HIIT in the name, because that interval training is a style I really like. It’s really effective, and the science behind it really resonates with people.” Her intuition was right, and when she was ready to grow her successful studio in a new location she turned to Business Impact NW for help.
Cathy opened HIIT Lab in April 2016. HIIT stands for High-Intensity Interval Training— efficient, hour long instructor-led workouts. Cathy became an instructor in this method after going to another studio she really enjoyed and wanted to be a bigger part of. She’s recreated this same model at HIIT Lab, hiring instructors who had been students first themselves. Cathy stresses that HIIT Lab is welcome to everyone. “Fitness is about people’s wellbeing, not just making bodies ripped or skinny.” At HIIT Lab, there is a wide range of ages and abilities who attend classes — it’s not competitive, and the experience is customizable depending on individual needs. “The whole point of being here is to be healthy and progress physically and be balanced and so we want to stay away from straining and trying so hard that you end up hurting yourself.”
HIIT Lab has become a hit in West Seattle! When Cathy learned the building they were in was being sold, she feared it would be demolished and started looking for another location that would allow for improvements while serving the same community. She briefly considered a spot farther north, but didn’t want to leave people hanging without a fitness center in the south end. After searching for a year, she finally found the perfect spot just a few blocks east of the original location. Having only been in business a short time before needing to move, Cathy had a hard time securing financing to help with buildout and equipment upgrades through a traditional lender. “It’s really hard to find funding when you’re brand new and have zero track record. I was basically working in corporate America and sales for almost 20 years and I made great money, but it’s a different story when you’re trying to start something new.”
That’s where Business Impact NW came in. Cathy says, “I applied for an SBA loan and obviously got a lot of different replies from different lenders, but felt like going with number one, someone that was local and number two, a non-profit, just felt better to me. So that was an easy decision to go through Business Impact NW. Tui, who is my loan officer, has been awesome. There are so many details for me to keep track of between the loan and my business and life so being able to check in with her and for her to keep track of everything on that end is really nice. She’s really willing to help me out any time I need it.” That loan allowed Cathy to upgrade and purchase new equipment as well as build out the bigger space to better meet her clients’ needs. “Higher ceilings mean we can finally use these jump ropes!”
Being a business owner has been a big change but the people and community built around HIIT Lab make it worth it. Reviews on the HIIT Lab website and Facebook page use words like inclusive, challenging, supportive, motivating and non-judgmental to praise instructors and workouts. Cathy is equally inspired by her clients, who keep her going as a business owner as well as motivate her workouts. “I mean there have been times where I think it would be easier to have my 3 weeks of vacation and my bonuses every year and go back to company cars and all that, but when I think about all the different people I’ve met and certainly when people say it’s changed their life, that’s pretty cool. There are people who the workout really resonates with.” She adds that being an independent owner rather than a franchise allows her to incorporate feedback and constantly make improvements. “Really we are a lab in that we’re constantly experimenting, trying new things and trying to make things better.”
Those positive reviews on social media and word-of-mouth have driven most of the traffic so far. Cathy has also tried coupons, mailers and dropping off flyers at apartment complexes trying to get in front of people new to the area, but finds social media to be the most effective. “Instagram is our favorite method of marketing because we feel it’s the most authentic. We try to give people a taste of what it’s like to take a class and it’s a fun way to promote new instructors and even just to show the clients working really hard. Instagram is fun and visual and Facebook is a great way to communicate a lot of information.” Cathy is also hopeful that moving to a new location in an area with more foot traffic will continue to raise awareness among West Seattle residents.
Her advice to other aspiring entrepreneurs is that starting your own business “is really hard, but it’s not impossible. You’ll learn along the way.” She says being her own boss has helped her learn to prioritize “because there’s always something to do or that I should be doing!“
About the author
Megan is Business Impact NW's Development Coordinator and a candidate for Seattle University's Arts Leadership MFA program. She holds a BA in English with an emphasis in creative writing from the University of Montana and is passionate about storytelling of all forms, nature and developing community by elevating our unique stories. Megan grew up on her family's farm and ranch in Montana and is especially inspired to empower small business owners from underserved rural and urban communities.