Burn, Baby, Burn

Lady of America fitness franchise
This story first appeared in the October 2000 issue of Startups. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

You can often catch Alex Valladares approaching women at supermarkets. But his wife need not worry: It's part of his job-scouting out locations for Lady of America by finding women who are eager for the women-only fitness centers. Accumulating 11 centers since 1994, the 34-year-old franchisee boasts, "I've mastered the ability to open a location."

This confidence came in handy in the beginning, as Valladares started out with "pretty much nothing." Born in Cuba, he came to Florida at age 14. After earning a degree in accounting and working in that industry for a year, he realized his aspirations lay elsewhere-leading him to a Lady of America franchise show, where, he says, "there was immediate chemistry between me and the company."

Valladares, with only $5,000 of his own money, persuaded his mother, Berta Aedo, to invest $55,000-her life's savings-to help with the start-up costs of his first six centers in Miami. The venture proved profitable almost instantly: Pre-opening sales totaled $14,000 in monthly income, or 600-plus memberships. This success set the groundwork for the continual growth of his network, which branched into Puerto Rico in 1997.

What's Valladares' biggest challenge? In these days of record-low unemployment, Valladares cites obtaining and sustaining competent employees. But, he adds, "I take pride in how I train them to serve members and sell memberships." It must be working: Last year's sales for all locations reached nearly $5 million.

But money isn't the only reward. Valladares is in love with the concept itself: providing a place where women can exercise without worrying about their appearances.

Make The Call

Lady Of Ameica, (800) 833-5239, www.ladyofamerica.com.

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