While Ables and Gardner took advantage of low-investment opportunities that many people don't even know exist, Kelly Sweeney went a more traditional route. Eighteen years ago, she purchased a Jazzercise franchise that cost her about $850-$350 for the franchise fee and about $500 for equipment. Today, her Lenexa, Kansas, company encompasses three Jazzercise centers, one employee, 25 instructors under contract and revenue in excess of $400,000 annually, plus a double-digit annual growth rate.
"I was athletic in college and didn't really like the idea of a 9-to-5 job," says Sweeney, who at the time was working as an editor. In an effort to stay fit, she went with a friend to a Jazzercise class. It was love at first sight. "I said, 'I can do this; I want to do this,' " recalls the 42-year-old. So she went through the certification process and, after three months, quit her job to teach Jazzercise full time.
To satisfy the skeptics, Sweeney's initial intention was to just make as much at Jazzercise as she did at her $26,000-per-year job. But that desire quickly changed into the goal of being able to claim the largest clientele in the Jazzercise system, a goal that was eventually realized.
In the beginning, however, Sweeney didn't even teach from her own building. Then, within three years of starting her business, she explored the idea of opening her own center instead of teaching classes in gyms, church basements and schools. "I was paying enough rent in enough locations that it made sense. It wasn't risky, because I had the clientele," says Sweeney. She established her first center in Springfield, Missouri, in 1992 with a $10,000 signature loan.
When Sweeney first bought her franchise, only the franchisees themselves could teach the classes. But when that requirement changed seven years later, she began contracting instructors to work in her center, which helped her shift into high-growth mode. She opened a second location in Lenexa in 1994 and another location last year in Mission, Kansas.
Currently, a Jazzercise franchise costs $650, plus equipment (microphone, music systems, etc.), says franchisee Kenny Harvey, who is also the public relations director for corporate headquarters.
"A lot of our instructors/franchisees were cheerleaders in high school or maybe on the drill team. They're active people," says Harvey, adding that prospective franchisees are encouraged to take a Jazzercise class before purchasing the business.
Applicants undergo a three- to four-week training program where they learn eight dance routines before having to audition. The goal is to see what comfort level an individual has teaching a class. Explains Harvey: "If we feel you're competent enough to go out and teach, you get the franchise. If not, we'll refund the franchise fee."