Leadership Greater Manchester’s Business Shower: Barre Life
"You definitely need a team that motivates you and encourages you."
Note from the editor: The Leadership Greater Manchester class of 2021 has launched a Business Shower initiative to help support and promote small businesses in the Greater Manchester area. Each month it nominates and votes for a business to shower with support. November’s shower recipient is Barre Life on Elm Street in Manchester. This is the Barre Life story. New Hampshire Magazine happily agreed to re-publish the piece and help spread the word about this fantastic New Hampshire business.
Ashley Oberg taught at Barre Life New Hampshire for four years before taking ownership of the 944 Elm St. studio in April of 2019. What was it that sparked her interest in the Manchester studio and made her want to become a business owner?
“That’s funny because I never actually saw myself as a business owner or a leader, which is also funny because I am in the LGM (Leadership Greater Manchester) program this year, but I feel better about my leadership abilities now,” Oberg says. “My boss at my fulltime job was the one who kind of pushed me into it.”
Oberg works fulltime at York.ie for Kyle York, but Barre Life is her passion project.
“He knew I had a passion for it, and he asked me why didn’t I own it yet,” she says. “I’d thought over the years how cool it would be, but I didn’t really know I could do it, or how to do it. Then the previous owners were talking about transitioning out — one became the Executive Director at NH Tech Alliance — and so I reached out and asked if she would considering selling the studio. She said yes. So after months and months of working things out, it finally happened.”
This is your first business?
“Yeah, but I have helped my boss with a lot of his. I got to see the ‘behind the scenes,’ and I had easy access to a legal team and a finance team, all of which was extremely helpful to me. I was very lucky to have that.”
What advice would you give to someone who wants to start a business?
“You definitely need a team that motivates and encourages you. You need people to help you when feel overwhelmed. You need a lawyer — definitely that. I am lucky because one of my close friends owns Café la Reine, and she started that business in her early 20s. She has helped me a lot by being aware of the things that could go wrong, and making me aware. She also knew the right people and she helped me get connected — like permits, I needed to know where to go for that. But, really, the start-up help is legal and finance advisors and tax people. I’ve had to learn a lot about that.”
So, lawyers, accountants and friends.
“Yeah, you always need someone to run things by, even a handyman is very important. I’m lucky there again because my husband installed all the bars, and he helps me with everything here.”
How has COVID-19 hit your business?
“One of my instructors was newly pregnant, and she had been after me to get an online system going because she wanted to have the option of staying at home if she wasn’t feeling well in the morning and still be able keep teaching. She really wanted to have the ability to get online from home.
“I was saying, ‘OK, OK, yeah, we’ll get there, we’ll get there.’ It had only been eight months since I’d taken over. We met in February, and set up our Zoom accounts, and got everything set up for her. We planned to launch that service on April 1, 2020. Then March 13 came, and we were like, ‘Oh, OK, I guess we are going to need to do this now.’ But the good thing was that we were ready. Only I hadn’t spoken to any of the other instructors about this yet. So, texting them about how to get them set up on Zoom, how to login, how to set up their lighting, how to set up their audio. Audio was trickiest part, like teaching over text, but everyone adapted really well.
“Our clients are super nice, and we obviously had some technical difficulties, but everyone was so nice and that made it less stressful. So now we have an OnDemand library, we have all our recorded classes hosted there. People can join whenever they want, and they join from California at 6 a.m. or whatever. That’s really nice. And another silver lining is friends from California, or students who have moved away, all come back and take classes now and that’s been nice. There have been some really good things.
“Now that we are open again, lots of people are really hesitant to come back to the studio. Some people love it, they can’t work out at home with all the distractions. I’d say it’s 50/50, those who can only work out here in the studio and those who work-out at home. So it’s been interesting to see to the variations.”
Have you been able to keep your whole team?
“Yes, there aren’t very many of us. We had someone leave because they moved to Colorado, but that wasn’t COVID-19 related so yes, we’ve otherwise kept everyone together.
“It’s sad though — at the beginning of the year we were going to teach a class at Fisher Cats Stadium, and we were going to do a class with a wine tasting a LaBelle Winery. We had a bunch of really fun things lined up. So I’m just going to keep trying to do that. In the fall we do a lot of apple orchard stuff, and in the summer we do Stark Park. I just keep finding more fun stuff and places to be everywhere.”
When I think of Barre class, I think of just the bar but I’m seeing many different things here, like trampolines. What else do you do here?
“We do lots of things. We do regular barre, cardio barre (like a HIIT style), we do vinyasa yoga and restorative yoga (which is slower), plus we do a YIN yoga, which is even slower, where you kind of hold the poses and just relax and stretch. We have Pilates which we just started yesterday for the first time. We have a Pilates-Barre fusion, and my favorite, which is Barre and Bounce.”
Why is that your favorite?
“Because I hate cardio, but I love this. This is so fun. I hate running, but this is so good for your joints. You aren’t hitting pavement. It’s good for your lymphatic system, so it keeps you healthy. I just feel like I’m in the best shape ever because of this, and I do it four times a week. Every time I teach this, at the end of class everyone wants to know when we are doing it again because it’s so fun.”
Do you have classes for different levels?
“We don’t. We used to but then people would be like ‘I’m not a beginner, but I want to come at 5:30. Can I still come?’ or ‘I’m a beginner, but I can only come on Saturday. Can I still come?’ So we always say every class is all levels with modifications, and we modify like crazy. That way even if someone is more advanced but they have an injury, they can modify while they recover. It’s always worked well for us. We give tons of options for everyone.”
“Yeah, we thought it would be difficult at home/virtual because some people don’t like to share their screen. That’s been a tricky a part but so far, so good.”
I live in Deerfield and my bandwidth is not that great sometimes, so sometimes my video is not on for that reason.
“For us just teaching to black squares is kind of weird. It’s like, ‘Is anyone really there? Are you watching TV? Am I doing the work out and you’re not? [laughing] What’s happening?’ So more people have started sharing their screens which is a little better for us.”
How about this location? I know you said you’ve been coming here for four years before you took over, but is this a great location for you? Do you attract a certain kind of clientele?
“It definitely has its ups and downs. I love it because I love being on Elm Street, and we always go to the café afterward [Café La Reine], and then we come back. But I do get so many people who ask, ‘Did you just open? I’ve never seen it.’ And I’ll ask if they are new to the area and they will live a block away. They just don’t ever look up. I need a big flashing sign on the lights. But for the people who work in town, when they were working, they would come on lunch breaks, which is great. It doesn’t have great parking, so that can be tricky. I love it — people love it, but some people wish we had parking and daycare and that we were a bit bigger.”
Do you ever have promotions?
“Yes, and we’ve partnered up with a few companies. We give them a special discount, and then their whole team can come on a lunch break. We haven’t begun the lunch classes back live yet because so many people are still not back working so for now those are still virtual.
“We have special discount codes. If you work downtown, there’s one; if you ask for your business to have a special code, we have one. I always do Small Business Saturday, which is coming up, and we have Black Friday coming up. There’s always stuff going on.”
Are there any other Manchester businesses that you admire? Any that you strive to be more like?
“I love a lot of them. But they are so kind of different in what they do. I love all the ones in the community. I mean, that’s my goal — I want to do more things in the community. We started working with the chamber [Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce] a lot. We did a picnic in the park with them. We did the farmers market stuff.
“I have always been in this community. I worked at Farm and Flower Market for 15 years. I met so many people there, some that own companies, or are just from the neighborhood. My grandparents owned pharmacies here when I was kid, so I am very rooted in this community. And my boss, Kyle, is also very rooted here and into giving back and owning property here. We are just trying to be more involved in the community, and there are a few downtown businesses that do that, so I want to be more like them.”
How has the industry for Yoga and Pilates changed for you over the years?
“Well, thankfully, Barre Life is still the only one around here close by. But yoga studios are popping up like Starbucks all over the place! That’s been a little tricky. That’s why I keep branching out. No one has trampolines. I’m just trying to keep the community vibe and keep bringing good things.
“A lot of people don’t like gyms, but they like the studio because they feel like they can bring their mom. There is no judgement here, so they can keep focusing on what they are good at and grow from there.”
Do you find your clientele are mostly female, male or is it a mix?
“Mostly female, though we have a small handful of men. We used to have a male instructor, which was great. We would love more men. Everyone thinks they have to be super flexible, but I’m not super flexible — we aren’t throwing our legs up like ballerinas. We’d love more guys.”
What about advertising?
“We’ve tried a few things, which obviously has been impacted by COVID-19 too. I used to have flyers at a bunch of places, and the local hotels have us in their welcome packages. We do get a lot of business travelers or visitors who just want to work out for the day. Mostly I do a lot of social. It’s hard because it can get very expensive, and you don’t want to waste it. I did do an ad with the chamber, and I was in their emails for a few weeks. I give out business cards everywhere! One of my instructors does yoga at To Share [To Share Brewing Company] so she’ll give them out there. I make sure that everyone has our branded clothes.”
Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
“Hopefully expanded. I’d love to get spin bikes. That’s really something I want to do. In a dream world, I’d love to get a juice bar or station going, but yet I don’t want to be too big. I need to stay focused on the people who like us because we aren’t too big. But definitely still here, still doing this but hopefully doing more.”
This is about showcasing businesses that help with our health and wellness. How do you manage your health and wellness?
“I try to rest. I read. I play with my dogs, and we just got a hot tub so I’m spending a lot of time in there. Try to disconnect and set boundaries. Especially during this time of year, lots of people find themselves tired and maybe even consider quitting things because they haven’t learned how to rest and recover and rejuvenate themselves. When you need to reset, how do you recover?
“I’m super thankful about the staying home part of the COVID-19 thing. I’m excited to not be hosting lots of people and being able to unplug.”
Real books or audio books?
“Real books. I am studying for my yoga certification, and that is all online, so I am reading a lot online and watching a lot of videos.”
“Don’t judge me. The Bethenny Frankel one [“Just B with Bethenny Frankel“]. She was on the real housewives but she has amazing guests. She’s had Hilary Clinton, Mark Cuban, really great businesspeople. Also, a little plug — Alex and I just started a pod cast today called “Coffee at the Barre.” We just recorded two episodes where we talk about our passion for downtown. I talked about the business showers on it — who knows if anyone will listen, but we are into it.”