Sarah Wyland barre.d studio chapel hill

What I Learned From Owning A Barre Studio

Owning a barre studio was a longtime dream of mine. 

I found Pure Barre in 2014. It was the first form of exercise I enjoyed. I went from sleeping until the last possible moment every morning to hustling out of bed at 5:30AM to make the 6:00AM class. I was in the studio five or six times a week and fully bought in. I had the gear, the sticky socks, all of it. I was even getting out of bed for 7AM classes on the weekend instead of sleeping until mid-morning. 

Going to Pure Barre classes changed my life.  

I’ll never forget the first time I caught sight of my legs in the mirror one night and saw, for the very first time ever, muscles. I’ve had a love/hate relationship with my solid thighs my entire life, and to see them as strong and powerful was a major mindset moment for me. It only made me want to go to barre more. I talked about barre all the time, dragged my friends to classes, and posted about it on social media. I was a total barre advocate. 

As I hit my one year mark, I started to ponder teaching. There was one instructor, Lauren, that had inspired me. I loved her classes so much that I would either go to my usual classes in the mornings then come back to her late evening classes or else just switch my schedule to go at night. She had a body like mine and her personality and teaching style inspired me. I was too nervous to bring it up though, so I sat on the idea and tried to work up the courage to throw my name in the hat.

Then the universe plopped an opportunity into my lap. 

An independent barre studio was opening in the same building as my office. It would be an opportunity to teach and convenient to boot. I put my name down for teacher auditions and spent the next few weeks listing all the reasons why it wasn’t a good idea, most of which had to do with my looks and my lack of experience as a fitness coach. The negative self-talk was so powerful that I nearly didn’t go to auditions. I spent the night before and the morning off in an anxious knot. I went on a walk the morning of auditions to clear my head and I felt a deep sense of peace. A small voice said “go.” So I went. 

By that night, I was a barre instructor. 

Teaching at barre.[d] studio was one of the best experiences of my life. I fell in love with teaching and with my students. The community was my favorite thing. I loved the vibe, the sense of pride when my students would hit a goal or hold a pose for the first time or try one of the more advanced classes and realize ‘hey, I can do this!’ I would sometimes teach two or three classes in a day and leave the studio energized instead of exhausted. 

The idea to open a studio started to take hold in 2017. The plan was to open a second location across town. We looked at a place that, location-wise, was perfect, but the previous tenant had left it in disrepair. After a lot of back and forth and learning that the landlord wasn’t prepared to bring the space up to the required standards, the decision was made to walk away.

Which worked out well for me as I had developed an itch to get out of Charlottesville. I was up for a job in Nashville and researching the viability of opening a barre studio somewhere in Music City. When I didn’t get the job, I turned my attention elsewhere: Chapel Hill, North Carolina

Chapel Hill had a lot of pros. Plenty of real estate, a college town, a market similar to what we worked with in Charlottesville. I went down a couple of times, looked at spaces. I also applied for jobs and dang if I didn’t get the first job I applied to. Everything was falling into place and within a month of being in Chapel Hill, I had a lease on a space. 

I had a lot of fun building the space out. It was new construction, a blank canvas. I was able to put walls where I wanted them, paint the color of my choice, pick every single detail. I learned a lot about permits and inspections and delays in those processes. I did everything I could to hype up the place, get people excited about the new barre studio in town. I hired an excellent staff and got them trained, spent long hours putting together furniture and unboxing equipment. 

Did you know dumbbells come individually wrapped? I didn’t. I sat on the floor of my equipment room for more than two hours unwrapping one dumbbell after another and vowing to never do it again.

At one point, I took this picture. 

It was a week or so before I planned to open and nothing was going right. The contractor had sheetrocked around whatever it was that the internet company needed to install our service and I needed to have a hole cut into the wall. The sound guys couldn’t install the sound system without the internet. The cubby system I bought from IKEA was just not going together the way it was supposed to. I was tired, hungry, stressed, and ready to give up. So I went into the equipment room where no one would see me and sobbed. I took a selfie though because I wanted to remember that moment later, when things were going well. I wanted to look back and see that the struggle was worth it. 

Then Hurricane Florence came through and we pushed the grand opening back a week anyway, which gave me more time to get things done. 

At first, things were great. People were coming to classes, my instructors were flourishing, the studio was growing. 

But then things fell apart. 

I do mean that literally. 

Our floor buckled and it became a long saga that I won’t dive into, but after a number of months of fighting an uphill battle, I had to make the decision to close the doors. I shed a lot of tears and wallowed in self-pity. I’ve struggled with the concept of failure my entire life and in the days after making that final decision, I felt like an absolute failure. The dream I worked so hard for had crashed and burned. Even though there was nothing I could have done to prevent the issues we faced and even though it had nothing to do with how I ran the studio or the staff I hired, it still felt like I failed. 

In hindsight, it was a major blessing. 

Had things gone differently, I wouldn’t have been able to apply to film school and move to Los Angeles. Then there was a little thing called COVID that would have made it next to impossible for the studio to survive. 

It also wasn’t a failure. 

It was a journey of self-growth and of learning about myself and who I am. It taught me more about what I want and what I don’t want when it comes to my career and it showed me what I’m capable of. It was a chapter full of life lessons that I’m very thankful for. 

There are times when I look back and think “wow, you really pushed that along, didn’t you?” I begged and pleaded and prayed and manifested that studio into existence and I think at some point, God said “okay, Sarah, I’ll give you what you want, but you’re going to learn a few hard lessons through it.” And that’s exactly what happened. 

As humans, we’re so afraid of failure. We often stay small and don’t leave our comfort zones because the fear of failing, of falling flat on our faces, is so real. We don’t allow ourselves the opportunity to fail, but that’s where the growth happens – through stepping out of our comfort zones, trying something new, failing or even succeeding. 

Opening a barre studio didn’t go the way I planned, but it taught me more than I would have ever learned without the experience. The dream of owning a studio came to fruition. It took a long time to happen and was ultimately short-lived, but the lessons learned will stick with me forever. 

It wasn’t a failure. 

It was a lesson. 

I’m grateful I owned a barre studio. 

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