SMESpotlight

Fitness studio Upside on the upswing

Ms Beh Hwee Sze (centre), 31, founder of fitness studio Upside Motion, with her staff, Ms Elly Selamat (left), 26, and Ms Mirna Liguori, 35. Upside Motion offers pilates, Xtend barre and the aerial programme. It conducts 100 classes a week in total a
Ms Beh Hwee Sze (centre), 31, founder of fitness studio Upside Motion, with her staff, Ms Elly Selamat (left), 26, and Ms Mirna Liguori, 35. Upside Motion offers pilates, Xtend barre and the aerial programme. It conducts 100 classes a week in total at its studios in Orchard and Armenian Street.ST PHOTO: NEO XIAOBIN

Many local firms have sprung up in the health and fitness space over the years. This week, Felicia Choo speaks to the founder of Upside Motion fitness studio, Ms Beh Hwee Sze.

Q Tell us about your business.

A At Upside Motion, we have three programmes - pilates, Xtend barre and the aerial programme.

Xtend barre is a fusion workout that combines the fundamentals of ballet and pilates. Our aerial programme is another fusion workout based on traditional yoga, dance and aerial acrobatics.

How we differentiate ourselves is that our boutique setting is more intimate than a big gym setting.

Q How did you get started?

The biggest challenge starting out was breaking through the paradigm and educating people on what our classes are, having been the first to bring in aerial and barre classes, which were not known in Singapore then. The talent acquisition process has always been difficult. Not a lot of locals see this job in the service industry as a career.

A Pilates was the thing that got me into this whole fitness regime. I had been travelling a lot for the family business (VS International Group) from 2007 to 2010, when I started experiencing very bad back pain. I saw so many doctors and even did a health check-up. However, no one could figure out the cause of the pain.

I finally went to a chiropractor who was also a pilates instructor; she introduced me to pilates which eventually cured my back pain.

Having been brought up in a family of entrepreneurs, I started looking into the boutique studio business. I was still working in the family business when I set up Upside Motion in late 2011 so it was more like a hobby-business. But as the business is growing, I have stepped away from the family business to focus on this now.

Q What did it cost to get your idea going?

A Each studio cost me $250,000 to set up. I had to dig into my own savings and get a loan from my parents. Being entrepreneurs, they know that you need to learn a lot of things through experience. So they regarded their loan to me as "school fees", and I am very grateful for that. It took me two to 21/2 years to break even, but I promised myself that I would not fall back on my family unless absolutely necessary.

When I come to the studio and see our clients, our instructors, over time I feel this social responsibility to keep the business going, keep this community going.

Q How has your business grown since then?

A I run a lot of things back-of- house now. When I opened the first studio in Bukit Timah in 2012, we were running about 30 classes a week and it was a lot of hands-on. I managed the front desk and was doing everything myself. We started out with four people and now we have a team of 20.

We moved that studio to Orchard last year and opened another studio in Armenian Street in July 2013. We are running about 100 classes a week in total at both locations.

Sales increased by 50 per cent from 2013 to last year, and class attendance rates increased by 65 per cent during the same period.

Q What were some of your biggest challenges in the initial stages?

A The biggest challenge starting out was breaking through the paradigm and educating people on what our classes are, having been the first to bring in aerial and barre classes, which were not known in Singapore then.

The talent acquisition process has always been difficult. Not a lot of locals see this job in the service industry as a career; they see this as a part-time job, a holiday job or something in between, so retention and hiring are problems.

Q What is your growth plan from here?

A There is opportunity to open more studios locally and also abroad in the Asian region. I have not decided on a particular city and am just trying to understand different markets first. I want to grow organically and not be too aggressive. In the meantime, I am focusing on improving our business processes to prepare us for future growth.

Clientele-wise, I would love to have more guys in the studio as our (small) male clientele is very regular and dedicated. But most men tend to come in with their significant other. People still have the preconception that our programmes are geared towards females.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 29, 2015, with the headline 'Fitness studio Upside on the upswing'. Print Edition | Subscribe