This interview features Wendy Santiago, founder and owner of Wendy Fit Yoga and Pilates Studio in Palm Harbor, Florida.
Taking a circuitous route into the fitness industry, Wendy graduated from university with a bachelor’s in dance but soon discovered she had organizational talents and interpersonal skills to thrive in the promotions and entertainment industry. Despite her success in that space, Yoga and Wellness remained her focus.
Rather than chasing fads, Wendy is in it for the long run. She is an avid advocate for the Wellness movement as well as a regular participant in Bright House’s on-demand Healthy Mind and Body series since 1998, the same year she founded her studio.
As she points out, yoga is said to mean to “unite or join” in Sanskrit, and Wendy Fit is the realization of her ideal of balance within the fitness industry. Focusing on Yoga, Pilates, and Physical Training, Wendy Fit offers its clients holistic training for both the body and the mind.
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In this interview, Wendy shares thoughts on maintaining her brand, the importance of community and customer loyalty, and how you don’t always need to look far afield to find the best people for your business.
Follow Your Passion
What sparked your passion for fitness, and more specifically, yoga?
I have always been a fitness fanatic. It started at an early age with cheerleading and just playing sports. Eventually, I ended up teaching fitness and dance — which took me through my college years. When I first encountered yoga, I fell in love with it immediately after I understood the way it heals and calms both the mind and body.
What was the moment you decided to move forward with the idea of opening your own studio?
For a long time, I hadn’t really thought about it. What finally inspired me is that I had a friend who wanted to invest in me. I had a lot of reservations, but he convinced me to move forward. Thank god it has been successful.
Success from Within
What unanticipated operational challenges did you face while opening your studio?
From the operations perspective, I think recruiting reliable staff, and finding somebody good who can run your back office can be the biggest challenge. It’s never easy to find people, but I hit upon the idea of keeping it close to home — just making announcements in my classes that I am looking for front desk staff or accountants. Trusting my instincts worked — I have found incredibly reliable and honest people who already know my business.
What do you think makes the difference between a successful fitness instructor and an unsuccessful fitness instructor?
First, I think to maintain success as a fitness or yoga instructor you have to love what you do, but that isn’t always enough. You can never quit your own training. By regularly attending workshops and improving your own skills, you stay up-to-date on the latest developments and grow with the needs of your students.
What is your secret to growing a loyal client base?
Customer Loyalty is everything. I have been in the area and the industry since 1977. My students have been with me for most of those years, following me from gym to gym until I opened my own place. I remind them often that they are why I am still in business. I do everything I can to make sure my regulars are taken care of. They are my best marketing.
Believe But Prepare
As someone who has started her own studio and business, what advice do you have for someone who is interested in starting their own small business in the fitness space?
No matter what you are taking on, you need a good business plan and enough financial backing to pay your rent for at least 6 months whether you have students or not. As we have seen this past year, COVID 19 has weeded out those businesses that didn’t have a buffer to sustain them through financial hardship.
You also need to have a vision for your business — I started with a vision statement.
Then, putting my plan together, I had to do a market analysis so I understood what exactly I was getting into. I also worked at a few studios before opening mine. That way, I knew what kind of clientele I could bring in by myself. It gave me enough confidence to believe that I could pay my bills if the students actually came to my studio. Finally, I worked with the bank to secure a business loan ready to use if I really needed it.
It’s scary looking back, but I believed that old saying “If you build it, they will come.”
Getting the Message Out
If you had all the resources you could ask for, what is one strategy or solution that you wish you could implement to better grow your business?
I think exploring technology to provide on-demand training is a great way to reach people, especially in light of the pandemic, but It is very expensive to put together that kind of service. In order to do it right, you have well-established and experienced partners. I plan to get moving with this more than ever — currently, I use videos to do my marketing and help students practice when they can’t come to the studio but I intend to improve on that.
Now that I own my building, I would also love to have a big road sign or billboard to identify and promote the business.
What lessons about marketing and branding did you learn from having your own show on TV?
Whether on TV or through other channels, I think it’s important to establish your brand and clearly introduce yourself to your audience while keeping your message as personal as possible.
You also need to have a mechanism in place to ensure people have a way to get in touch with you so they can follow up and ask any questions about you or your business that they may have — involving clothing lines and live musicians doesn’t hurt either!
What are your favorite operations/business-related and fitness-related books?
On the business side, it would have to be One Minute Manager by Ken Blanchard, and Rich Dad Poor Dad by Robert T. Kiyosaki. When it comes to fitness books that I go to all the time, I have a whole library — you don’t have enough space for me to list them all!
Do you have a personal motto you live by?
I believe you can’t change the way people act or what they say — you can only change how you react to them.
As for my business slogan, it is — ”I train your mind and your body.”