More than once a day I pray for a one-size-fits-all healthy lifestyle change that I can implement at the push of a button—the real life version of fifteen green heart emojis and the same degree of ease as it took to type them all, please. Health is our most valuable asset yet there’s a million and one reasons as to why we constantly shunt it further back in our list of priorities (trust me, I know). It’s not for the want of trying or lack of good intentions, but my weekly exercise regime begins full of promise as I drift off to sleep on Sunday night, before faltering madly long before mid-week. It’s overwhelming. There’s cardio, strengthening, restoring, and meditation, and that’s without prescribing food prep and meal strategizing. The mere thought of it all makes me want to steep in an epsom salt bath and never come out.
Alexandra Bonetti Pérez, founder of Bari Studio, was working as a consultant in the oil industry when she had a similar revelation: “I was balancing a million different workouts in order to look and feel the way I wanted,” she explains. “The thing is, I didn’t look or feel the way I wanted—I wasn’t getting enough cardio or muscle sculpting because I couldn’t find a method that offered the right recipe, especially since, like many people, I only had a limited amount of time each week to dedicate to my workouts.” Undeterred, Alexandra decided to devise her own fitness plan, taking her body and mind into her own hands—a regime that would soon become the Bari method. At the launch of her first studio, Alexandra was twenty five years old. In conversation with The Lifestyle Edit, she discusses the pros and cons of starting a business at a young age – ”you see less risk, but it’s hard convincing people to take you seriously” – how she opened Bari with $0 in the bank, and how the community she’s helped grow and develop is what really keeps the studio moving forward.
FROM THE OIL INDUSTRY TO WELLNESS: Before The Bari Studio, I was working as a management consultant, focusing on the oil industry. I spent most of those years working for big oil companies at my clients’ offices and oil sites. While working in consulting, I found myself balancing a million different workouts in order to look and feel the way I wanted. I would go for a run one day, do a weights class another day, do Pilates the next day, try to hit the elliptical when I could — the list goes on. The thing is, I didn’t look or feel the way I wanted. I wasn’t getting enough cardio or muscle sculpting because I couldn’t find a method that offered the right recipe, especially since, like many people, I only had a limited amount of time each week to dedicate to my workouts. I decided to take my fitness plan and my body into my own hands and little by little started crafting what Bari’s method would become. As I started putting the pieces of the puzzle together, I felt a shift from dreading my workouts and constantly trying to figure out how to do it all, to effortless motivation and excitement. As soon as I figured out this formula that felt really good, I really fell in love with the feel-good power of a consistent workout practice. I knew I was onto something, and I couldn’t shake the opportunity to see it through. I was good at consulting, but I was invigorated by Bari. So I left my job in consulting and followed my idea. I thought, ‘If I want a more efficient, fun workout, other people must be craving the same.’ I think when you’re really excited about an idea, you don’t believe it can fail. Starting a business is the easy part. It’s after you launch that things get scary. Sticking with it when things get tough takes courage.
ON LAUNCHING THE BUSINESS AT 25 YEARS OLD: It’s both easy and hard starting young. It’s easy because you see less risk, feel more invincible and see everything from a fresh perspective. It’s hard convincing people to take you seriously and I wasted too much time proving myself to people around me so that I could negotiate a lease, get press mentions, and get thousands of people signed up to work out at Bari.
WHAT MAKES THE BARI STUDIO SPECIAL: Our workout has three elements that we mix and match in different classes: dance cardio, trampoline cardio and muscle sculpting. You can take a class with no cardio or a cardio-heavy one, but the intention is that you take different classes throughout the week so you get the best results. It’s a one stop shop that promises to hook you — you’ll love doing it, and you won’t believe the body you sculpt. Something else that makes us really special is our tribe. Our community is amazing, people support each other in a way I haven’t seen elsewhere.
BOOTSRAPPING THE BUSINESS WITH PERSONAL SAVINGS & A FRIEND & FAMILY ROUND: Every dollar I had went into construction. I opened Bari with $0 in the bank account because I had to spend it all before opening our doors. The upside is I had a little more freedom to do what I wanted with the money because the people that lent it to me trusted me. The downside is probably that exact same thing; it’s important to surround yourself with people who know and can advise you – a board of directors – so you don’t feel a little lost when making big decisions. Once I had a little money I hired Sarah Levy, a woman who still freelances for Bari today. She helped me with communication, which for me was really important because I had to get my message out there so people would come try my product.
NAVIGATING A COMPETITIVE MARKET: The fitness industry is oversaturated in New York, no question. I think as a consumer, it’s great: greater supply pushes prices down and also motivates businesses to staying on top of their game. The challenge is that the industry hasn’t raised prices in at least 6 to 8 years. Because there’s so much competition, people expect a discount; but our costs have increased. It’s an interesting situation because instead of driving quantity and slashing prices, I’ve focused in adding value, making sure our clients not only love Bari but are also willing to pay for it.
THE UPSIDE OF STARTING SMALL: In the beginning, the method was more basic and our community was smaller. That was perfect at the time, because we had fun evolving the method and our clients never get bored because we’re always putting new and fun things into the business. And starting with a small community gives you the opportunity to know your clients, talk to them, listen to them and use all that information when taking your next steps. To attract our first customers, I printed flyers and walked around Tribeca and handed them out myself. I started a conversation with everyone I could. They came.
GROWING PAINS: I tried to grow a few times without the right team in place, and that’s one of the biggest mistakes I’ve made. People are everything, your team is everything. I think hiring the right people is always the biggest challenge, for every position, from trainers to managers, to front desk staff. I didn’t realize it would be so hard to find the key people I needed on my team, but I’m beyond lucky and grateful to have found them and be able to work with them every day. Handling one studio all of a sudden is easy when you realize what it takes to manage something from afar. You need someone on the ground that understands you and is excited about your vision, ready to work and also has the expertise to do it. Delegation has taken years for me to master, and I’m not sure if I’m great at it still. Maybe because Bari started as a one-woman show: when I opened I did everything, managed, taught, cleaned, marketed, handed out flyers, communicated with press… Maybe because I genuinely love my job and business and love being involved! But the more I delegate and empower, the more I’m able to focus my time on growing and creating something better.
ON TRUSTING THE PROCESS: Remember, you’re in the right place at the right time, even when it feels like you’re not. My meditation guru always says “No matter what you think is happening, only evolution is happening.” No matter what you see around you, you’re moving forward, even if it feels like you’re going backward. Sometimes a step back is what you needed to move into a new direction, so what at the time seemed backward, was actually a move forward. Say in tune with your intuition, control the things you can, and you will be able to build whatever you want.
THE IMPORTANCE OF APPROACHING WELLNESS HOLISTICALLY: You can’t be truly “fit” if you don’t eat well, don’t sleep well and aren’t at peace in your soul. For me, fitness was the “gateway drug” into everything else. Once I felt stronger and more empowered, I felt excited about food. Once I learned about the power to fuel yourself with good things from the inside out, I was excited to meditate. All of a sudden I felt like a happier, more confident person and started making decisions for myself, not for anyone else or what I thought was expected of me. I truly believe fitness allows you, especially women, to make your own rules and live the life you truly want to live and love.
ON HOW TO GET STARTED WITH A WELLNESS ROUTINE: I wish there was a trick or step by step process to get people into the habit of health. The truth is, until you truly connect with your “why,” it’s really hard to get started. I always encourage people to write down why they want to work out, or be healthy… The first answer is usually not the deepest answer. So keep asking yourself why… “I want to look good,” but why? “It will make me feel better about myself,” but why? “I will have more confidence,” but why? So on, until you can really connect to what the power of this transformation would do for you and your life: you can see it, taste it, smell it and imagine your life in it. Then, every time you’re making a decision related to your health goal, you can remind yourself of that feeling.
HER NON-NEGOTIABLES: My family comes first. This wasn’t always the case, the first years of running Bari, Bari came first and I got to a place where I truly felt drained and unhappy. I realized I was ignoring everything else in my life that fueled me: my husband, New York, weekend hikes, playing guitar, hanging out with friends, etc. So I decided time with my husband every week needed to take a front seat in my life. Now that I have a baby, it’s harder to ignore that time away from Bari and I’m loving life more than ever.
THE THINGS SHE HASN’T QUITE NAILED YET: Bari’s growth. I opened some self-managed studios and some franchise studios and have decided I really want to go in the franchise direction and not self-manage every location. This was a hard decision to make and in December I sold the last self-managed location apart from my New York studios to be able to focus on franchising. I’ve also been looking for a partner for years! I would love to work side by side someone that complements my skillset and can share the ups and downs and adventure of entrepreneurship, and haven’t found that person.
MANTRA: Be patient, you’re right where you need to be.