Charlotte, North Carolina
In 2013, while still on her honeymoon, Amy and her husband, Danny joked about leaving their careers in journalism to start a franchise business. That joke became a reality when, just months later and aa few weeks shy of their first wedding anniversary, the Leon’s quit their jobs in television and opened the doors to North Carolina’s first CKO kickboxing gym. The following month, Amy found out she was pregnant with their daughter, Maya.
SM: How did you get started?
AL: Dan and I were not feeling as focused or rewarded in journalism. We both felt like it would be fun to do something else. We knew a colleague who was doing the CKO workouts and the idea struck us. When we returned from our honeymoon, we enrolled in a local CKO and loved it. Shortly after that we met with a franchise representative but we weren’t so sure if New York needed another gym. Then, we visited Dan’s mom, who lives in Charlotte, North Carolina. We thought about all of the real estate development happening there and how it would be a perfect place to break new ground. Getting started wasn’t easy, though, because it can be very expensive but our representative told us about a program called ROBS, or Roll Over For Small Biz, which allows potential franchise owners to roll over their retirement savings from a 401k into a business. We didn’t want to take out loans and we didn’t have cash. It was a crazy idea but we were feeling very inspired at that time.
SM: How did you transition from the media industry to health and fitness?
AL: I have a Bachelor’s degree in Social Work and I feel as though I’ve always been gravitating towards the health and fitness industry. I’ve also struggled with body image issues and I just felt good about helping other people.
SM: Which do you prefer – employer or employee?
AL: I feel like on one hand we built in the flexibility when Maya was born so that we could witness all of her milestones. But then the business took a turn, and I got a second job to bridge the gap and mitigate some of the pressure. Some days I’m very happy being an employer and other days I wouldn’t mind being an employee again. I’m hopeful that business will stabilize. There are a lot of positives and we plan to stick with it for the long haul.
SM: What does a typical day look like?
AL: I try to slip in a workout at 5:30 a.m., which keeps me sane. I wake Maya up at 6:15 to prepare her breakfast. Today, I had to be at the gym at 9 for an hour long class I teach at 9:30. I telecommute on my second job from my office at the gym. I reopen the gym at 4 in the afternoon and teach another class. When I have shorter days, I spend them with Maya. It helps that now she’s at an age where she can attend preschool. Still, I appreciate being my own boss but the opportunity means we have to run the gym seven days a week and the hours are long.
SM: Is it hard to find personal time for you and your husband?
AL: Between working, potty-training and reading bedtime stories to my three-year old it’s hard to find alone time with Dan. That part is still a work in progress in terms of making more of an effort to spend time together as a couple. The routines are still evolving. Maya is still having potty challenges but her grandmother is a great help.
SM: What advice do you have for Mom’s thinking about starting a business?
AL: I would say definitely be very thoughtful about your decision. I would suggest you start by figuring out what your ultimate goal is while keeping the end goal in mind. Know what you want out of it. You should decide what you’re willing to give up early. Lastly, and most important, do your due diligence. Fortunately, with a franchise there is a lot of support but I still suggest drawing up a list of everything you will need from office supplies to child care and run a cost analysis to make sure it makes sense for you and your family.
SM: What is the most gratifying aspect of this venture so far?
AL: Because of the health club there is something much bigger than just a place where people workout. We’ve had our ups and downs with the business and there have been some definite challenges but we’ve worked really hard to create a sense of community in North Carolina. As far as the people we get to interact with, we love to hear them say that we’ve helped them. Seeing people get so excited about their lives. I love that there is something for everyone. There are all kinds of people and this is a place where everyone can come to. It’s a very communal group.