In just more than two years, Jessica Bashelor, owner of The Handle Bar, has cornered the Boston group fitness market. Her incredibly popular spin studio regularly sells out classes, to the point where Bashelor decided to open a second–and then a third–location within months of opening the first. What’s especially impressive? She’s only 27.
Here, we talk to the budding mogul about what ignited her spark for spinning, how she finds balance in the busyness, and what she’s learned in her first few years as an entrepreneur.
HOW DID YOU GET INTO GROUP FITNESS?
I was a swimmer all throughout my young life and it gave me serious structure in my fitness routine. When I went to college, I stopped swimming and needed an outlet for sweat. I fell in love with group classes. The music driven workouts were my favorite and couldn’t believe that a workout could fly by so quickly while still producing great results.
WHEN DID YOU START TEACHING IT?
About four years ago when I was working for a startup fitness clothing company. I was getting to know instructors and studio owners and decided that I wanted to be a part of it. I got certified to teach spin and haven’t stopped since!
AT WHAT POINT DID YOU REALIZE YOU WANTED TO START YOUR OWN STUDIO?
Right around that same time – I was working for a startup and was in the mix of the fitness community in Boston. I realized that I wanted to be my own boss and thought I might be able to raise enough money to open a cycling studio… what I didn’t know is that I wouldn’t stop at just one!
WHAT WERE THE STEPS YOU HAD TO TAKE IN ORDER TO START THE HANDLE BAR?
The biggest chapters went something like this: I imagined the brand and the product, I wrote a business plan, I pitched to and secured investors to fund my vision, I found the right location, then I hired and began to develop a phenomenal team.
HOW LONG DID IT TAKE TO GET THE FIRST STUDIO OPEN?
From the time I made up my mind to pursue the dream, to when the doors actually opened for business.. it took just under two years.
WHAT WAS THE PREMISE BEHIND THE HANDLE BAR? WHAT SETS IT APART FROM OTHER SPIN STUDIOS IN BOSTON?
To create a fitness environment that was fun-loving, rooted in self betterment, and alive with positive energy.. all to a kick-ass soundtrack. The Handle Bar is different from other studios for that exact reason. You don’t just get a great workout with each class, but you take part in a community that is totally invested in your well being. We want our riders to sweat and burn fat, but more-so we want them to feel happy, empowered, and confident after each and every class.
WAS THERE EVER A POINT (EITHER BEFORE OR AFTER YOU OPENED) THAT YOU WERE WORRIED YOUR BUSINESS WOULDN’T SUCCEED? HOW DID YOU MOVE PAST THE FEAR?
I have never really had this fear. Not to say that I haven’t considered the notion that my business might not succeed, but I have never feared this. Part of it is confidence in my work, but part of it is a confidence in myself – I know that no matter what happens with the business, I’m going to be OK. It is so important to our brand that I remain positive, it is a core quality of the HB mission.
YOU’VE BEEN AN ENTREPRENEUR FOR A FEW YEARS NOW. WHAT’S THE BIGGEST LESSON YOU’VE HAD TO LEARN?
Stay honest. Its something that I’ve always believed in, but in business I’ve found it invaluable. If you are honest with your customer you can mitigate frustrations and learn from them. If you’re honest with your team, you can lead with integrity and develop true loyalty and trust. If you’re honest and open about your goals it will keep you on track. I wear my heart of my sleeve and this has served me very well!
WHAT WERE THE FIRST FEW MONTHS AS A BUSINESS OWNER LIKE? WAS BUSINESS SLOW? DID IT TAKE OFF LIKE CRAZY?
It took off like crazy very early on. We opened in June and by September we were selling classes out!
LAST YEAR, YOU OPENED A SECOND LOCATION IN BOSTON, AND YOU JUST OPENED A THIRD LAST WEEK! TO WHAT DO YOU ATTRIBUTE THE SUCCESS OF YOUR BUSINESS?
I think the reason for my success is that I see the best in people. I am able to establish trust quickly and give responsibility away effectively. I have the ability to spot potential in a person and quickly determine how The Handle Bar can benefit from that potential. The business isn’t successful because I run it, the business is successful because I’ve built a team of people with unique talents who run it with me.
IT MUST BE A LOT OF WORK TO RUN THREE LOCATIONS, A LARGE STAFF, AND TEACH CLASSES. HOW DO YOU COPE WITH ANY STRESS THAT COMES ALONG WITH YOUR WORK?
I ride! Nothing boosts the mood, or relieves anxiety better than a class at our studios. I am so lucky to have this at my fingertips, its truly a recipe for success.
WHAT ARE YOUR GOALS FOR THE HANDLE BAR IN THE NEXT THREE YEARS?
I would love to keep growing and continue strengthening our team from within. I would like to double or triple in size over that time, but more importantly I want to fortify what we’ve already built.
WHAT’S THE BEST CAREER ADVICE YOU’VE EVER RECEIVED?
Be 1% better every day. By focusing on doing better rather than doing more, you learn from mistakes and strengthen your foundation along the way. If I keep that up, I won’t just be an owner of a great business, I’ll be a great businesswoman.