When Kristen Horler was single, she worked two jobs -- as a pastry chef and as a fitness instructor. When she married and had her first child, she suddenly wanted a life where going to work didn't mean she had to leave her baby with someone else.
She saw an opportunity to use her fitness certification to help new moms reclaim their pre-pregnancy bodies, without the need for babysitters or fitness club memberships. In 2001, she launched Baby Boot Camp®, a mom-and- baby exercise program developed to address post-partum fitness challenges. What started as Horler and three friends doing cardio drills with their babies in strollers is now a rapidly expanding stroller-fitness program with franchise locations across the U.S., Australia, Canada and Bermuda.
Horler represents a trend among educated, professional women: Tired of the elusive promise of workplace flexibility and rushing home in time to eat take- out dinner and put the kids to bed, women are discovering that they have had enough of the ever-lengthening workday that leaves little time for life outside the office. They're leaving the corporate world in search of a work- life seesaw that they have more control over, and one that tips in favor of family.
It's no coincidence that, at the same time, small business ownership is on the rise; women-owned businesses are growing at twice the rate of all U.S. firms. For women who want to start a business but want the security and support of a proven business model, many see franchise ownership as a smart -- and flexible -- way to succeed.
Opportunities like the one Horler offers with Baby Boot Camp epitomize the family-focused career track. Many are also financially accessible (read: you won't throw your 401(k) into it to get started) and easy to manage, using a Web-based business dashboard. Franchisees have access to an infrastructure that automates the business of running the franchise: Membership tracking, financial postings, marketing and PR support and the ability to connect with other franchisees.
"I was going to start my own stroller fitness company and while I was researching, I found Baby Boot Camp, says Jennifer Beckley. She became a certified trainer after her two children were born. "I was overweight and I couldn't find a trainer who understood post-partum fitness, so I became a trainer myself." Beckley opened her Baby Boot Camp franchise in Albuquerque in April 2005. "I had only five clients show up the first day. I thought, 'what am I doing?'"
Beckley didn't need to worry. The headcount nearly doubled with each session and as her business started turning a profit a few months later, she opened a second and third franchise to accommodate the demand. Her fourth Baby Boot Camp franchise opened in July 2006. Beckley now employs trainers to lead classes, which frees her to manage and promote the business.
The structure Baby Boot Camp provides was a big attraction to Beckley. "I never saw myself as a business person, so the base of support reminds me that I'm not alone," she says. "I can count on the corporate office for guidance, and there's this network of other franchise owners out there -- we give each other a lot of advice."
Nobody is more surprised about the success of the business than Horler herself. "I never thought this is what I'd be doing with my life; that I'd start a stroller fitness class that turned me into a business owner and the CEO of an international company," she says. "I was just a mom who didn't want to put my baby in daycare while I went to work, but in the process of solving my dilemma, I created this career not only for myself, but for a lot of other women who are looking for the same thing."