Jazzercise Founder Judi Sheppard Missett’s Keys to Business Success

Posted by on April 21, 2009 in Business Start Up Advice [ 0 Comments ]

Here’s some encouraging news for anyone trying to launch or grow a business – you don’t necessarily need a business plan, a blueprint, or even a business loan to build a successful company.  What you do need, according to one successful business founder, is a love for what you do, the ability to embrace change as your business grows, and a strong desire to give your clients the best value possible.

Judi Sheppard Missett, founder and CEO of Jazzercise, an international company with over 7,500 franchises, will be leading a program this week (April 23-25) at the Annual Conference of the  Women Presidents’ Organization in San Diego.  Missett’s story is an inspirational one for both new and seasoned entrepreneurs- how did she build such a thriving business from the ground up?

Missett had the idea for what would become Jazzercise while teaching a dance class in Chicago.  As a trained professional dancer, initially she taught the class with an eye for technique and form, with students performing in front of mirrors.  Students stopped showing up.  Missett had an epiphany: the women coming to her classes didn’t want to be professional dancers, they wanted to look like them.  Missett took the mirrors down, turned the music up, passed out fliers, and within weeks had to turn students away for lack of space.  When she moved from Chicago to San Diego, she brought her unique approach to dance instruction with her, pioneering the “fitness” craze in Southern California one class at a time.

Missett didn’t plan for Jazzercise to become the global enterprise it is today.  “I didn’t even get a business loan,” she says, “I had no master plan or blueprint.  It just grew organically.”  Jazzercise has continued to grow, experiencing the largest growth in the company’s history over the past eight years.  At a time when other companies are discounting merchandise and figuring out ways to boost sales, Jazzertogs, a division of Jazzercise that sells fitness clothing, just experienced its most profitable month ever.  So what are Judi Sheppard Missett’s secrets to success?

  • Be adaptable: Learn to love change and take risks. Missett feels one of the reasons Jazzercise has remained so successful while other fitness fads have come and gone is its ability to meet the changing needs of those it serves.
  • Maintain balance: A mind, body, spirit, connection is definitely one of Missett’s secrets to succeeding in life- and business.  Staying healthy is key if you want to maintain the energy necessary to run a company.
  • Follow patterns of success: Red Oak, Iowa, didn’t have too many professional dance instructors when Missett was growing up- a problem remedied by her own mother’s efforts to make sure her daughter was able to receive the best instruction possible.  Missett remembers her mother recruiting instructors for her as a child by offering to set up classes help and with studio management.  In hindsight, Missett says that in many ways she followed this pattern in building Jazzercise.  Your mentor or role model doesn’t need to be in your industry, or even in business at all- patterns of success can be found in all places if you take the time to look.
  • It’s not about the bottom line: Missett is adamant in her belief that getting into a line of work “just for the money” doesn’t translate into long-term, sustainable success.  Doing what you love- without worrying about the bottom line- gives you the courage to take risks and be different.  Paradoxically, these are the qualities that usually lead to financial success.  Focus on providing value for your customers, and everything else will fall into place.
  • Use the resources you have: When Missett began teaching in San Diego, many of her students were military wives.  When their husbands were stationed in new cities, many sought a way to continue the Jazzercise program.  At the time, VHS video was a developing technology, and Missett’s husband had experience working with video recording.  Missett videotaped routines for teachers who had moved, eventually starting her own production company- known today as JM DigitalWorks, a division of Jazzercise.  Think of your own circumstances- how can you use the unique resources you have?

Business success doesn’t need to be mapped out, reliant on luck, funding, or even starting out in an ideal set of circumstances.  Don’t wait for the perfect moment to make a move, start your business, or take advantage of an opportunity.  As Judi Sheppard Missett says, “We are all in the right place at the right time, if we are aware of it.”


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