Welcome to Small Business Chat with Libro. I can’t believe we’ve been running these chats for over 18 months now. Do pop a comment on any that you find particularly interesting or helpful. And are you enjoying the update posts?
Today we’re meeting Mel Carpenter from Zumba Central. Now, I could say that I prefer the purity of running and the personal battle with the weights, but truth be told, I am so hopelessly uncoordinated that I would bring havoc to a Zumba class. But, I know many, many people who love dance exercise and who have got much fitter and probably happier as a result of taking Zumba classes, and I think that’s absolutely brilliant – anything that increases the amount of fitness and fun in the population is good in my books. Mel is full of energy and enthusiasm, picking up on the latest ideas and incorporating them into her business – what a good example of moving along with your business and (literally) never standing still!
What’s your business called? When did you set it up?
I run various dance fitness businesses; the branding is similar: Zumba Central is a team of Zumba Instructors who I have trained who run classes across Birmingham (I launched this in October 2009), as is Bokwa Central (launched in March 2011).
Salsa Central is an online Latin Music magazine that I run with my fiancé (we started in July 2007). We actively promote live music and Latin dance events in the UK and around the globe.
Finally, my latest venture is UK Bokwa Gear (launched November 2011); again, I run this with my fiancé, and we are the official distributors for Bokwa clothing in the UK.
What made you decide to set up your own business?
Dance was initially a hobby for me. I started dancing salsa in February 1999, and absolutely loved it! I then had the opportunity to start teaching in December 1999, and it all took off from there really! With Zumba (I qualified in October 2009), as I was already teaching Latin dance, it was a natural progression for me to move into that area as it involved teaching dance styles I already taught. With Bokwa, (another Dance Fitness style), I was interested in it as it was relatively new and I liked the high energy style of exercise.
What made you decide to go into this particular business area?
With Zumba, it was a niche market that not many people were qualified in; two salsa students mentioned it to me, so I saw an opportunity and I took it. As mentioned above, I’d already been teaching Latin dance for a decade, so it was a natural progression for me. It was the same with Bokwa, I saw it as a new Dance Fitness style that wasn’t yet in the public eye, so I thought I would get in quick!
Had you run your own business before?
I’d taught salsa before as a freelance instructor, but never anything as detailed as when I launched my own Zumba business.
How did you do it? Did you launch full-time, start off with a part-time or full-time job to keep you going?
I taught salsa alongside my day job for nearly ten years (Zumba for 2.5 years) before the birth of my daughter. I couldn’t bear the thought of leaving her to go back to work, so I handed my notice in and took that big step into self-employment!
What do you wish someone had told you before you started?
You can do this! I wish I had known someone who ran their own business back then, now I know loads of people! Maybe I would’ve taken the plunge sooner.
What would you go back and tell your newly entrepreneurial self?
You can do this! I definitely would’ve encouraged myself to take more risks, not to be scared to try and fail.
What do you wish you’d done differently?
I wish I’d done it sooner, I bet you hear that a lot! [yes!]
What are you glad you did?
I’m glad I listened to my students who told me to check out Zumba! I have a lot to thank them for, they put me on the path that opened so many doors and completely changed my career path, I used to work in HR!
What’s your top business tip?
Speak to as many people as you can! I am always networking, whether I’m working at an event, or on the bus! Also, market yourself as much as you can! You have to talk yourself up, even when you don’t feel like it!
How has it gone since you started? Have you grown, diversified or stayed the same?
I have definitely grown, I am now qualified to teach Bokwa, I also went to college and took my PTTLS qualification (Preparing to Teach in the Life Long Learning Sector) so that I could learn how to write and deliver courses. I am currently training to be a Fitness Instructor so I can move into the Fitness Arena.
I’ve also diversified, I am now the Official Distributor for Bokwa merchandise in the UK, so I’ve had to learn about importing stock, it’s keeping me very busy!
Where do you see yourself and your business in a year’s time?
I hope to be qualified as a personal trainer, with a growing client base. I also hope to continue to build the merchandising brand for Bokwa in the UK.
All exciting stuff, and I wonder what the next big thing in Dance Fitness will be – I bet Mel’s introducing it to the Midlands when we catch up with her next year! Read about Mel’s rather surprising year here.
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