On her 30th birthday — and about a week after she left her lucrative job as an executive assistant on Wall Street, and after she and her husband had liquidated their finances to start a business — Jennifer DeMarco learned she was pregnant.
“I had known all along that I wanted to own a small business in whatever town we lived in, but I didn’t know what I’d want to do,” DeMarco said. “I just knew that I wanted to grow my family and would want to be close to home in a community I could engage with.”
DeMarco had been reflecting on the barre fitness classes she’d been taking in New York City to get fit for her wedding in 2008 — the only workout, she said, that she ever found herself actually looking forward to.
“But my days were always long — I’d work in finance from at least 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., then I’d stay in the city to take the class, and then I’d commute home to Hoboken,” DeMarco said. “I found myself wishing they offered barre in Hoboken, but I couldn’t find any classes.
“That was my ‘aha’ moment.”
And the inspiration that became Local Barre, her own boutique barre fitness studio.
After selling their apartments in Hoboken and renting upstairs from their under-construction studio space in Maxwell Place, the DeMarcos cashed in an IRA and took out a small business loan to cover the construction costs, which were three times what was forecasted.
“I don’t want to paint a fairytale picture; opening up a small business is intense,” DeMarco said. “You don’t know everything when you open up. You don’t even know what you don’t know.”
To ensure success, DeMarco hit the pavement to market Local Barre via tables at church fairs and delivering postcards to local businesses. She even took a job teaching yoga in the fitness center at Maxwell Place to gain clients.
Then she gave birth to her first child two months before the studio opened in April 2010.
“I recall sitting at the front desk of my new studio, answering phone inquiries from new clients, while nursing my newborn,” DeMarco said. “It wasn’t the picture-perfect lifestyle I had painted in my mind, but it was its own kind of perfect.”
Perfect paid off.
Local Barre, which offers full-body fitness classes utilizing a ballet barre and a mixture of Pilates, yoga and ballet techniques, recorded 72 percent growth in its first year.
It was enough to pay off most of the couple’s debt and open a second location in August 2012, shortly after the birth of their second child.
The opening of their third location in August 2014 — along with the birth of their third child in the same month — came in the form of a 5,000-square-foot studio resulting from a pop-up-to-permanent space and a new facet of the business: Wheelhaus, a full-body cycling workout that can be combined with barre work.
“It’s always going to be a constant challenge to make sure we can maintain the level of luxury service that we provide as we grow, but we rely on our community and our staff to continue to execute our vision,” DeMarco said.
There are 60 employees between all three Local Barre and Wheelhaus locations, including more than 20 instructors.
“It’s not uncommon in the fitness industry to have to hustle to make a living,” DeMarco said. “But we tend to employ people who aren’t just doing this as a side job, and we are able to attract the best talent in town because we can offer more hours at our three locations.”
And even though Local Barre and Wheelhaus made well over $1 million in revenue last year, DeMarco recognizes that Hoboken has become well-saturated with boutique fitness studios, and is therefore looking elsewhere to expand both brands.
“I’m constantly on my toes making sure we’re setting trends instead of following them,” DeMarco said. “But it’s important to be a human being before an entrepreneur and really relate to your clients and the community.
“I’ve found that as long as you’re really true to yourself, people will want to help you succeed.”
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The biz in brief
Name: Local Barre; Wheelhaus
Executive: Jennifer DeMarco, co-founder and CEO
One more thing: Jennifer DeMarco spent a college semester at Disney World, where she took classes at its business school and earned credit toward her psychology degree.
Hoboken is known for its sheer volume of bar establishments within a single square mile.
To Jennifer and Joe DeMarco — who were both in their 20s when they created Local Barre — that was an easy sell.
“We wanted Local Barre to take on the persona of the local community,” Jennifer DeMarco said. “Our idea was to have a 1920s speakeasy theme, so that it looked like an actual bar.”
It was this strong marketing that caught everyone’s attention in the beginning — as well as the fact that the fitness studio was co-owned by a woman.
“While I’m the face of the company and the one that’s here day to day, my husband and I did this together,” DeMarco said. “It’s great that so many people are hearing our story now because I’m a woman entrepreneur, but I don’t want to underestimate what he’s done, too.”
Joe DeMarco, co-founder of Local Barre and Wheelhaus, continues to work in finance in New York City.
Having it all
Some might wonder just how Jennifer DeMarco handled giving birth to her first child and starting a new business all at once.
“No matter what it takes, I just put my head down and I keep my chin up!” DeMarco said. “I trust that things will work out, and it always does — though not always on my own schedule and not always the way I expected it.”
Her experience, for example, has made it much easier for her to relate to the needs of mothers that attend her classes.
“Hoboken is filled with them! Through my own challenges with work/life balance, I was able to introduce new ideas to better serve my clients, like BYOBaby and Monkey Barre classes.
“I quickly became an inspiration to other women who were trying to ‘do it all.’”