For Whanganui’s Angela Hewson, business has been a roller-coaster – thankfully with many more ups than downs. She shares her story in the hope it will inspire others in uncertain times. It was the arrival of the aerobics industry in the early 80s that initially sparked Angela Hewson’s interest in the world of sweatbands and […]
For Whanganui’s Angela Hewson, business has been a roller-coaster – thankfully with many more ups than downs. She shares her story in the hope it will inspire others in uncertain times.
It was the arrival of the aerobics industry in the early 80s that initially sparked Angela Hewson’s interest in the world of sweatbands and lycra. She had been running a successful dressmaking business in Wellington, but it was at Les Mills aerobics classes where she caught the bug that would ultimately define her business career.
With her two pre-schoolers in tow, a job in the gym’s crèche in return for free classes seemed like a good deal.
“I was quickly hooked and knew I wanted to become an instructor,” Angela recalls. “When a position for an aerobics instructor was advertised by a Kilbirnie gym close to where I lived I auditioned, and was hired. This eventually led to managing the gym of 1500 members and 21 aerobics instructors while I studied to become a gym instructor.”
Angela later moved back to her home town Whanganui, where she continued her career in the fitness industry. Her road to business ownership included running aerobics classes at a local hall, then becoming programme director at the YMCA, before taking on a business partnership for a new gym opening in town.
“Around this time personal trainers came into vogue and they were often featured with celebrities on the back pages of women’s magazines,” says Angela. “I decided it was my next step up this fitness ladder, so up to Auckland I flew for a crash course on personal training with Wendy Sweet and Lee Parore.”
Such was the demand for personal training, Angela sold her share in the gym and established the first personal training private studio in Whanganui.
It thrived and she loved it.
“Being in business means listening to your clients. Finding out what they like, what they don’t like, and if there is something they want which you can provide.”
Fast forward to 2003 and after many months of consultations Angela opened Whanganui’s first women’s gym – Her Fitness.
“Initially I had a separate personal training room but the women’s side of the business grew,” she explains. “I needed more space so I bid a sad farewell to my male clients, knocked down some walls and opened a larger space for women.”
Angela’s business journey has seen many ups and downs, and mistakes made, as is the experience of most business owners. “There were many times I lay awake at night wondering if it was all worth it,” she says. “There are some challenges to being a women-only gym too. However, the benefits of helping women achieve and thrive far outweigh those challenges.
“What we know is that time is a factor for most women. They have families, jobs and commitments, so they need to have their fitness goals matched with time efficient workouts specific to their personal needs. They also need variety to keep them motivated and on track.” Angela says her team connects strongly with each member. They provide loads of personal attention and this is why Her Fitness retains so many members.
“This personalised approach sets us apart from larger gyms where you can get lost in the crowd,” she says. “The trend towards smaller gyms is growing – in particular for women. A female-only environment makes for a more confident, enjoyable, and sociable time at the gym.”
Dealing with the first big lockdown of the pandemic in 2020 was tough. After being closed for eight weeks, Angela had no idea what to expect when they reopened. She had stayed in touch with members and, like other gyms, endeavoured to keep them motivated with online workouts.
But post-lockdown there wasn’t the big rush back to the gym they had expected.
“Many members had lost that rhythm of daily life and found it hard to get motivated,” she remembers. “So again, lots of personal contact, phone calls, etcetera, and although we did lose some members the majority eventually returned.”
Angela’s success over the years has been characterised by one important fact – her willingness to put her business under the microscope and seek advice from expert advisers.
Two of those experts she first became aware of through their stories in NZBusiness.
In 2014 Australian marketing guru Andrew Griffiths provided advice on how to run a focus group involving selected gym members. That focus group proved to be a great success.
“Being in business means listening to your clients,” says Angela. “Finding out what they like, what they don’t like, and if there is something they want which you can provide.
“After all, without clients you have no business.”
Angela also made contact with Auckland-based business coach Fiona Clark from BreakThrough Business Solutions.
“Right from our first phone call Fiona listened, asked questions and gave me recommendations. She understood what I wanted from our meetings and I knew I could trust her,” says Angela. “It was the best thing I did both for the business and me personally.
“Fiona looked at my business from a different perspective and built on what was essentially a good business model. She was able to be my business personal trainer and keep me motivated with fortnightly Zoom calls.
“Fiona would set small goals that I could manage, achieve and see the results,” continues Angela. “I recommend hiring a business coach from the get-go. Financially it can be a stretch for a new business – however, you can save yourself time and money in the long run by avoiding those mistakes made in the early stages.”
Angela is upbeat about the future of Her Fitness. “Our business plan is written up for the year and planned specifically in quarters. This means we can diary in what went well the previous year and build on what we can give a fresh face to for the coming months, albeit in and around any lockdowns.
“We always have challenges and events for our members and our gym is loaded with positive affirmations.”
Her Fitness currently supports and fundraises for seven local and national charities – the biggest being NZ Breast Cancer Foundation, Womens Refuge, Birthright and Foodbank.
“If this world of Covid uncertainty has taught me anything, it’s that it’s important to have a clear vision of what you are great at; of what works,” says Angela. “Get rid of what doesn’t, and keep going.
“It’s also important to have mentors to help you see the bigger picture when there is uncertainty – there’s been a lot of that lately,” she says.
“Covid is here to stay. We all need to be innovative. Don’t wait until the proverbial happens. Plan ahead for what might be, because this is a challenging time for all businesses.”
Story by Glenn Baker.