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Ep. 5: Strategies to Build a Brand That Serves a Broad Group of Customers with Tevia Celli

Key points:

  • How to change the narrative of “who belongs” within your industry
  • The power of words in making people feel like they belong (or not)
  • Why making people feel like they belong could require you to confront (and shed)
  • The role of location and price in inclusive marketing
  • The opportunity smaller brands have in deepening relationships with their customers and communities
  • Why smart inclusive brands invest in local communities
  • The role customer experience plays in diversifying your customer base


Cycle Bar


Sonia: Hey, Tevia. Thank you so much for joining me today. How are you?

Tevia: I’m well, thank you. How are you?

Sonia: I’m doing well. I’m really excited to dive into this because I think the work that you’re doing is fascinating and fun too. So before we get into it, let the people know who are you and what do you do?

Tevia:  My name is Tevia Celli. I’m the vice president of Experience for CycleBar Franchising. I started out with CycleBar back in 2015 before they opened any franchise studios. So I came in at that point as director of education. I created all the class formats. I created the instructor training platform, the instructor community. But before CycleBar, I owned one of the first indoor cycling studios back in 1998.

Sonia: Wow.

Tevia: So I’ve been around in this specific industry for 23 years.

Sonia: Very cool.

Tevia: And I also worked for Flywheel for a while. So I brought to the table a lot of experience when I came to CycleBar.

Sonia: Nice. So one of the reasons why we’re talking today is because you work in an industry, indoor cycling, where you’re really actively working to make it more inclusive. Can you talk a little bit about the barriers that you see, that exist in the world of indoor cycling and how you’re working to eliminate them from an inclusivity standpoint?

Tevia: Yeah. There are I think, just in all fitness brands and areas, but specifically indoor cycling, there’s a model type that everyone needs to be this cookie cutter look like a model, size zero, size two, a certain age, the instructor fit look. And so it’s interesting because I’m born and raised in Los Angeles. I had a fitness studio in Los Angeles and there tend to be a lot of fitness oriented people here. And as we open CycleBar, my goal was that I wanted to create a brand that had normal people. When I started doing auditions it was, if you had a personality and you could ride to the beat, I don’t care if you were 60, I don’t care if you’re a size 18. One of our most popular instructors, who’s a lead instructor with CycleBar sells out her classes in Philadelphia. She’s a size 18.

Sonia: Wow.

Tevia: And every time I post about her or repost something she’s posted, I get people asking that, “I want to go to that class.” That makes me want to get on a bike. But that was really the goal is that breaking barriers of what we should look like because I never fit that mold. Like I’m this tiny little short, I mean by tiny, short, awkward lesbian with big glasses and stick up hair and always have been. And back in the ’90s that wasn’t your typical instructor look, right? I had to work twice as hard to… Luckily, I own my own studio so I could teach. I didn’t have to pass an audition, but I think that was my goal is that I wanted people as long as they had rhythm and they had a passion and a personality and were authentic, that’s what I wanted. That’s what I wanted as a CycleBar instructor.

Sonia: Very cool. Now I’m thinking about this woman that you mentioned, who’s a size 18. That is often not what you see. And it sounds like whenever you are presenting that one, you’re being more inclusive as to who the instructors are, but you’re probably also breaking a lot of barriers about just what people think of when they think of what fitness looks like, what it has to be or what you have to look like to be able to enter into certain worlds.

Tevia: Yes. I think that again, there’s these predisposed ideas of what we are supposed to look like as fitness professionals and everyone in between that size, we have a ton of people. I have a master instructor, Glenn Simpson and he has a weight loss story and he’s still in the middle there, but most people might not expect for him to be a master instructor on our team.

Sonia: Right.

Tevia: And he’s phenomenal. And I think that fitness should be about feeling good versus looking good. And I think for us, even to the campaigns get away from the instructor part, but even the campaigns, we don’t do bikini bodies. We’re about feeling good. I just want to create a place where someone could come in, whether they’re having the best day or the worst day of their life and just walk out and feeling better. Doesn’t matter what someone looks like. It doesn’t matter what they look like. Right? That’s our goal. So when you bring in, let’s get fit or Turkey burn, it’s almost body shaming, and just never wanted to be a part of that. So we just kind of [inaudible 00:06:05].

Sonia: I love how you’re putting your focus on inclusivity means focusing on words. So I think more and more people are starting to see that there are a lot of different ways that we send signals that make people feel like they belong or they don’t.

Tevia: Sure.

Sonia: So if your role isn’t to be in a bikini body, or if you feel like you’re far away from having a bikini body, just seeing that could be a barrier that prevents you from even taking that next step forward. And like you said, it’s feeling good. And that can happen a lot quicker than bikini body. And who also is the decider of what a bikini body is? I remember a quick story. I was in Rio a couple of years ago and I was on the beach and everybody had a bikini on, everybody had a bikini on except for me. Right?

So I’m sitting there and I’m looking and it didn’t matter how old they were. There were people who were 15 years old. There were people who were 68 years old and everything in between. There were people who have what would be considered the “traditional bikini body.” And there was a grandma who is just like, “This is my body. I’m wearing a bikini. It doesn’t matter.” And for a moment I remember shamefully feeling like, “Oh my gosh. All these people are in bikinis. Everybody shouldn’t be wearing bikinis.” But then I got to a point to where I was like, “This is liberating.” You know what I mean? If you want to wear a bikini, wear the bikini, you don’t have to get in bikini shape. It’s just a matter of wearing it, and feeling comfortable in whatever your body is that you have right now. And I went through that transformation between those few days in the beach.

Tevia:  I love that. Really, I think as in this industry, we have to provide a space for people to feel liberated, to come in, no matter what you look like, what size you are, what color you are, what sexual preference you have. And that’s always been our thing. You belong here. You can come in here. If you’re having the worst day, you can come here. If you have 30 pounds on, you can come in here. If you want to just close your eyes and cry for 45 minutes. But that’s really it. It’s like what a way to move into a space where it’s about just feeling it. Forget about looking. I think that as we age, we get to this point where we no longer, we’re not as obsessed with how we look, we’re fine with it.

We’re like, “Here I am, I’m 50. I’m going to have wrinkles. I’m not doing all that stuff to myself. So I’m going to have wrinkles. I’m going to have some gray hairs. I might have some hormonal weight. It is what it is. I’m happy, I’m healthy, I’m alive. And my body works.” and that’s like it amen to that.

Sonia: Amen.

Tevia: So celebrating all types of people in our four wall experience has always been the goal. That’s just what I strive to do. And I think now we’re in, I think we’re at 248 studios open across the world. And so that’s just to be able to have that space in 248 locations and probably another 20 by the end of Q4. It’s a good feeling to know that people can come in and not have to worry about that.

Sonia:  Very cool. One of the ways in which you all are inclusive is by location. That’s not often talked about in terms of location inclusivity and how some people might be excluded based upon where they live. Can you talk about how opening studios in more rural areas has helped you reach people who traditionally been underserved or ignored within this industry?

Tevia: Yeah. Look, it’s a joy of franchising too, right? Because you have that ability to open it. Some of our biggest competitor is not a franchise and they go into demographics that can afford $35 a class. Right? We get to go into demographics where a franchisee wants to open Fargo, North Dakota, places like that. And that’s really why I actually took the job because I didn’t know anything about franchising, but when I started to look into it, when they offered me the job, I thought, “Wow, what an opportunity to be able to create this place where I know magic happens and people in the community get to feel better walking into, in all these areas that competitors would never step foot in.” And so I think that’s really the joy of franchising is that we do find people who want to open in Alabama and in Fargo, North Dakota and all these little areas that competitors would never do themselves.

Sonia: Right. And I guess it’s an important thing to think about for in-person type businesses, if people only always go to the same markets, you’re missing a broad section of people who aren’t part of those markets. Right?

Tevia: Hundred percent. Again, and I think that everyone deserves to be able to feel the way I get to feel when I get on a bike and in a room with people, everybody should be able to experience that. And so it shouldn’t matter if they’re in a middle America or a remote town, if there’s someone who wants to build a CycleBar and it looks like it would work there, we will put that territory. That territory is there. And so it’s allowed us to reach places that I never imagined putting a CycleBar or a indoor cycling studio. So it’s been pretty remarkable.

Sonia: Very cool. Now you talked a little bit about a competitor in your industry that charges $35 for a class. And some people might think that if there are people who can afford $35 a class and they want to that on a regular basis, fine, or they’re doing that. And some people feel like that’s kind of an elitist way of approaching clientele. Do you feel like a brand can be elitist and inclusive at the same time?

Tevia: I think it depends on what your definition of elitist is. Can you be best in class and be inclusive? 100%. Selfishly, I think we are best in class and we are inclusive, but cost is huge. And so we don’t have a set price. We go into markets and we price based on the market. So we also do monthly unlimited. So you might go into a market where it’s 1.29 a month for classes, unlimited classes. So we price based on that market, so it’s affordable, right? So it’s a little bit different. Again, elitist can mean a lot of different things. I don’t know that you can be elitist in the sense of only people who can afford to come get to come. I think that you can never be inclusive if you have to have a certain income.

Sonia: Got it. Okay. Now you’ve started because you’re going into these different markets where people have traditionally not had access to indoor cycling and having these studios, was there a degree of work that you had to do to bring people on to this idea? Like if you go into some markets where indoor cycling is a thing, right? It’s not much convincing that you have to do, you got an audience and you just have to present your value proposition. But what types of things have you needed to do as you’re working to be inclusive, to let people know that you are welcome here, you belong here, we are inclusive?

Tevia: We’ve been doing this for six years, a little… Yeah. Six years now. So we opened our first studio six years ago, our first franchise studio. And I think that we’ve just over the years created enough marketing content so that as soon as someone, a franchisee has assigned a lease, they get their naming, we name the studio, we get their social media going. And then our marketing team is just, we’ve created amazing assets. So that you belong here kind of assets so that it shows how inclusive we are. That’s one of the ways we do it. We get out into the community. We’re big on community building.

At the end of the day, we’re a workout, but we’re also an experience. So our goal at the end of the day is we go into these community and then in our four walls, we create our own community inside the community. And so we get out into the community and that’s what we talk about. Everyone can come. And I think that at definitely our social media, when you look at the videos that go out, the clips of instructors or that we’ve created shows that everyone belongs. You belong here. We ride as one, you belong here. Those are a lot of our tag lines, more of you. Those kind of things.

Sonia: And I imagine what you mentioned about spending time in the community is also helpful and beneficial. Like when people are able to feel you, see you in your presence, that probably makes a big difference for them.

Tevia:  Yeah, absolutely. When studios are just opening, they’re in the middle of a construction, they’re going out and setting up tables at any community event going on. We do, we have an amazing CycleGives program. We’re big on fundraising. We partner with different organizations and do fundraising. Every quarter we have an organization we’ll work with, but we encourage studios in their own community to do these rides. Like PTA rides sports, whether it’s American Heart Association, cancer, all sorts of anything that hits home, the ability to raise money and give back in your community is also really great.

Sonia:  Very cool.

Tevia: Needless to say because we are franchise and we go to these remote areas, we’ve been first to market in probably 75 locations. And I will say that Peloton helped. Thanks Peloton. They really did help because people that… We get so many riders coming in and auditioning when a studio opens in their area because they’ve not never had that. They’ve done indoor cycling at home on a Peloton. And they love it and they want to do it themselves. And so they’ll audition. So we’ve trained so many people who have only had an in-home experience. So Peloton has been a big asset for, especially going to these markets where there’s never been indoor cycling.

Sonia: Very cool.

Tevia: Yeah.

Sonia: You said a couple of things that I want to dig into. One of the things that you mentioned is that you’re not just an indoor cycling, you’re an experience. Can you talk about the role that customer experience and just thinking about an experience has played in your quest to reach a more diverse space of customers?

Tevia: I think that when you come in to a CycleBar, our goal is that everybody is welcome. We say hello, we introduce our, we get your name. We walk you around. If it’s your first class, we set you up, we write your name on your locker. Welcome Sonia, bike number 22,. We’ll set you up on a bike. We’ll introduce you to people who are taking the class too. Oftentimes I always tell franchisees and the GMs and we call them CBX who work at the front desk. Whenever someone walks in, we treat them as if they’re coming into our home. And exactly what you do if somebody who’ve never to your house and they’re coming over to your house, they come with a friend the first time to your house, you introduce yourself, you give them a tour, you introduce them to anybody else at your house.

You show them where the bathroom is. Everybody needs to know where the bathroom is. You show them where the food is and the drinks are and all that good stuff, you check on them throughout their stay, right? And then as they leave, you walk them out and you say, “Hope you had a great time. And I hope to see you again.” Same thing. And that’s really, it’s the way I run my business. For years, everybody felt like it was their home away from home. And when you do that, you create this community and you put people together that would most likely, never maybe have connected outside of your four wall experience, but as they get on a bike and we all have things going on in our lives. And if you go to CycleBar on Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday, and you take a certain instructor, chances are, you’re going to be riding with a lot of the same people.

And that if we’re going through some something in our personal lives, and oftentimes we work it out on the bike, sometimes we cry. Sometimes we turn it up. Sometimes we work harder to get rid of it. You feel connected to the person next to you. And so there’s this established invisible bond and community. You’re sitting in that community room. You talk to people that you might not have ever talked to before. And so I think that those things are really important and to foster those kind of relationships and encourage them is huge. And so we like to sometimes do events outside of the studio because that will connect people a little bit deeper outside of the CycleBar four walls as well. And it’s awesome to see relationships that might not have ever been born, be born because of their experience at our studio.

Sonia: Yeah. Very cool. You mentioned that your social justice and getting involved in fundraising and different types of things has been a pretty important part of what you do. Why is social responsibility so important to your brand?

Tevia: I think that we have this great product. We have this beautiful studio, and when we’re not doing classes, if we could be doing something that benefits community and doing rides, why not use it, right? And why not use it to fundraise, to bring awareness to certain things that people are raising money for? And everybody’s different. You might have something… I have MS. And I have for 18 years now, I think. So when I had my studio, I’ve raised over a million dollars for MS, doing rides and stuff in my studio. I’ve watched studios… We had a member who was out jogging and was hit by a drunk driver. And I think the studio just kept doing rides, community charity rides for this person during her recovery.

Because she obviously couldn’t work, there was no insurance, the person didn’t have insurance. It was a nightmare. But those things, so to be able to give back to things that matter to you and the people who come to your studio and that’s the joy of it. Because even though we’re a franchise, each owner has the ability to focus in on what’s important to them and what’s important to their riders. So it could be different things. We don’t necessarily… We have wildfire here in California, but Texas has flooding. And so those Texas studios often do these fundraisers when there is a major flood, or shooting, school shooting, like that kind of thing. They’ll do some sort of fundraising. We had somebody do that. And so I think that’s the joy of these because they become mom and pop, so to speak, even though they’re bigger of a brand. So you can personalize what’s important in your community and bringing-

Sonia: I love that.

Tevia:  … it to the surface.

Sonia: And how have you incorporated that social responsibility into your strategy to make it so that each of your franchisees feels empowered to be, and keeps it top of mind so that it’s something that they do? Is it an expectation or is it something that you encourage? How does that work with your strategy?

Tevia: It’s definitely something we encourage and we support. If somebody’s doing an event we will create assets. It doesn’t mean that everybody has to do the same event. Again, I’m a gay female. Have we had franchisees who don’t want to do Gay Pride Month? We have. But everybody has their choice. We encourage it because we are inclusive and we want that. I think that we’re in a really interesting time, the last five years or so, specifically the last two years, a lot has happened.

And I think that as humans, we’re more aware. And so obviously opening everyone’s eyes up a little wider to be more inclusive, more diverse so that people recognize that maybe we are more diverse than we were two years ago, which is awesome. And I think that COVID did a lot for us. A lot of negative stuff happened in COVID obviously financially, but I do think that we all became a little bit more human.

Sonia: Yeah.

Tevia: Right? And so I think that walls maybe broken down a little bit more, or at least that’s my experience so far for coming out of it. So I see so much change. And I do think that we’ve all had eye open, a huge eyeopening. It doesn’t matter what town you live in or what small city or rural area you live in, you’ve had an eye opening to some degree in the last two years.

Sonia: For sure.

Tevia:  And so I think socially, we’ve always, and again I can go back and say that from day one, it’s been about wanting everyone to belong and come to this studio specifically, regardless of what you look like, how old you are or anything like that. And that’s just always been a given. And we’ve had areas demographics that have more diversity and quite honestly, Fargo, North Dakota, probably not much diversity going on there. I remember going into one of the first areas that I went into and I’m like the trifecta, I’m like a gay vegan Jew. Right? So I walk into this city in Indianapolis and outside of Indianapolis and I have my Star of David on, pretty hard to put your finger on it and go, “Oh, that’s a lesbian.”

And then trying to ask everyone for vegan food, like I was like outlawed, but somebody actually said to me, “You might want to cover up the Star of David.” Because in the whole town, there’s two churches and you belong to one or you belong to the other. And there’s definitely no synagogue. And I thought, “Well, A, I’m not going to cover it up.” And I’d have to put on a wig and buy a dress, which I haven’t worn in, I don’t know how many years to try and cover that up. So I’m just going to be me. But I think that I’ve always wanted to make at all of that, not matter because personal experience. And so I’ve worked really, really hard. Is there room to grow? There’s always room to grow. Is there room to be better at it? A hundred percent. That’s the goal is to how do we can continually open our doors wider when we’ve always tried to have them wide open, but there’s always room to open them wider.

Sonia: Sure. That’s for sure. This has been super cool. I’ve learned so much about what you all are doing and it sparks lots of ideas. And any parting words of wisdom that you have for people who want to build an inclusive brand?

Tevia:  I think you have to take what was, acknowledge it, but then create what will be, so that someone else’s definition or the past definition of inclusive isn’t the definition of your present and your future. And I think that it’s hard in the fitness industry to go into areas and break those molds. But we have a responsibility. I think that it’s a responsibility. I think that you can change people’s idea of what fit is, what being healthy is. And always just focus. My God, if we just all had a daily intention of being in a place where we all feel good, we’d have a much better world, right?

So I think it’s just breaking away in the fitness industry anyways, of let’s move to a place of creating space for people to feel good and forget about the looking good. The looking good could be a bonus if you are trying to lose weight. It’s not saying you can’t come and lose weight and you can’t get more fit, but more importantly, you’re going to feel good. And that’s our goal.

Sonia: Very cool.

Tevia:  And that’s what I think should be the goal of everybody in fitness.

Sonia:  Very cool. Tevia, this has been super fun. Thank you again for stopping by.

Tevia:  You’re so welcome. Thank you so much for having me. I appreciate it.

Sonia:  My pleasure.

Tevia: Thank you.

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