Conversation, with Erin Fagerlind, Founder & Co-Owner of happy baby, LLC
Founding a Mommy & Me Mecca
June 6, 2018
1. What is your business?
My business is happy baby. It’s a family yoga and wellness studio in El Segundo, California, which is in the South Bay community in Los Angeles, CA. We are a full-service studio for new and expectant families, offering prenatal & parenting workshops, “parent + me” fitness & yoga classes, “mommy and me” support groups, as well as enriching music, dance, and yoga classes for toddlers & kids.
We see our constituency as anyone with kids, and we try to support families and foster connection through education and exercise. We want to build community with and for working moms, first-time moms, repeat moms, and fit moms. We also offer a unique selection of “mama fitness” classes, which are legit STRONG workouts and babies/toddlers are encouraged to attend. While our programming is primarily focused on prenatal through preschool, we also offer yoga & wellness services for older kids, teens, and adults of all ages. We are able to offer such a wide range of classes because we work with the best instructors in Los Angeles.
Some of the most popular events that we host are our daddy-daughter and mother-son dances. We recently welcomed a sold-out crowd of little “greaser” tots at our ‘50s-inspired Mother’s Day Sock Hop for mamas and their boys. On June 23rd, we’ll honor Father’s Day with our annual Daddy’s Girl Dance. We also host an annual #happybabybumps preggo party, which is a special event that brings together expecting moms.
2. What made you decide to start your business and/or switch careers?
The idea started evolving when I was pregnant with my daughter, following a long and rather isolating fertility journey. I was still in private practice at a big law firm, working long, thankless hours, and before I even had a child, I was struggling to imagine what balancing motherhood and career was going to look like.
Throughout my pregnancy and on maternity leave, I found myself driving all over L.A. to find pre/postnatal programs and baby classes. Even with my willingness to go to great lengths (quite literally!), I struggled to find a place where I could really workout AND my baby was welcome. The yoga studio that I had gone to for years had an instructor who allowed me to bring my daughter with me to my favorite vinyasa flow class, with the understanding that if it ever created a disruption I would leave. It worked well the first couple of times I attended, but when I arrived at class the third time, the front desk caught on and denied us entry.
I remember sitting in my car outside the studio and crying on the phone to my husband because I was so disappointed. As any new mom knows, it takes A LOT to get out of the house with an infant to do something for yourself. Then came the challenge of returning to work and having the hardest time finding anything geared towards full-time working mamas (i.e. evening + weekend classes). Further, there was nothing close to home.
3. Was there one moment that gave you the confidence that this was a good idea?
I think finding a partner who shared my vision and was excited to take the leap with me was the missing piece that gave me the confidence to move forward. I wouldn’t have done it on my own because what I wanted to create was something collaborative that fostered connections, even at the top.
4. What obstacles did you face in getting started and thinking of yourself as an expert in a new setting?
We thought we had realistic projections of attendance and what it was going to cost to run the business. However, we were struck by the reality that not everyone follows through. Some friends that I thought would be some of the studio’s biggest supporters/promoters haven’t attended one class. Those friends were in our projections. Once we got into the day-to-day of the business, we realized how hard it was going to be to actually drive attendance to the studio and differentiate happy baby from other businesses in the area.
We had come up with baseline projections of six people per class, and in my mind, that was conservative based on the enthusiasm that friends had shown. However, once we opened, we consistently had some empty or low attended classes. Even two years in, it still can be a challenge to build and sustain class attendance. Then, there’s the added issue with a sparsely attended class that those actually attending don’t get the full social experience.
5. Was there ever a particularly tough time that in retrospect was a priceless learning moment?
I’m actually going through a partner transition right now. My co-founder recently decided to focus on her family and, fortunately, I’ve brought on an amazing new partner, Jules Hogan, to be happy baby’s co-owner. Initially, my first co-founder and I talked a lot about vision, programming, and goals. Unfortunately, we didn’t think to have conversations about the nuts and bolts of building and running a new business, like a commitment of hours per week.
6. Was outside funding/cost a challenge to getting your business off the ground?
We took out a five-year loan to start the business. The first two years we arranged to make interest-only payments on the loan. The third year we start paying the principal back as well, and that is a big increase. We were just getting to break even with the interest-only payments, so that has been stressful. I have found the term of the loan to be a helpful way of thinking about the time it takes to get a business started.
7. What are some successes you have had with your business that make you proud?
Seeing happy baby grow has been really rewarding. It’s like Christmas morning for me when a class is full or an event sold out. Recently, our Mother-Son Sock Hop and our Spring Mini Photo Sessions sold out in just a few days, which was incredibly exciting. In the early days, I had to spend a lot of time promoting events and call in a lot of favors to help spread the word. Now, it seems our website traffic and social media following has grown enough that it appears the community is genuinely excited about what the studio has to offer.
There are just so many parallels to parenting in this journey. When you’re a first-time mom, you’re wondering when your child is going to walk and speak and waiting for that next milestone and rushing it along. And then, before you know it, you’re looking back on it all wondering how each phase passed so quickly.
8. What are some of your current challenges?
Continuing to discover new ways to reach new clients, build our class/group attendance, and how to successfully use social media without having to break the bank. Marketing is a different challenge because we don’t have a big marketing budget, and anything we spend towards marketing needs to be so strategic because it’s coming off the top. It’s anxiety-inducing to put anything towards it when you really don’t know if it’s going to be successful. Since Facebook acquired Instagram the algorithm continuously changes, and now it’s all about engagement. There are so many ways to beat the system in terms of followers, but I really want ours to be authentic.
9. What would be your biggest piece of advice you would give to yourself ten years ago?
I wish I would have sat with myself at 21 to figure out what career was going to give me happiness and fulfillment, based on my personality and interests. I was so fixated on what I was supposed to do, what success looked like, and how I could prove myself. In planning for this ideal professional life, I ignored other important considerations that are critical to me now and are really what make me fulfilled.
10. What was the best and worst piece of advice you have received as you were starting your business?
The one thing that I consistently hear, which gives me some confidence, is that businesses don’t make money for the first five years. Every year, we are making progress with more people in our classes, more reviews on Yelp, more integration in the South Bay, and I am proud that we made it this far. But it is funny because many of my friends think that I am super successful because the studio is still open. Unfortunately, there is a big gap between being open and being profitable.
11. What are your hopes for your business for the next five years?
Definitely expansion. I’d love for happy baby to continue to grow, especially with my incoming partner. We have a lot of fun ideas about how to take happy baby outside of the four walls of the studio by potentially streaming video and bringing our programming to people in other parts of the country.
And then, I’d love to open another location down the line. I don’t know that I would necessarily be owning it ourselves or franchising the name and concept. It would be awesome, especially given what we hear from people and friends around other parts of the country about the lack of support in their communities. It feels like there is an opportunity in Chicago, New York or Austin.
Regardless of what happens, I want to look back on this whole process and know that I was always fair to everyone and authentic along the way. I don’t want anyone to question my integrity or how I ran the business. I want to keep that even when it’s very successful and profitable.
I like that people know and feel connected to me and Jules, as the owners. My hope is that that vibe carries on with our instructors, clients, and community.
Date of conversation: April 16, 2018
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