OKAYYYYYYY this is going to be a good one!
As you know I LOVE LOVE LOVE to showcase women who: 1. Support other women and 2. Can inspire us and teach us some thaaaangs.
I’ve been doing media work with MNT Studio (and working out there- probs in one of the BEST shapes of my life right now their workouts are SO GOOD) and let me tell you… MNT is one of the coolest “wellness” communities in San Francisco. By far. By farrrrrrrr. People who go there actually talk to each other, hang out, attend the cool MNT events there. Get involved. It’s awesome and just SCREAMS girl power all over. And it is by and large the most gorgeous workout studio I have ever stepped foot in.
And we have Elaine Hayes to thank for creating this. This interview is super useful for women running their own business, or dreaming of doing so. She gives a LOT of good advice as to how she made it. She also covers some about MNT if you ever thought about checking it out.
Brief summary of MNT: Elaine Hayes is the Owner and Founder of MNTSTUDIO, a wellness brand and Pilates & Barre studio in San Francisco, California. Founded in 2013, MNT is the go-to for effective, safe, and upbeat Pilates and Barre classes. Rooted in the classical principles of alignment and precision, MNT classes incorporate contemporary techniques to allow for a challenging yet approachable and enjoyable fitness experience. Centered on community and with a holistic approach to wellness, MNT focuses on addressing the whole person through nutrition counseling and community-building events. Elaine’s mission through MNT is to empower each and every individual to transform their lives for the better through movement, self-care, and community.
***She and MNT have been recognized by 7×7, PopSugar, Brit + Co, SF Chronicle and more!
Let’s hop to it!
The Violet Fog: You first launched MNT out of your home apartment in San Francisco.. at one point you had 240 clients a month training in your home. When did you realize it was time to start looking for a studio? Where was your first studio?
Elaine: I had been running MNT out of the spare room of the apartment I shared with my then-boyfriend, now-husband for about a year when I realized it was time to expand. I was turning away clients daily, and as a business owner and someone who wanted to have a positive impact on as many people as possible, this killed me. I knew I needed some capital to make it happen, but had very little resources available to me. So that I decided to do was find myself a mentor through the Small Business Association. Together, my 90-year old mentor and I put together a business plan that detailed exactly how I was going to make money teaching Pilates. It took him a little while to get on board with the idea (he had made his fortune selling the first-ever color TVs!), but once he saw my numbers, he was pretty excited about my business model. 🙂 Once I had my business plan in hand, I started meeting with investors, banks, and landlords and they all told me no. I was told Pilates was a fad, that as a young woman I would get eaten alive out there, that I should just be happy with my home studio and stick with that. Each time I heard no, it made me more and more determined to find a way to make it happen. I finally found a space I could afford without the need for outside investment. It was in bad shape: the windows were shattered and graffiti’d, there were no walls in most of the space, there had been water damage… The list goes on. I decided I would sublet this space and signed a lease for three years. This space was actually where MNT is now, except now we have the whole building.
The Violet Fog: Most pilates studios just provide classes + lockers/cubbies with their membership. Tell us more about the “perks” MNT provides besides just classes.
Elaine: MNT stands for Move, Nourish, Transform, and this was very intentional on my part. Obviously we are a fitness studio and brand, but we believe that wellness is about much more than fitness. What you put in your body and the people you surround yourself with are equally as important. To address these various components of wellness, we have an in-house holistic nutritionist who works with clients to create individualized plans to achieve a balanced, easy, and healthy approach to food. We also hold many community-building events including panels, workshops, and mixers, to offer opportunities to connect, grow, and learn.
The Violet Fog: And not to mention, you provide an avenue for people (mostly women) to truly expand their lifestyle and community. A lot of women are looking for their “tribe” (or to expand it) so this is really, really cool.
Elaine: Thank you so much for saying that! One really element to MNT is offering opportunities to others who want to make a career change and pursue their passions. When I was first leaving my more traditional path and considering taking the leap, I had very little support and direction, which made things even more scary. But discovering Pilates and realizing I could be successful while doing something I loved changed my life forever, and I want to share that with others. That’s why I started the MNT Teacher Training program, and I personally mentor and coach each instructor through the training.
The Violet Fog: One thing I noticed, is MNT is a super body positive studio. Women of all shapes wearing crop tops, no talk of getting “skinny” or “ready for the summer” and instead a focus on strength and happiness. It’s really a beautiful thing.
Elaine: Thank you so much. I like anyone else have in the past fallen into the trap of wanting to “get ready for summer” or some other event, but I realized over time that this mindset is not only unsustainable but pretty miserable. At MNT we believe that exercise is a way to honor the body, not punish it, and that’s the message we share with our community. When I see women (and men!) of all shapes and sizes rocking the crop tops and owning their bodies with joy, it truly lights me up inside and makes me want to continue spreading this positive, constructive message.
The Violet Fog: What are a few “oddball” or “different” things you expect out of your instructors OR teach them that you think other pilates and barre programs skip out on?
Elaine: I’m not sure about other Pilates or barre programs out there, but something we truly emphasize is attention to form. The truth is, we’re all getting older and you only have one body to live your life in, so you have to take care of it and not tear it down. Our classes, while being challenging, upbeat, and energetic, are very focused on technique and alignment, which prevents and helps heal injuries. This approach provides for not only an effective workout, but a sustainable practice that you can stick with long term, regardless of your age.
The Violet Fog: You have 25 employees working for you. You’re a new Mom. You’re a brand yourself. How are you balancing this? Like give us actionable tips to getting all this done and staying sane.
Elaine: Haha!! Oh man. Honestly, after years of trying to find the magical “balance” and now with being a mom, I honestly don’t believe there such a thing. I think there can exist harmony as different areas of my life ebb and flow, but having everything perfectly balanced and perfect just isn’t feasible. There are days where work takes a priority, and days that Leo does. I try not to beat myself up but I have to admit there are some days that I feel no matter how hard I try I can never get to the bottom of my to-do list, and someone is always left disappointed. But what I’m learning to do is accept that I’ll never be able to please everyone all the time, and that’s ok. In fact, when it comes to parenting my son, I’ve come to realize that it’s better for him to not have a “perfect” mom, because it will give him permission to be imperfect and still love and accept himself regardless of whether he can please all those around him.
The Violet Fog: What advice can you give to newer entrepreneurs who are realizing it’s time to start building their team. How did you first go about this and find your people?
Elaine: I learned the hard way early on that you have to be comfortable with being assertive about your expectations. This can be really difficult when you’re just starting out, especially if you don’t have experience being “the boss.” But if you don’t tell you staff what it is you expect them to do, you’re really setting them up for failure. It’s unfair and unrealistic to expect them to magically know what it is you’re wanting them to do. So my biggest piece of advice is to get really clear on exactly what it is you want your new hire to do. The things I look for are trainability, willingness to do things that aren’t necessarily “your job,” and a commitment and love for the brand. If someone doesn’t love Pilates or believe in a healthy lifestyle, they’re going to have a really hard time getting passionate about MNT and what we’re setting out to do.
The Violet Fog: The location (SoMa) is amazing. Are you expanding and what advice can you give to someone who is looking to open up a commercial space in San Francisco? Aka THEE most expensive city. *crying emoji* lol
Elaine: Thank you! We got really lucky. We moved into our SoMa location before SoMa was cool. 😉 I got a lot of raised eyebrows when I told people I was opening in this neighborhood because it was 2013 and to be honest, this area was still pretty sketchy. But it was all I could afford at the time, so I went for it. My advice for someone just starting out is to use your imagination and don’t be afraid to open in an area that isn’t totally “in” yet. I never could have opened a studio on, say, Union Street. But now five years later, SoMa is where it’s at with Pinterest being just next door and Airbnb down the street.
The Violet Fog: Tell us some some things people don’t realize when they open up a commercial property in a big city. Or any city for that matter. Is the upkeep as hard as it seems? All the paperwork and building codes seem daunting.
Elaine: The only thing I will say about that is hire a reputable contractor, attorney, and architect. It’s worth the investment and will help you sleep at night. 🙂
The Violet Fog: What were the first three steps in creating the MNT brand.
Elaine: When I first started what is now called MNT, I didn’t know anything about branding and didn’t have the budget to hire someone who did. I just had one logo and that was pretty much it. It was only after being in business for three years that I then decided to upgrade our brand so it could be in alignment with how our studio and community had grown. So truly what happened is our community built and created the brand. I realized that MNT wasn’t just a place to work out, it was a place where people could connect in community, form friendships, carve out time for a hobby, and build self-confidence. Taking what I had seen grow and flourish, I then worked with the incredible Hanna Boone, Creative Director extraordinaire to create an entire brand ecosystem that supported what MNT stands for.
The Violet Fog: Supporting other women and their endeavors- it’s so clear that this is important to you. So many women will talk the talk but you really back it up. Tell us what you are doing to support other women. How can we follow suit and lift other’s up when it comes to our careers?
Elaine: Thank you so much for noticing that. It’s so important to me to support other women who are just starting out and building their businesses. I try to always say yes to meetings whenever someone asks to “pick my brain.” I won’t always take in person meeting because of my hectic schedule, but I do always make time for phone chats. I think it takes guts to ask for advice and help, so it’s something I really admire when I see in other people. I myself had a really hard time asking for help when I was just starting out, and I think I could have really benefited from having a mentor who cared about me. My advice to others would be to take every opportunity you have to help someone else out. No matter how small a deed, you would be surprised by how much it means to someone else and what an impact it can have.
The Violet Fog: Let’s say a Violet Fogger is interested in coming to her first MNT class- what is something you want her to get out of it? What is something you want her to know about MNT before she steps foot in your studio?
Elaine: First of all I would tell her, “Come as you are, not as you think you should be.” Pilates and barre sometimes get a bad wrap for being intimidating and exclusive, but that is the complete opposite of what MNT is all about. We are excited to meet you and have you join our community, and we can’t wait to help you feel happy, strong, and confident in your body.
The Violet Fog: Where can we follow you? What kinds of things do you like to share with us on your personal accounts and also MNT’s? I love watching your IG stories.
Elaine: You can follow me personally on @elainerhayes where I share my thoughts and experience on being a #ladyboss, health and wellness tips, beauty finds, and of course a good dose of baby Leo pictures. 🙂 You can follow MNT’s IG here: @mntstudio
Find MNT’s website HERE. 🙂