Judi Sheppard Missett, Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Jazzercise, Inc., has turned her love of jazz dance into a worldwide dance exercise phenomenon. Her daughter, Shanna Missett Nelson serves as Executive Vice President of Jazzercise, managing the general direction of the company together with Judi, and overseeing the Jazzercise Management Team.
To find out more about this exciting franchise opportunity, we interviewed this dynamic mom-daughter duo.
1. How important do you think staying in shape is for a woman?
Judi: Exercise and staying in shape is extremely important for women, and in fact for everyone. But women in particular are pulled in so many directions at once and spend a large part of their days multi-tasking between home, work, and taking care of others. Exercise becomes a ticket to stress relief, as well as to weight control and socializing with workout buddies / acquaintances. It’s a wonderful way for women to re-energize and maintain an identity outside of work and family and an opportunity to put themselves first – even if it’s only for an hour. There are also a lot of health benefits to exercising and staying in shape, and when you feel good, it boosts your self confidence and that shows, as well. In a nutshell, I believe everyone should make exercise a daily habit and experience the joy of movement!
Shanna: Extremely important! You need to be in good physical health to be able to perform your daily tasks as a mother more easily. It also is a great role model for your children to make exercise a part of their lifestyle. Plus, as a women, I feel better mentally when I workout and that is another reason to keep at it.
2. Tell us more about Jazzercise and its beginnings.
Judi: I was going to Northwestern University as a theater major and I was working professionally in the theater. I started dancing professionally when I was 14, so I was working to help my parents put me through school. The work was with a professional jazz dance company. I was both performing and teaching in their studio.
I was teaching those Jazz classes as though the students were going on to become professional dancers. I soon realized that a lot of them were not there for that reason. They were actually there to change their body size to get ready for a class reunion, or to just look better. This was particularly true of the women in the class.
They would come, take a couple of classes and then go on their merry way and I would never see them again. That sort of bothered me. I wanted them to experience the joy of dance and the joy that comes through movement and that art form.
I got permission from the director to try a different approach. I started turning people away from the mirrors, I made dance simple and fun, gave lots of positive reinforcement, and I became their mirror, as a dancer.
In the first class I had 15 people, the second I had 30, and the next I had 60, and then the room wouldn't hold anymore, then I realized I was on to something.
It was a great joy for me to teach because most of these people were not serious dancers, they were people that had some dance but they wanted to enjoy the experience that comes with that kind of movement. It was fun and I looked forward to doing it.
They achieved a certain level of fitness that they were able to maintain by coming to class. It was also the joy and the fun and the excitement that comes through excellent choreography which is very innovative, the variety in music, always offering new songs, always using cutting edge musical artists.
It gave people that combination of art and science. The art of dance and the science of exercise physiology. That's something they don't get in any other class, that's what sets us apart from any health club or aerobics studio anywhere in the world.
I only taught it once per week until we moved to Southern California. Then I decided to teach more often and perform less. Then my classes became very popular in the San Diego area and then I branched out and went North a little, then East a little, I began teaching so many classes, I had so many requests I couldn't fulfill them all.
I had to make a big decision, I believe that life gives you lots of forks in the road, and there are always signs, messages, and cues that tell you what need to do next. What happened to me was that I was teaching so many classes that I lost my voice. I was very thin from working out so much. That was a sign to me to either cut back or train others. I chose to train. And, here we sit some years later and have more than 6,800 instructors all over the world.
3. How successful is your franchising business today?
Judi: This last year for Jazzercise has been the best year in the history of the company, and it’s nice because we’ve been saying that for the past five years. We have 6,800 franchisees teaching more than 30,000 classes weekly in 32 countries and all 50 states. Over the years, we’ve grown and diversified to meet the needs of our broad market. So not only do we offer regular Jazzercise for adults, we also offer Junior Jazzercise for kids, Jazzercise Lite for “older adults” or those who might have special needs, Jazzercise Personal Touch for our customers who want individualized training, among others. We also offer different types of franchises within the business including a business franchise for those who don’t want to actually teach the program but prefer to handle the business side.
While the business aspect is important to us, we also keep the act of giving back to the community in mind. Over the years, we’ve given more than $26 million to a variety of charities.
Now? The future looks rosy. We have creative, bright people in place in every department of the company and new ideas flying through our minds daily, and we act on those ideas. Because we believe that resilience is a part of change, we never fall in love with the business model but instead we always look for that creative, noble sense of purpose.
4. Judi, tell us what it feels like to be an inspiring mom who has built a successful business which has continued into the second generation?
Judi: I am proud to say that my daughter is following in my footsteps and becoming an entrepreneur. I have set the model in place and only hope that my two granddaughters follow suit, as well. It is so freeing to always be open to new ideas and use your creativity.
My daughter, Shanna, has brought wisdom, intelligence and integrity to the Jazzercise executive team. She has a very clear mind and can segment things and look at them for what they are in a very unbiased way, and she helps others to do that, too. She’s gained a lot of respect by getting down in the trenches. Shanna is a hard worker who believes passionately in what she does – in what we do. She’s built trust from the management through the instructors. Those are important leadership qualities, and it’s critical that she has that to offer. But she had to do that for herself, I couldn’t do it for her. In fact, if I’d tried it wouldn’t have worked.
5. Shanna, how has it being following in the footsteps of your entrepreneurial mom?
Shanna: I get asked that a lot and I have to say when you grow up with it, you don’t know any differently. However, I grew up always believing that I could do anything and that if I work hard I will be rewarded. Not to mention, I had an incredible role model for a mom!
6. What are the most important lessons you have learned along the way?
Judi: Love what you do and everyday you will be able to do what you love. In other words, do your passion! You have to be passionate about your work. You have to believe in it and love it. You commit to excellence and integrity because you care deeply. This allows you to work as hard as you need to, to be successful. I often share this quote from Eleanor Roosevelt, “The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.” With passion you believe you can do anything and you can!
I also know now that it is very important to surround yourself with people who lift you up. If I had known that I would have had so many fantastic people help me along the way, I would have moved faster and eliminated the negative quicker. When you surround yourself with good people it kicks you up to a level you never thought achievable. Keep those people around and together you can always make a difference.
Shanna: That you can’t have it all. Today’s lifestyle is so busy and if you are going to work, in any capacity, you have to create balance. As a woman, you have many roles so it is about keeping them all in check so you don’t go crazy.
7. What's the greatest thing about being in the fitness industry?
Judi: The fitness industry encompasses everything from fitness associations to health clubs, workout programs to wellness programs. In this industry, notorious for trends and gimmicks that are here today and gone tomorrow, Jazzercise has commanded a steadfast position as the world’s leading dance fitness program. It’s a good feeling to know that our program is on solid ground and has been able to positively influence millions of people through the years.
It was truly a heartwarming experience for me the first time somebody told me I’d made a difference in her life because of Jazzercise. Just knowing that the program and our franchisees have helped people through tough times – whether it be in a recovery phase from an injury or serious disease like breast cancer, or through a divorce or a similar hardship – that is perhaps one of the greatest rewards for me. And on top of that, it’s been very humbling and a great honor to be recognized by the industry. Just this month, the President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports honored me, along with such fitness greats as Jack LaLanne and Kenneth Cooper, with a Lifetime Achievement Award for contributing to the advancement of fitness nationwide – and in my case, it’s been internationally!
Shanna: I get to stay in shape as part of my job! And, with Jazzercise, we have such a wonderful, fun, eclectic group as a company and I have found the greatest friends in this industry. It is somewhat like the entertainment industry so you have a beautiful array of people – that like to stay in shape and have the same lifestyle as you.
8. Do you believe that women can have it all?
Judi: Yes! Women who achieved independence in their life are women who contribute a great deal to society because they are able to see the things that need to be done, take the bull by the horns, and move into the next phase. Women have the smarts, skills, and tools available to do whatever they want if they put their minds to it.
9. What would your ideal franchisee be like?
Judi: Someone who gives his/her all to the program and embraces my business philosophy which I can sum up in the following words: PASSION, integrity, quality, excellence, change, discipline, be intuitive, innovative, imaginative, and inspiring, and have FUN!
Shanna: There is no ideal franchisee because with Jazzercise we have many ways to make the franchise work for where you are in your life. A good balance of business sense and dance ability is always a good mix.
10. Why in your opinion is franchising great for moms?
Judi: Franchising provides flexibility and the ability to be your own boss.
Shanna: If you have a company like ours you can work your franchise how you want it. Being able to build a franchise and then get others to help you work it is great!
11. Any advice for our mompreneurs?
Judi: Just go for it and remember to take time out for yourself along the way. Have fun.
Shanna: Keep the balance of your life always on the forefront of your mind. If you say yes to something with hesitancy, most likely it won’t work so be realistic. Remember, you will be a great role model for your kids!