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#IMadeThis - Innovators, entrepreneurs, and idealists Jennifer Hamilton, finalist for the 2018 RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Awards, has always had a passion for fitness. From a single yoga studio in 2008, Jennifer has grown Oxygen Yoga & Fitness to over 70 locations across Canada.

Ever wondered how successful entrepreneurs turn their dreams into reality? What drives them to push the envelope, create change and advance their industries? We had the opportunity to ask Canadian small business owners how they transformed their ideas, goals and passions into reality.

Jennifer Hamilton, finalist for the RBC Momentum Award at the RBC Canadian Women’s Entrepreneur Awards is the founder of the hot, hip and healthy Oxygen Yoga & Fitness — Canada’s original Far Infrared Hot Studio. Passionate about health, fitness and mental wellness, Jennifer has grown one studio into 72 locations across Canada.

Jennifer recently discussed her incredible and motivating journey, and shared how grit, hustle and passion have contributed to her success.

Q: What motivated you to start Oxygen Yoga & Fitness?

Hamilton: I’ve always had a passion for fitness. Exercise grounds me, and I want to give people the same feeling. I was motivated to build a place for people to go and channel their energy, and was able to create a business model around something I’m very passionate about. Health and fitness is so important in everyone’s life.

I had a previous business and grew that to 59 locations. I learned about shelf life — I watched that business peak and took note when it started to flat line. I had the opportunity to sell it when I saw the metrics of the bootcamp model start to decline.

In creating Oxygen, I bought an existing yoga studio and added in the element of fitness. When you think about it, fitness trends tend to have a shelf life of seven years — boot camp, step class, kickboxing, etc. — but yoga has been around for thousands of years. I brought fitness and yoga together in this amazing infrared environment and it’s a beautiful thing.

Sometimes people want to do a crazy fusion class and other days they might want to take it easy and connect, or do a deep stretch. The diversity within the programming allows for a broader audience and helps people stay engaged — nobody gets bored.

Q: Has competition in the far infrared space affected your business?

Hamilton: If anything I take competition and imitation as a compliment. But having the relationships that I do with Costco and Blackhawk — as well as our gift-card program — are the kinds of initiatives that always keep me a step ahead.

Q: How do you prioritize working “in the business” versus “on the business?”

Hamilton: Most of my time is spent running the business, but I usually go to the new locations and teach a class at the opening. Teaching brings me right back to that energy. I love seeing people leave with big smiles on their faces.

I always love to teach an ABsolutely Burning Butts class too. It’s my shtick. It’s really high energy and I find I can always squeeze a 30-minute class in there.

Q: Who are some of the people who supported you on your journey?

Hamilton: My family has obviously been a huge supporter. I’m a single mom with 3 children.

I also have a very close relationship with many of my franchisors. We work together for the success of all. And I have created an advisory team made up of my master franchisors. Collaboratively, we all put our heads together to support the growth

Q: What motivated your decision to franchise?

Hamilton: I was actually teaching a class and someone said “I want one — I want a location.” That got my mind going and I said, “Let’s talk.” They wanted to open one in Mission, but I suggested Langley — the other side of the water, because at the time, people were driving 1.5 hours or more to get to a class.

I wasn’t looking to grow the business, but this was a means of opening up and sharing, and getting more people into this.

Then it became a domino effect. We had eight locations within seven months. I actually had to take franchising off table for a year because we were growing too quickly — we didn’t have the infrastructure in place. I had to do some redevelopment of support systems to help make the growth go smoothly.

Q: What kind of systems did you put in place to support your growth?

Hamilton: Basically everything that was in my head had to be put on paper. Mostly it was training and best practices. I created a book to identify what to do on a daily and weekly basis, and what to do within a month. I also created an instructor-training program in order to feed the pipeline.

I needed to make sure that point A would meet point B and that the service model was completely understood.

Q: How has it been finding franchisors who represent your brand?

Hamilton: One major key to success is to onboard people who share your same core values. Sharing the vision is critical. I am responsible for screening people coming into the business and I look for people with the same vision and expectation of growth within the company. Maybe 5 per cent of people feel they are buying employment, and feel they don’t have to work. That’s why it’s important to be very clear that they have to follow the systems created. Sometimes — but not often — the mentality is that it’s an easy way to make money.

Q: Did you have moments when you thought this isn’t going to work?

Hamilton: I’ve had many of these moments where I considered hanging up my white towel!

When those moments came I brought it back to the ‘why’ — to the place of passion. I remind myself that when things get mucky, they are fixable. Anything can be fixed. Running a successful company is 80 per cent business and 20 per cent passion.

Q: Anything you would have done differently?

Hamilton: I grew very quickly and I found I was running after the snowball that just kept getting bigger and bigger. I now know that if you’re going to grow, you have to have a lot of things in place first — your franchise agreements, your support team, your systems … You have to have everything organized, instead of piecing it together as it goes.

Q: What qualities do you feel someone needs to be an entrepreneur?

Hamilton: Owning your own business teaches you adversity. You have to be a real fighter and have grit and hustle. For me, I always felt if I could see it, I could do it. You need to be resourceful and have an ability to find the resources and people to make things happen. You also need to be able to listen, take in other people’s opinions and consider different processes. That’s an essential piece of success.

Q: So what is next for Oxygen Fitness & Yoga?

Hamilton: We’re working nationally and have an interest to go internationally. My plan is to first go to England, then New Zealand, Japan, and the U.S.

Q: What role do you feel female entrepreneurs play in shaping the future of Canada and Canada’s economy?

Hamilton: We’re in such a great space of being leaders and setting examples for other women and men. We have amazing leadership skills. But also, having that emotional piece as a woman allows for a different element of business sense. Women entrepreneurs set a different tone in the workplace and for society.

Q: Is there anything else you would want people to understand about you – as a person and as a business owner?

Hamilton: I believe you need a mission for your life as much as your business. I have a Mission Statement: I love my life. At the end of each class, I get people to make a shape of heart with hands, look up and say ‘I love my life.’ Creating an opportunity to say that makes people more positive — it’s beautiful to see.

In November 2018, 23 women were recognized at the 2018 RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Awards. These exceptional women, and their trail-blazing companies from a variety of industries, share a common goal — to be the best at what they do.

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