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Dancing Queens for More than 50 Years

HEALTH/WELLNESS: Jazzercise Continues to Grow in Fitness Sphere

CARLSBAD – Fitness fads like Tae Bo and exercise machine trends like Peloton come and go but through all the ups and downs of working out, Jazzercise continues to stretch its limits, grow stronger and thrive.

Judi Sheppard Missett
Founder and Executive Chair

The Carlsbad-headquartered dance exercise company founded in 1969 in Chicago by Judi Sheppard Missett now has more than 1,600 global franchise locations, almost 6,500 franchisees and a presence in 20 countries around the world. (Jazzercise Japan will celebrate 40 years of Jazzercise this November.)

Celebrating its global 55th anniversary in December, Missett said the company remains focused on ways its franchisees can enhance their businesses.

Missett created the low-impact cardio/strength training dance fitness company at a time when women weren’t allowed to have credit cards under their own name. Now, through in-studio classes as well as on demand and livestream options, Jazzercise offers more than 32,000 classes every week, a big part of the $96.7 billion global fitness industry.

The company grew from $74 million system-wide sales in 2022 to $77 million system-wide sales last year. Jazzercise also has a strong philanthropic bend, helping raise nearly $30 million for charities and organizations through danceathons over five decades.

“Part of the unique model that we have that has stood the test of time is we do not do Jazzercise in a ‘Big Box’ gym or your local fitness facility. It’s a standalone product,” said Jazzercise President Bobbi Quick, previously the company’s Chief Revenue Officer.

Bobbi Quick

Quick knows the fitness and wellness industry well, with more than 30 years in the field, including 26 years growing 24-Hour Fitness from 70 clubs to 425 as well as stops with The Bay Club Company and EoS Fitness.

She said her goal with Jazzercise has been to “take everything I knew about the industry at large and bring it into this smaller, family-owned business: ‘What do we need to do to increase the foundational concepts to really help continue to solidify and then continue to grow the brand?’ The industry has evolved so much… I’ve made a commitment and a promise to Judi that I will do everything in my power to continue the legacy of Jazzercise.”

Midwestern Roots, SoCal Legacy

Jazzercise started in Chicago, but Missett, her husband and daughter moved to Southern California in 1972, where she first brought the program to North County, then expanded to areas around all of San Diego County.

“I was in many parks and recreation departments, YMCAs,” Missett recalls.

“All types of community centers started contacting me to teach classes when they heard about what I was doing. I always said ‘Sure!’ – until I couldn’t say yes anymore. I was teaching so many classes. I realized I had to train some women – many with a background in dance, and who were taking my classes, to teach.”

Missett said she owes much of the company’s early success to the local military community, which helped her grow the brand in San Diego County and farther out.

“There were many people connected to any branch of the service participating in our classes,” she said. “Many of those customers wanted to become instructors, so they were trained. Then, when they were deployed or transferred, they took the program with them. This helped us to grow on a national basis, and on an international one as well.”

Missett in 2022 turned the reins of her business over to her daughter, Shanna Missett Nelson, now CEO of the company.

Shanna Missett Nelson

Nelson said that while the company has always stayed true to its dance fitness roots, Jazzercise has been able to change and adapt as women’s needs and exercise science evolved.

“Being willing to evolve has helped us continue to grow while so many other fitness trends and programs have come and gone,” Nelson said.

“Jazzercise is the original dance fitness program and we’re still focused on those roots in dance. We’ve been around for 55 years – so much has changed! When my mom taught the first classes, there was no group fitness industry. The idea that women would want to move their bodies and sweat really wasn’t mainstream.

“Our classes have always been taught to current popular music, so in that way, classes are always changing because the music is constantly changing. We’re always introducing new movements. Some of the big changes include adding strength training, new types of equipment, different formats, and specialty programming. Almost all our classes include strength training now. We also began offering on-demand and livestream classes in 2019.”

Changing, Innovating with the Times

Missett says that the company is willing to change, innovate and do different things when it comes to Jazzercise’s program as well as what it does as a business.

“Our plans, the business model, the resources we provide to our franchisees – we’re always focused on ways to help their businesses grow and continue to do better,” Missett said.

Every decade has brought about something new since Jazzercise’s inception, from enlightenment and learning about what people needed and learning what classes people liked in the 1970s to becoming the first fitness program to franchise in the 1980s.

Jazzercise was the first fitness business to franchise, Missett said, something that came about because in the beginning, she had instructors who were independent contractors.

“That’s how we set it up to begin with, but we discovered that we didn’t fit into that pigeonhole, and I was advised that we needed to decide how our instructor relationship would be framed – would it be employees or franchisees?” Missett said. “I never intended for our instructors to be employees – I wanted all these women to continue to build their own businesses. I wanted them to feel that ownership. At the time we franchised, there were about 1,000 of them.”

Missett said “everyone came on board,” but that there were challenges as far as education and needing to define responsibilities. Early on, every franchisee owned their own classes. Now Jazzercise has two designations for franchisees – owners who own classes in either a brick-and-mortar studio or those who run a satellite in an outside facility. The company also has associate franchisees who teach classes for the owner.

“This has created a situation that really accommodates a lot of people who want to be involved in the program,” she said.

She said that in the beginning, many of the women who came on board had a passion for Jazzercise.

“The women who built Jazzercise with me weren’t necessarily ‘businesswomen,’” she said. “There was a fourth-grade teacher, a secretary to her husband who was an attorney and another woman who didn’t have a college degree – but they were critical to growing the business. They brought passion and magnified what I was doing with their own talents. This is another way we succeeded in growing the feminist mindset.”

In the 1990s, Missett said, the company took a closer look at its business plans, and what Jazzercise needed to change to help its instructors.

“We initiated a rebate program for our franchisees so top tier owners would get a percentage of their continuing franchisee fee back if they hit certain goals,” Missett said. “This was a huge step for us, but it’s really paid off in that we’re able to keep our franchisees happy and able to attract new franchisees knowing they can progress and enhance their bottom line by getting to a certain level.”

FOUNDER: Judi Sheppard Missett
CEO: Shanna Nelson
PRESIDENT: Bobbi Quick
BUSINESS: Health and Fitness
FINANCIALS: Company had $77 million system-wide sales in 2023
WEBSITE: jazzercise.com
CONTACT: 760-476-1750
SOCIAL IMPACT: Jazzercise has helped raise about $30 million for charities and organizations through danceathons.
NOTABLE: Founder Judi Sheppard Missett, who taught Jazzercise classes in the 1970s throughout San Diego County, is the company’s executive chair.


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