5 Questions With Founder Of SLT And Stretch*d Amanda Freeman
Five Questions with Amanda Freeman, Founder of SLT and Stretch*d
By Chloe Cornell
Amanda Freeman is the Founder and CEO at SLT (Strengthen Lengthen Tone). Launched in New York City in 2011, SLT now has 25 locations in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania, and over 175 instructors and staff. She is also the Co-Founder of Stretch*d, a one-on-one assisted stretch space in New York City. A graduate of Duke University and Harvard Business School, Amanda began her career as a market researcher, consultant and trend forecaster at The Intelligence Group and CAA (Creative Artists Agency). In 2007, Amanda co-founded Vital Juice, a daily health and wellness e-newsletter which focused on the latest trends, research and tips in fitness, beauty, nutrition and wellness. Amanda sold her stake in the company to Tasting Table in 2012.
Amanda explains that she started SLT in 2011 because of a personal quest for a group fitness workout that got her the results she was seeking…long and lean muscle-tone. She started Stretch*d in 2018 because she observed the drastically different approach clients had to self-stretching (avoid) and one-on-one stretching with a trainer (more, more, more). Amanda is also an angel investor with a particular focus on female founded businesses and health and wellness brands. Her investments include: Female Founders Fund, The Wing, Carbon 38, WTHN, Talent Hack, Alma, The Wonder and 305 Fitness. Amanda is a not only a successful entrepreneur but a champion of other women in business. I was thrilled to talk to her and learn about her journey!
Chloe: How did you discover SLT? Were you always a fitness enthusiast?
Amanda: If you had told me I’d start and run a fitness business even 10 years ago, I’d have told you, you were crazy. I definitely wasn’t the most athletic teenager around, while I played tennis and softball in high school, it was somewhat casually. That said, I did join a gym in college, something not everyone was doing yet.
My career has been an evolution that lead me to SLT and now Stretch*d. I began as a trend forecaster studying the Macro and Micro trends amongst Generation X and Millennials. I worked with companies to better understand their customers and create products, services and marketing that spoke to them. In 2006, I wrote a trend called The Rise of Well-consciousness. It was the start of preventative health going mainstream and I was obsessed with it. I left my consulting career to co-found Vital Juice. Vital Juice was the first health and wellness daily email that covered the latest in fitness, nutrition, beauty and wellness.
It was while running Vital Juice that I became interested in boutique fitness. I loved the idea of studios that offered the best version of one workout and had classes all day. I liked the mix of music, quality instruction and the group dynamic. But, I didn’t like the existing offerings and the results they got people. I wanted the Pilates body, but in the boutique fitness environment. When I discovered the Megaformer, an amazing piece of fitness equipment, on a trip to LA, I was hooked and knew it had to make its way to NYC. A friend had told me I had to check out a studio in West Hollywood that offered a “Pilates on crack” workout. While I resisted opening a studio of my own and tried talking other people into doing it (with me as a small partner), I eventually knew I had to do it myself.
Chloe: How did you create awareness and convince people to try your fitness program in such a crowded market? How do you keep it fresh to maintain your audience and get new customers?
Amanda: My timing was perfect. I opened SLT before the boutique fitness market was crowded. There were a few successful players, mostly in the spin and barre categories, but there was a lot of opportunity ahead. I wasn’t sure if the business would work, so I spent as little money as possible on starting it. I didn’t raise money, I funded it with my personal money and my brother also invested. To be honest, if I tried to start SLT right now in the low budget way I started it in 2011, it would be a flop.
I put almost no money into the branding and the space was so bare bones it was crazy. I was confident that the results of the workout speak for themselves. I thought that once people tried the workout, they’d see (and feel) how effective and body changing it is. I just needed to spread the word that we were there.
I knew the PR and press would be the key to the success of the business, so the only money I spent on marketing for the first year of the business was on a freelance PR person. It worked. Between the amazing press we got and the word of mouth we created, SLT’s following grew quickly.
We keep it fresh with a constantly evolving website, branding, and in-studio elements. And the workout itself is always different with unique routines daily and new moves constantly being added to continue to challenge your body.
Chloe: Between SLT, Soul Cycle and Tracy Anderson Fitness, it appears women continue to be leaders in the fitness market. What kind of experience would you recommend a young woman get if she wanted to be an entrepreneur in the fitness industry? What are important personality traits/skills?
Amanda: Yes! Thankfully, being a female founder in the fitness industry can be an advantage. The majority of clients of boutique studios are women, so it’s great to actually be your core demographic.
I think the most important things to consider when contemplating starting a fitness business is are you so passionate about the idea you are starting that you are willing to work day, night and weekends and forgo things like time with friends, family, and sleep to do it.
There is no prescriptive formula for what experience is best for being an entrepreneur. I say, the more experience the better and exposure to another start up is always helpful. Some experience in a “four-wall” business like a restaurant, store or fitness studio/gym is very helpful.
It’s helpful to be the following: a risk taker, decisive, a leader who can inspire others, a sales person, a hard worker, and good at managing people. These are some of the most important entrepreneurial traits.
Chloe: Do you participate in any other workouts? What is your wellness routine?
Amanda: While SLT is certainly my main workout (3x a week), when I have some time I mix in an array of other workouts. I like to swim, walk/run, do yoga and on occasion take a cardio dance class.
I’m 80% healthy, 20% not so much. In addition to exercising 4-5x per week, I eat pretty healthy, but love my sweets. I also go to my stretching space Stretch*d to be stretched out by our amazing stretch*rs once a week. And I love getting a face massage at FaceLove as a treat once a month. I don’t meditate, but wish I could.
Chloe: What are your plans for the business going forward?
Amanda: We have big plans for SLT to continue growing (5 new studios this year in the works so far) in NY, Raleigh, NC, and Boston. We are also working on a new hybrid format for SLT that I can’t quite announce yet and we are playing around with length of class time and body part focuses in our new privates-only space SLT/x.