Cathie Anderson

Word of mouth spins growth at Carmichael cycling studio

Business owner Katherine Benbrook leads a class during an indoor cycling class at Cycle In in Sacramento on Friday.
Business owner Katherine Benbrook leads a class during an indoor cycling class at Cycle In in Sacramento on Friday.

Deal-of-the-day websites often run special offers from fitness businesses trying to increase their visibility, but Katherine Benbrook didn’t want to go that route when she launched her indoor cycling business in November 2012.

“I pride myself on not doing Living Social and Groupon just to get people through the door,” Benbrook told me. “I don’t want a client who came with me from my old gym and has supported me from Nov. 12, 2012, until now to be sitting on a bike next to somebody who’s paying $2 for that class.”

The number of customers frequenting Benbrook’s Cycle In studio has grown from just a few dozen people to nearly 300 over the past two years, as customers recommended her classes to their friends and family. Benbrook believes the growth is because she waited for the right people to come through the Cycle In door rather than focusing on just getting bodies onto her 14 indoor bicycles.

It was difficult sticking to that philosophy in the first six to nine months, Benbrook said, when she wasn’t sure that people would find her business. Located at 1828 Walnut Ave., Cycle In is not visible from the road. It’s concealed by a pet groomer and an aesthetician on Walnut and a Raley’s store on Fair Oaks Boulevard, but Benbrook said she thought it was the cutest little space.

Two things worked in her favor, she said: First, she took out a startup loan from the Bank of Sacramento and had three years to pay it off. And second, her husband, attorney Brad Benbrook, had long been the primary breadwinner for the family of five.

Benbrook said she surprised her husband and her bankers when she paid off the loan in a little more than a year. She now has three part-time instructors – Jenny Close, Anne Khasigian and Jenny Stark – who help teach the 16 weekly classes that Cycle In offers.

“I’ve considered adding bikes,” the 46-year-old Benbrook said. “I could fit more bikes in that studio, but there’s something so special about that small environment. All the instructors can see the students. They can see their form, make sure they’re doing it correctly and not hurting themselves. For a lot of people our age, not hurting yourself is tremendously important.”

Benbrook, who said she often has wait lists of four or five people, believes that people come for several reasons. Clients like the fact that, whether they pay full price for one class or buy multiple classes at a discount, they won’t pay until they sign up for a class. They also know they’ll be working out in a cool, well-lighted and well-ventilated room where an instructor can see and monitor how they’re doing.

To ensure they’ll have a high-energy environment, Benbrook pays royalties to show music videos on two TV monitors and uses those screens to take them on video rides through the world’s best travel destinations. But best of all, she said, is the sense of community that has emerged. Outside of the studio, instructors and clients go together on group rides, she said, or they sometimes just go out for a movie together.

One customer, Steve Rawiszer, had hip replacement surgery last November, and has used the classes to help with his rehab, vastly improving his stamina on outdoor rides. Client Katherine Becker called her Cycle In workout the most exhilarating time of her day. She’s been coming to the studio almost since Benbrook opened it.

“I’ve definitely improved my cardiovascular fitness, as well as my leg strength,” Becker said. “And I’ve seen the benefits as it applies to other ways that I exercise. I run a lot, and I do boot camp. I’ve gotten stronger for all those activities as well.”

Benbrook has one client who is 88 years old. In her first class, Benbrook said, the woman could cycle for only five minutes, but now regularly finishes an hourlong indoor cycling class twice a week. Benbrook said she also has two couples – a husband and wife in their 30s and another in their 50s – who met during Cycle In classes, became friends and now travel together. Even Benbrook’s husband and three sons have adopted indoor cycling as a regular workout.

In some ways, the real workout for Benbrook hasn’t come from leading exercise routines or from expanding her clientele. Instead, the greatest challenges have been managing the business. For instance, she said, she set up Cycle In as a limited liability corporation, so she must pay the state $800 every year to maintain that status. In addition, she must file an annual itemized list of everything that Cycle In owns, right down to the toilet paper. Benbrook freaked, she said, the first year when told her workers’ compensation plan would be audited because she didn’t realize that was standard procedure.

“Now that I’m in my third year, I expect certain bills from the state,” Benbrook said, “and I expect the forms that I have to fill out. ... There was so much that I had no idea about when it comes to running my own business.”

Call The Bee’s Cathie Anderson, (916) 321-1193. Follow her on Twitter @CathieA_SacBee.