– Story by Tess Van Straaten Photography by Don Denton
Stepping into SPAR’s downtown Victoria workout studio for the first time, I feel like I’m in a night club. And that’s exactly the point.
“We’re doing a ‘fight club meets night club’ atmosphere,” explains SPAR co-founder Victoria Courtnall. “You box to the beat of the music.”
“We want to make it as fun an experience for our clients as possible while still giving them a challenging, badass workout that gets the heart rate up and incorporates core and lower body exercises for a full body workout,” adds SPAR co-founder Hayley Gustavson. “It’s also therapy for some people because you can take your aggression out on the bag.”
The boxing-inspired group fitness studio opened in May, after Hayley and Victoria pedalled their way to success with two SPINCO studios. The pair, both Oak Bay High School grads, launched SPINCO Victoria almost three years ago and opened a second studio in Langford in January.
“We both wanted to get into the fitness world and we both had our own ideas about how that would look but we thought we’d be stronger together than apart and that’s definitely been true,” 29-year-old Hayley explains.
Both women played team sports growing up and are clearly passionate about fitness.
“I love going to the boutique fitness studios, which I think Victoria was definitely lacking. My husband (Bruce Courtnall) and I both do road cycling so I always was into cycling and spin as well,” the 32-year-old Victorian says.
“I think fitness just brings well-being to everybody’s life and it’s so enriching and enhancing and such a journey for everybody — and it’s different for everybody,” adds Hayley. “I’ve seen it be such a positive thing in my life, it’s hard not to be passionate about it.”
When they first started talking about going into business together, Hayley and Victoria punched out ideas on the boxing concept but say they settled on spin instead because it was the safer bet for their first foray into the fitness business.
“Boxing was somewhat untouched at the time, even in the US, so we thought let’s get into the market in Victoria with something that’s a proven concept and learn from that,” Hayley explains. “It’s great to be part of a franchise that has such great brand recognition across Canada right now and we got to figure out the nitty-gritty details of what it means to own a fitness studio.”
But even as they built the SPINCO business, they always had a bigger plan in mind.
“It was really important for Hayley and me, from the beginning, to have our own brand,” Victoria says. “We looked at developing spin on our own but I think it worked out really well to have the experience of the franchise and then build on that to branch out on our own.”
For Victoria, who was a mortgage broker, and Hayley, who had her own catering business in Kelowna, the biggest business challenge has been learning how to manage so many people.
“It was a part of the business we really didn’t expect to take up so much time,” Hayley explains. “But it’s been so lovely working with all of our trainers and front desk staff and we’ve brought friends onboard. Balancing those relationships has been a learning curve and you want to make sure everyone stays happy.”
“I think we’ve been able to overcome that by building an incredible team, over time, that embodies our vision and executes it on a daily basis,” Victoria adds, who says they learn something new every day. “The biggest thing we’ve learned through all of this is that there is always more to learn because the moment you stop learning, you stop improving and we constantly want to be improving.”
But the entrepreneurs, both young mothers, say by far the greatest challenge is the work-life balance and trying to grow their families while growing their business.
“In this period of starting the businesses, Hayley’s had two kids and I’ve had a baby and I’m pregnant again,” says Victoria, who is due with her second child in October.
“Literally, one of us has always been pregnant since we started this,” laughs Hayley. “So trying to find the balance between having a really amazing opportunity and career in front of us — being able to do exactly what we love — and being able to spend time with our families and nurture those relationships as well is a big balancing act.”
For Hayley, who’s married to business guru Peter Gustavson’s son, Matthew, having expert advice close at hand has definitely been a big help.
“I get really, really great business advice from my father-in-law,” she laughs. “Sometimes I like to think I might know more than I do, and then I realize he’s always right.”
So what’s the best advice he’s given her?
“To always think about working on the business and not getting tied up working in the business,” Hayley says. “Peter constantly wants us to grow and the only way to do that is to be working on the business and not in the business.”
For both women, marrying into famous families has been positive when it comes to name recognition, but it can also have its drawbacks.
“The Courtnall name brings a reputation of being athletic, so that’s certainly helped us, but people always just assume it’s our husbands’ business,” Victoria says. “They’re very supportive husbands but they’re not involved in the business.”
Giving back to the community is also important for Victoria and Hayley, who grew up here. Both businesses have a weekly charity class, with all the proceeds going to different causes. SPINCO’s is a ‘Spin it Forward’ ride and SPAR has ‘Punch for a Purpose.’
“It’s also a discounted class so people get a chance to try it for half price and they get to feel good about it because they’re helping a charity,” Victoria explains.
As this dynamic duo muscles their way to even greater success, they plan to take SPAR across the country. But they know it won’t be easy.
“A good friend of mine always says: ‘Get comfortable with being uncomfortable. It’s the only way you learn and grow,’” Victoria says.