For this first newsletter of 2018, we wanted to know more about the business of one of our members specialized in the fitness industry, WaterBiking studio. I was welcomed by the studio’s founder and owner: Corinne Benkemoun.
Hi, thank you for having me today. On behalf of the FACC we would like to thank you for joining the FACC, we are thrilled to welcome you as a member.
Let’s start with a small introduction
My name is Corinne Benkemoun, I am originally from Montpellier and I moved to Miami around 2 and a half years ago for personal reasons as my husband and I wanted our children to study abroad and have an international exposure. I graduated from a Business School and I have worked for over 20 years as financial director then general Manager of a famous American restaurant franchise in the South of France.
What ignited the spark in you to start a new business venture in the US?
The idea came from the fact that when I decided to settle down in Miami I was looking for a studio for my workout, but I couldn’t find any. Aqua biking was created around 20 years ago in Italy and has been very popular in France over the last 5-6 years, I was very surprised that this idea was not exploited in the US! We had a lot of hesitation at first but after realizing that aqua biking did not exist in Miami I decided to open my own studio. Before opening WaterBiking Studio, there was only in 1 studio offering these classes in the US and it is located in New York.
What due diligence process did you follow to ensure your project was viable?
I surrounded myself with experts from the get go: lawyers, contractors, engineers, architects, and real estate agents. I have met several professionals to compare services and prices, since I was taking classes back in France, I knew what I was getting myself into. I also had a market study done before starting with the project. From there, my husband and I invested our personal savings into the project and we applied for an investor visa.
What difficulties did you face when trying to implement your studio?
I faced lots of challenges because the concept was unknown, for instance putting a bike in a pool was not allowed in the state of Florida. I had to go to court to defend my project and explain that there won’t be swimmers in the pool therefore there was no risks of injuries, that the bikes are stationary and are safe to use underwater. The construction is very difficult in Miami, it was a lengthy process and you also have to supervise the contractors at all times. Building a pool inside an existing building was very challenging, you need to get permits and authorizations, it was a complex project to get done. I also had to bring in staff from France and New York and train coaches to have the studio up and running.
Did you find it hard to start a business in Florida?
Extremely hard, besides the language barrier, as foreigners we don’t know all the rules and regulations in the US, there is a lot of work to do to get information as compared to France where I think the information is more easily accessible. I had to launch a new concept in a foreign country, so I had to face twice the challenge than just buying an existing business. I am still trying to make myself known, people are starting to be attracted to the concept which is very positive. We rely a lot on social media and word of mouth! My business is not profitable yet, but I expect it to be profitable by end of year or beginning of next year.
What would you say are the 5 key elements for starting and running a successful business?
-Have personal funds or external investors
-A background that gives you the skills to start and run a business
-Meet and partner up with the right people
-Have the right staff that believes in the company and adheres to the values of the company
-The idea needs to be attractive to clients
What have been one of your failures? What have you learned from it?
I have made recruitment errors at the beginning therefore I have learned that it is important to surround yourself with the right professionals who you can rely on. I have then made the decision to contact a recruiting agency to find the people I needed. I have now 8 employees: 4 coaches, 1 director and 3 people at the reception. The staff is very important to me, besides supervising the studio and welcoming customers, I am adamant that my coaches offer a personalized service, get to know each client, take time to correct moves during the class and ensure that it is a pleasant experience for everyone.
What is the demographics of your clientele?
This workout is suitable for all demographics because exercising underwater is low impact and safe for your joints. You can burn up to twice the calories, as compared to the same workout on land, without experiencing cramps the next day. The concept was initially born as a form of reeducation for athletes to help them recover from injuries, therefore it is safe for everyone.
What to expect during a class?
The class is 45 minutes long, we start by a warm up and we slowly transition to the workout moves (not only legs workout but also arms and abs moves), we finish with a stretching all done through a fun and upbeat environment. You don’t need anything besides your bathing suit, we provide a towel and you can rent or buy the safety shoes.
WaterBiking Studio is more than just aqua biking, we offer a wide range of workouts to suit everyone's needs, we have lots of equipment to be used underwater, for instance you can have a low impact jog on an aqua treadmill. We do underwater circuit training using aqua bikes, aqua treadmills, aqua steppers and weights. We will be receiving trampolines very soon and we are also planning to add aqua pole sessions into the circuit training. Very fun and exciting!
I already receive requests from people from other states asking when I am planning to open a studio in their area, although I am not ready yet that is something I have in mind for the future. My plan would be to expand and open more studios in Miami: Brickell, Aventura and Miami Beach and then to roll out the idea and develop across the US with the goal of creating a franchise or grow the company with the help of external investors. For now, once a week, I partner up with a hotel where we bring out our bikes and one of my coaches goes there to teach a class, that’s a great way to start expanding locally without the financial burden of investing your personal funds.
Would you like to share a message to the FACC members?
FACC members receive 15% discount on all memberships and packages offered by WaterBiking studio, please visit waterbikingstudio.com, we would be thrilled to have you!
Folks, get your bathing suit ready, Corinne Benkemoun is generously offering a free class (value $35) for all readers of this newsletter to discover what WaterBiking is about. To redeem the offer please send an email to email@example.com, we will send you the code and instructions to follow for your reservation!
For the 2017 Holiday Winter Edition, we interviewed Martine Lessault, founder of the international culinary school Gastronomicom. With a team of chefs and judges, Ms. Lessault organized the first edition of the Cooking Contest, as part of the annual French Weeks. She agreed to welcome us in her school, letting us in on her rich experience in both the hospitality and culinary education industries. Read on to find out more.
Can you tell us a bit about your professional background?
I was trained at the Ecole Hôtelière of Lausanne, at the age of 19. After completing my first internship in a hotel in Munich, I was offered a managing position by the owner who was opening a French hotel. A few years later, I purchased a hotel-restaurant with my husband, which we ran for 12 years. My next challenge was a position as a catering manager in a palace in Geneva. I remained there for five years, until I decided that it was time to move on. I relocated to Paris, where I managed a 4-star hotel at St Germain des Pres. Three years later, I was moving to Lisbon, where a friend asked me to take over the management of a beautiful 5-star hotel. I then returned to France, in Avignon, where I ran the Hotel d’ Europe for two years, before applying to L’Institut Vatel in Nimes. I oversaw hotel management for two years at the Institute, but requested a transfer over to the school. That’s where I discovered a new passion: education. I remained in that position for ten years, before opening my own school, Gastronomicom.
How did you decide to open Gastronomicom in Miami?
It was purely random! An American student came to my school in France to do a 3 months program. We became good friends, and she convinced me to open a school here. That's how I arrived in Miami, at 68 years old.
Why a boutique-school?
We have a very varied student base, and we want to be able to accompany all of them towards their respective goals. We do not have more than 12 students per class. The small ratio of student to teacher makes it possible to remain flexible, while attaining a high level of personalization in our teaching methods. The chefs can adjust their teaching from one student to another, depending on skill. With a larger number of students, this would not be possible.
Can you tell us a bit about the structure the programs offered at Gastronomicom?
We have two chefs: a pastry chef and a cook. There is a different theme each week; for example, in pastry, one week focuses on chocolate recipes, another on plated desserts etc.… Students can take all courses, or just choose a theme that they’re particularly interested in. The level of difficulty increases each month. I took a certain amount time to design this flexible formula that allows us to integrate all types of students, at any given point in time.restaurant. They will be trained on various skills required to succeed in the restauration industry including setting prices, evaluating food costs, creating a business plan etc.…
What is your teaching philosophy?
Providing high quality services, with a family spirit. I have always worked in luxury Hospitality, where I have been accustomed to the best. By experience, I receive personal gratification from providing excellence. We can be rigorous, professional, and friendly at the same time. The same goes for my philosophy of food. I believe in high quality recipes that enhance products taste. It's not always easy to find excellent products here, but it is possible! I believe in light, healthy and preferably untreated products in our kitchens.
Many French entrepreneurs choose Miami to open their restaurants. Do you think that French food is particularly popular here?
Americans enjoy French cuisine. It doesn’t mean that they eat it every day, but they’re able to differentiate between very good French cuisine, and just decent French cuisine. Again, it is important to respect local tastes, and adapt recipes. I believe that in Miami, restaurants must offer simple and good cuisine within reasonable costs if they want to be successful.
The success of a restaurant also depends on how well its formula is adapted to its specific location within Miami. For example, if surrounded by office buildings, it makes sense to offer quick lunches that aren’t too expensive. However, this wouldn’t necessarily be applicable if established in a residential neighborhood.
What are three pieces of advice that you would give to entrepreneurs in Florida?
First, it is important to plan for at least three years without making profits. It takes time to see the returns of your investment. Secondly, always request at least three or four invoices for any service that you need. It's astonishing how much prices vary, for the exact same services! Finally, it is imperative for entrepreneurs to adapt themselves to the Floridian market. You cannot impose your methods without making changes to what you offer. It is possible to retain your personal touch while adapting to the culture here. For example, we make dishes with plantain at Gastronomicom, which you would not typically find in French recipes.
How was the idea of a cooking contest during the French Weeks born, and who were the participants?
A cooking contest is a way for contestants to improve their culinary skills through competition, while simultaneously developing the image of the gastronomic trade.The candidates were amateurs. Some were participants enrolled in other culinary schools, while others just enjoyed cooking as a hobby. As for the judges, we had a perfect mix of professional chefs and amateurs. We need both to balance the judging.
What are your future plans for Gastronomicom?
I am planning to open branches of Gastronomicom in other countries. I will control quality, and ensure that everything functions to our rigorous standards. I am interested in locations such as Singapore, because it’s big on luxury, quality, and hygiene. The same goes for Switzerland, where I will eventually consider opening a Gastronomicom.