Karen Turrell suffered a neck injury when she was a child which meant she was in a neck brace for a couple of months and suffered a lot of pain because her neck was misaligned with her skull. Later in her teens she injured her back, possibly due to the weakness in her neck, and was off work for a year. She had a lot of physiotherapy to realign her neck, but it would get worse from time to time due to a busy lifestyle and bad posture.
So when she was on maternity leave after having her second child and had time to reflect on her long-hours career as a City lawyer, she decided she wanted to do something to help others like her. She set up Simply Stride, which trains people of all ages and backgrounds to improve their health through walking. The Simply Stride technique combines effective yoga, pilates and mindfulness techniques. Karen says Simply Stride is “a unique, very flexible, often life-changing course that has all kinds of physical and emotional benefits” and can be used for everything from improving mobility and reducing joint pain to body toning and weight loss. Over the last year she has franchised the organisation so its impact can spread across the UK.
Karen says it was a big decision to leave her job as an underwriter, which she had done for 10 years and loved, but having children changed things. “When you are in the busy world of work you forget that we humans are animals. When you have children your instincts kick in and you are more in tune with your body,” she says. With the help of her dad, who was one of her first clients, she studied for qualifications in general personal training, Pilates and yoga while she was on maternity leave and put them together to create the stride technique. “The style of training is non elite and it takes place away from the artificial gym environment,” says Karen. “We wanted to take it outside. There are a lot of emotional benefits of being outside and in harmony with your body. The stride technique links physical well being with emotional well being.”
She was encouraged by friends and family who asked her for advice about fitness and she realised there was a business opportunity there. “As an underwriter I was aware of how business works and there seemed to me to be a gap in the market between physiotherapy and the gym,” she says. “The idea had been germinating for 20 years, but the opportunity then presented itself to develop Simply Stride. It took a lot of courage, but I am really pleased I made the decision to start the business.”
Karen’s decision was also provoked by her desire to have more time with her children. “I felt I would not be a good underwriter or a good mum if I had stayed at my job in the City. To do the job you need to entertain clients and that doesn’t go hand in hand with having children. Before I had children I would leave the house around 5am and often not get home till 9pm. Now I don’t think I work any less, but I work more flexibly around the children and I think I work more efficiently,” says Karen. She adds that she thinks that having children and starting a business may be linked. “There are so many changes going on your life. Maybe because mums have to adapt to such major changes they become better at adapting to new situations,” she says. “You are used to being adaptable and making things work.”
The business has grown organically over the last six years and Karen now has a team of “striders” in place who help to coach clients. She says it has spread through word of mouth. “We tell, we don’t sell,” she says.
Karen, who is based in Southend in Essex, says she was up till 2am in the early days of setting up the business since she had to work round her children, now aged 9 and 12, and her husband does long hours. Her children have been aware of what she does from an early age and she thinks it has been a positive example for them. “It is refreshing for them to see that you don’t just have to stay on the treadmill. You can work in a more flexible way. It has broadened their experience,” she says.
Simply Stride, which focuses on a holistic view of health encompassing nutrition, work life balance and exercise, works with a range of different clients, including groups – such as schools or organisations like Mind and adults with learning difficulties – as well as individuals, such as professionals who are looking to de-stress or those with mobility problems as a result of strokes, multiple sclerosis or other conditions. Coaching sessions on the Simply Stride course are held twice a week to keep people on target. The emphasis is on building confidence through praising what people have achieved. “It’s very much people-focused and our striders have to be able to empathise with the clients,” says Karen.
She had had the idea of making the business model portable from the beginning, but it was not until last year, once the business model had been proven, that she launched it as a franchise. She now has two franchisees and is keen to attract people who buy into the Simply Stride ethos. Her focus is on the south-east for now so she can provide a high level of support. After an initial chat and once both parties are happy, there is a 10-week training process and assessment as well as materials such as marketing and operational templates and plans. Support is ongoing.
The initial fee for the franchise is £7,500 and there is a small monthly management fee and advertising levy which covers quarterly updates and ongoing marketing and management support. “Our people understand our business ethic. We’re a people-style business and we are looking to attract people who have a lot of life experience who can relate to others,” says Karen.
*If you are interested in becoming a Simply Stride franchisee, click here.